Publication Date

5-1-2008

Degree Program

Department of English

Degree Type

Master of Science

Abstract

My thesis explores the world of the "imaginary" in Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan and its connection to the world of the "mundane" experienced by the typical Victorian housewife and mother. Both are intimately connected within the texts, primarily in the characters' dual roles as dictated by the gendered expectations of Victorian society. While in the imaginary world, both Alice and Wendy experience mini-versions of their future lives. They exist as girl and mother simultaneously. Carroll, by creating a hostile environment, grotesque motherimages, and a confused, argumentative Alice, shows a negative portrait of motherhood, since he never wanted little girls to become women. In contrast, Barrie depicts motherhood as sacred, something to be desired and protected at all costs. By necessity, maternal ideology is connected to female sexuality but is far superior in value. Both authors created an escape from the mundane realities of Victorian life wherein the audience could contemplate its societal roles. Barrie's story elevates mothers and their connection to eternal childhood, and Carroll's elevates girlhood, questioning the absurdities of "grown-up" reality. I also explore the dual nature of the secondary characters, analyzing the females against the Victorian Madonna/harlot dichotomy. For example, Tinker Bell, the working-class, profane fairy to Wendy's middle-class angel, is allowed much more freedom of expression and power to control her life than Wendy, though this freedom comes with a price. Primarily, she seeks Peter's company and attention, but she must settle for second place when Wendy is around. Mrs. Darling, the representation of angelic motherhood, is Barrie's professed "favorite" character. Though she cannot go back to Neverland, she experiences it vicariously by "tidying up" her children's minds. Through her we see what Wendy is destined to become, as well as Barrie's expression of the pivotal, sacred role of the mother. The male characters also play dual roles - sons and husbands - though they mostly serve to further define the female heroines. Alice suffers an identity crisis throughout her time in Wonderland, particularly since her place in the hierarchy of power is constantly changing. Her relationships with the White Rabbit, the Caterpillar, the King of Hearts, and others are what she uses to understand herself within the dream. Conversely, in Peter Pan, Barrie's male characters are defined by their relationship to the dominant females within the story. Mr. Darling and Captain Hook illustrate the dual nature of the Victorian male, though neither figure embodies the typical stereotype. The authors' treatment of the male characters does show insight into, and even a forgiveness for, their multiple flaws, but they are most often depicted according to how their behavior affects the heroines. By creating these girl-characters in fantastic settings, both authors made an appeal to their audience to become (or avoid becoming) what seemed inevitable: adult females. By doing so, they also displayed how the institution of motherhood affected their own realities and, perhaps subconsciously, what they wanted to sustain or change about the gendered expectations of Victorian society.

Disciplines

English Language and Literature