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Deeper into Dreaming

rachelr's picture

Hey now, hey now

this is what dreams are

made of


















Thank you!...for giving your essay the shape and form its argument requires: beginning, in other words, w/ a (very evocative!) image, a song, and an askew poem (that you wrote?) ...

such a format effectively invites your reader into a dream space, makes her more willing to follow you wherever you'd like to go...

What are dreams? Do our waking dreams, our aspirations, differ from the stories and visions that we tell ourselves as we sleep? How are dreams incorporated into our realities?

In Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, one driving point of the novel is the dream; be it waking or sleeping, the cyclical nature of Alice’s parallel reality draws into question what Carroll wants his readers to glean from his tale. Whether his goal is to parody the quest, education, dreams, or reality, his complex world beyond that of the norms of expected daily life have and will continue to challenge readers both young and old to follow the White Rabbit and Alice down the rabbit hole, and to “[believe] as many as six impossible things before breakfast” (Through the Looking-Glass, 207).

Animals behaving as humans: speaking, walking upright, dressing in clothing, and consulting pocket watches dominate the novel as Alice explores the deep corners of her reality-like dream. Dreams hold different weight in different cultures, but they are and have been of significant importance in Native American Indian tribes. The Indians look to dreams as a way of receiving guidance from the spirits of the earth, and many of these spirits take the form of animals. These animals represent or embody different meanings, and their presence in dreams hold meaning in the lives of the dreamers. Why did Carroll choose to use the animals as he did in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass? Did he too intend a similar embodiment of characteristics by the animals that he chose?

I'm puzzled that you evoke Indian dream interpretation here (and later); surely that comes entirely out of the context of English Victoriana in which Carroll wrote....?

The White Rabbit is the first of the animals that readers are introduced to and is the character that leads Alice into Wonderland. In Indian dream interpretation the rabbit can represent fear and overcoming limiting beliefs. Indeed, the White Rabbit seems perpetually frightened of what shall become of him should he be late, lose a glove, or displease in general, and by leading Alice into Wonderland he challenges the limits of reality. The Caterpillar, and represents both transformation and everlasting life; symbolically, the Caterpillar insists that Alice recite Old Father William (Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, 57) which repeats concepts of age and of growth. Cats, such as the Cheshire Cat and Dinah, can be guardians of the spirit and symbols of good fortune, seen in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland when the Cheshire Cat both directs and simply converses with Alice, an ally to her in the Red Queen’s court. Of course such an allegorical reference is but one explanation of the use of animals in place of humans in Carroll’s novels: another part that these animals play is in undermining Alice and her expressed thoughts. Time after time they question her remarks and mock her questions. As the Mad Hatter and the March Hare question Alice at the tea party, Alice comments,

“Really, now you ask me,” said Alice, very much confused, “I don’t really think —”

“Then you shouldn’t talk,” said the Hatter.

(Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, 86)

Here, both Alice and her thoughts are undermined by an “adult” figure, and as a child her ideas are considered of inferior importance in comparison to the words of the Mad Hatter and the March Hare, which come off to Alice and the readers as, for the most part, utter nonsense. In Through the Looking-Glass as Alice walks through the flower garden conversing with the flowers she responds to the flower’s explanation of why not all flowers talk:

“I never thought of that before!” [Alice] said.

“It’s my opinion that you never think at all,” the Rose said in a rather severe tone.

“I never saw anybody that looked stupider,” a Violet said…


Again, a group of “adult” figures are all in an agreement of opposition against Alice. In this way, while Alice attempts to contribute to and participate in her dream, or her alternative-reality, she is almost continuously undermined by her “teachers” whose logic and literalism is lost on her as she struggles to make sense of both the landscape of the unknown and the orbicular nature of conversation and logic in Wonderland.
Another possibility, which we discussed in class, is that Alice is all the figures in her dreams (alternatively, that the figures represent different aspects of herself: so she is both the chess game w/out rules and the furious Red Queen enforcer of rules; she is the child who breaks rules and the child who needs them...these adults, in other words, are not external to her, her needs and desires, but self, internalized, then expressed in dream-figures...)

