Alice and the Witches of Wonderland

Released by Disney, the film adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s already bizarre tale has been the subject of much speculation concerning its content. In modern day society, it serves as a beacon for various counter culture groups, specifically the drug community for its use of language and the visual. However, the simple fact that Alice is a girl who is readying herself to become a “lady” make this film an interesting sort of coming of age story. Although Alice’s lessons from her tutor under the shade of the tree only take up about 5 of the film’s miniscule 75 minutes, it sets us as viewers up for an escape. Alice makes it clear in no uncertain terms that she is unready for what the world offers her as an alternative to her childish even somewhat tom boyish behavior for which her tutor scolds her. This leads to her abandonment of the traditional ideals of what a “lady” should be and even the “real world”.
When she arrives in Wonderland, she is introduced to a variety of characters. What is interesting is that, even though animals, most of these characters are assigned what we typically think of as male characteristics. As a matter of fact, very few female characters are made mention of in the film. For instance, in the “real world”, for lack of a better term, besides Alice there is only her tutor, viewed largely as an oppressive figure, forcing these boring lessons of etiquette on our female protagonist. However, in Wonderland, amongst the wild cast of characters, only two recognizably female characters stand out. These characters serve as extremist representations of what, arguably, most men thought of women at the time.
The first feminine figures that Alice encounters in Wonderland are the flowers. The flowers skin-deep beauty is a reminder that women of the time were supposed to remain constantly aware of the fact that they are being watched. Not only this, but to remain attractive in the eyes of their observers, there was no real need for anything other than a colorful display to attract the male gaze. At first glance, Alice takes no issue with this. She even engages in conversation with the flowers, however, it is soon exposed that the flowers are far from beautiful. Almost as soon as they welcome Alice into their world, they quickly turn on her at the mention of her possibly being a weed. She is not only subjected to verbal abuse, but is almost washed away as the flowers pour raindrops on her. She is cast out at the very mention of her being anything less than desirable. A weed is not only one of the lowest life forms in the world of botany, but most importantly, it’s infectious. It spreads its seeds of discontent and tarnishes the beautiful wild flowers that grow around it. Although heavy handed, this is a tragically accurate portrayal of most social circles in the time period. People were not only obligated to portray themselves in a positive light, but those that they surrounded themselves with. Upon being declared an undesirable and being thrown out, Alice has learned her first lesson about the real world in Wonderland. To say that all women were like this at the time would be a disturbing generalization, but the wild flowers in Alice in Wonderland serve as a reminder of the superficiality and the worry of the contamination of one’s social status that was an inherent aspect of 1950s culture, which we’ve seen in other films such as Gidget, where Gidget’s friends abandon her after she fails to attract the attention of any of the young surfers.
The other, perhaps more memorable female of the film, is the Queen of Hearts. With a name that makes one think of compassion and care, the presentation of the Queen is jarring to say the least. She is an object of fear to all of the inhabitants of Wonderland. Although her husband is such a minor part of the film, the King’s fear of her is palpable. He curtails to her every desire. Even the animals that are used to play croquet know to let the Queen win. She is a symbol of unchecked aggression. It’s almost as if she serves as a warning to Alice, of what could become of her when she leaves Wonderland. Alice’s lack of interest in becoming a lady is only set up in a few minutes of the film, but the film illustrates the consequences of her disinterest. In short, the Queen of Heart, who is herself an emasculating, domineering woman who strikes fear into the very heart of Alice, is a warning of what Alice could become. However, just as important as her behavior, it’s just as crucial how we, as the audience, see her. She is a short, fat woman with jet-black hair. If we examine the sex symbols of the 50s, the pin-up girls and the Hollywood beauties, the most common image is a curvaceous blond. Although not confined to this image, the Queen of Hearts is most certainly the antithesis of these women. The Queen of Hearts, having no beauty either inner or outer, illustrates the dismal fate of Alice is she continues down the path she seems to have chosen. At the end of the film, after being subjected to the madness of men and women alike in Wonderland, Alice’s fate is pretty well decided. For fear of her Wonderland realized, Alice heeds the words of her tutor. She has essentially been scared straight into a lesson of conformity where she will adhere to the strict rules of polite society or face the wrath of an unhappy and perhaps unwedded future.


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