Whether or not Carroll means the animals in Wonderland as an allegorical representation of traits that he believes are central to the guidance and moral direction of the lives of each person, or simply as fantastical beings that parody stereotypical adults in Alice (or any child)’s world, these animals play a significant role in the questioning of Alice’s journey into and through Wonderland as either hallucination, dream, or reality. But what is the line between dreams and reality? Dreams have personal truths within them: people spend time journaling, consulting books, and searching their minds for experiences that might clarify their dreams. So can dreams be reality for those who have them? You know already, probably, that aybala50 explored this idea in her essay.... Our dreams are a part of us, they “happen” to us, though they may be in our sleep and in our mind’s eye. Does this diminish their worth? What if the dreams include people, places, events that are familiar to us? What if our dreams reenact actual events? In these ways, our dreams are our reality. Certainly another way that dreams can "be" reality is by influencing it: if what happens in our dream life causes us to behavior differently when we wake....Alice vividly remembers the details of her adventures in Wonderland; she appeared as herself in her own dream, so in that way, her adventures actually happened to her. But while you may accept that her adventure, her “dream” is a part of her reality, what distinguishes personal from general reality?

It seems as if general reality is yet another concept that is built upon a consensus, or majority rule. Our world is based upon rules and laws, a carefully plotted, outlined, and ordered landscape made to fit the “reality” of the majority. But what of those who have schizophrenia or a similar mental illnesses? Their hallucinations and delusions are both part of themselves and produced from within; no drug or hallucinogenic is creating these products. So because the majority of people are not schizophrenics, does that mean that the hallucinations and delusions that these people experiences are not reality? They cannot be solely the reality of the schizophrenics because their reality affects others. In the case of schizophrenics, because they act in the “real” world upon something that is in their head, [as do we all; see above....] their reality becomes the reality of others. So with dreams, if we talk about them and produce this “chatter” that Paul Grobstein spoke with our class about, does that make them reality, or at least a “counter-reality” as Wai Chee Dimock suggested?

Literature and readers are obsessed with knowing more: there are volumes upon volumes about the theory behind the theories of subject after subject, and professors, students, and readers in general are forever questioning each and every text, asking, “But what is the point?!” What is the point? Does there have to be a point to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass? Perhaps Carroll never intended his animals to represent anything other than what he made them out to be. Maybe all Carroll did when writing this book is to jot down the telling of a dream by his niece Alice. So really, does there have to be an underlying message, a hidden meaning, a point to everything, to every text? What if the point of Alice’s story is the challenging of the readers to question ideas such as these. [I think this might well be the case; see my response to sbg90's essay on Wonderland and the Parody of Meaning] Who are we as readers to suppose to know exactly what Carroll’s “point” was in a book that was written over one hundred years ago? I think all that we can do is read the text, bringing our own emotions, background, and beliefs along with us, and interpret the story, the journey in the way that best fits each of us, in the way that gives us as individuals what we need at the moment; [would you entertain the possibility that a dream--or reading a story, which is like entering someone else's dream--might take us beyond what we consciously think we need, into some new space or desire of which we are unaware....?] only then can each individual decide if Alice is in a dream or reality, and if our own dreams are our realities as well.


Dreams in the Dusk

Carl Sandburg


Dreams in the dusk,

Only dreams closing the day

And with the day’s close going back

To the gray things, the dark things,

The far, deep things of dreamland.


Dreams, only dreams in the dusk,

Only the old remembered pictures

Of lost days when the day’s loss

Wrote in tears the heart’s loss.


Tears and loss and broken dreams

May find your heart at dusk.

I'm surprised by the poem with which you end. After a paper filled w/ explorations of the possible enlargement of life, via dream space, why close w/ a dream about loss, about lost dreams in particular?




Carroll, Lewis. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and through the Looking Glass. New York: Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2003.

"Native American Animal Symbols." Support Artisans Crafting Indian Gifts, Native American Art and Crafts. Web. 24 Mar. 2010. <>.




Anne Dalke's picture

Commenting on commenting


I decided to experiment above w/ giving you what you complained about not getting the first time through: interlinear responses to your ideas. You'd said that you hated "having to read comments that are not right next to what they are talking about," that you found it "easier to understand and relate comments when they correlate more closely to my actual writing." So I tried to give you that correlation....

I have to admit, having tried it, I doubt I'll repeat it. At least on this platform, it's clunky to distinguish each small bit of my text from yours... The larger, less technical, issue, though, is for me a problem of what seems to be atomizing discussion, making it a "sound bite" type of "Hardball" "discussion" on tv, interrupting  you over and over again before you get to the end of a thought. Seems to me that one of best features about written discourse is that it can take a longer time to make a complex point ...?

But compare the commenting formats used on Jen's site, Moore and Media,
on Comment on This (because debate is essential),
and/or the Sticky Notes module-- do you prefer those?