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Tea and Colonization


 Original title of the paper: Post Colonialism in Wonderland

             When analyzing Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland using a post-colonialism approach, Alice herself can be viewed as a colonizer, perhaps even representing the British Empire of the nineteenth century. While literature is not “a passive reflection of history”, literature and history do feed off one another and each influence the other. (Parker 286). Whether Carroll intended to portray Alice as a representation of the British Empire, which ruled “roughly one quarter of the earth’s land and population” at one time (Parker 298), is unknowable (unless one wishes to be bogged down in trying to sort out the author’s intention). However, when applying the postcolonialism theory to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Alice does exhibit traits that are considered typical of a colonizer. She invades a space which is foreign to her, attempts to impose her own cultural norms on the society she finds there, and eventually engages in some mimicry of the culture she finds in order to get along where she finds herself.

When Alice encounters the Mad Hatter, the March Hare, and the Dormouse, she joins their tea party against their will. They not only did not invite her to join them, they actually call out “No room! No room!” when they see her coming. Alice quite literally invades their tea party by insisting, indignantly, that, “[t]there’s plenty of room!” as if she is owed a spot at the table by virtue of the fact she wants it (Carroll 119).  In much the same way the British Empire invaded other countries in order to set up occupation colonies, Alice treats the tea party as if it exists for her own needs/desires. (Parker 299). And there is another possible layer of allusion to British colonialism within the fact that is a tea party, since the “anchoring ritual of English life grounds English culture in the colonialism that filled the teacups … with South Asian tea and Caribbean sugar” (Parker 301). But whether she is meant to be seen as representative of the British Empire specifically, or not, Alice’s behavior is indicative of almost any type of colonizing power throughout history. She ignores the pleas of those already at the party not to join them and then, once there, she usurps a position of power by immediately sitting “down in a large arm-chair at one end of the table” (Carroll 119). Sitting at the head of the table is usually a position, in the Western world, that is reserved for the head of a household or the guest of honor. This seating position then further cements Alice’s assumption of a power position to which she was neither invited nor elected.

Despite her status as an uninvited guest at someone else’s party, Alice wastes no time in asserting herself as the colonizer in this situation by attempting to impose her cultural norms on the March Hare and the Mad Hatter. She calls them uncivilized for offering her wine they don’t have (Carroll 119). It is not completely clear whether this lack of civility she perceives is based solely on offering her something they cannot deliver, or whether it is also based on the etiquette breach of offering wine during a tea party. Either way, lack of civilization is one of the favorite tropes of colonizers toward those they subjugate. And similar to colonizers in general, this concept of being civil which Alice holds, is based solely on her own experiences and opinions as an upper-class British girl. She shows absolutely no regard for the fact the Hatter and the Hare might have their own cultural norms for their tea party. Perhaps in Wonderland it is not rude to offer something one doesn’t have, perhaps wine is always available at a tea party in Wonderland – Alice doesn’t know the rules and norms of this place, but she also doesn’t care. Instead she assumes the right to foist her cultural values upon them, tell them what they are doing wrong, and supplant whatever the native cultural practices of Wonderland might be with whatever she is accustomed to.

Both colonized peoples and the colonizers themselves often exhibit signs of mimicry as they each begin to take on the “ways of living and thinking” of one another and ‘hybridize’ into a uniquely blended culture (Parker 300). While mimicry itself is most noticeable in the colonized population, as in when they adopt the colonizer’s language and educational and government systems, it goes both ways and is really only about hints of assimilation which make interaction smoother (Parker 312). As the tea party continues, Alice’s originally demanding, impatient, and imperial behavior lessons and mellows. She gradually makes attempts to assimilate with the Mad Hatter, the March Hare, and even the nearly nonexistent Dormouse. For example, when the Dormouse becomes exasperated by Alice constantly interrupting his story and suggests that she tell the story herself, Alice responds, “No, please go on! … I won’t interrupt you again’” (Carroll 126). Alice changes her tone from demanding and condescending to something fundamentally more respectful, in her attempt to mesh with the Wonderland inhabitants. When the Mad Hatter decided he wanted a clean cup and therefore everyone should change seats, Alice agreed (however unwillingly), even though in her new position, she “was a good deal worse off than before” (Carroll 127). In agreeing to change seats, Alice is metaphorically acquiescing to the cultural norms of the Wonderland inhabitants and no longer forcing her views on them.

Alice’s behavior throughout her time in Wonderland casts her in the light of a colonizer determined to change Wonderland to suit her own cultural norms. Mirroring the actions of the British Empire, Alice invades deliberately, attempts to impose her cultural habits on the indigenous inhabitants, and eventually exhibits signs of mimicry as she assimilates slightly in order to get along in this foreign land. While examples of Alice as a colonizer can be found elsewhere in the story, the tea party scene plays a key role in seeing her through this lens. Within the context of the tea party alone it is clear to see a few of the most important defining traits of a colonizer embodied by Alice.


 

Works Cited

Carroll, Lewis, and Richard Kelly. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland: and, Through the

Looking-Glass. Peterborough, Ontario: Broadview Press, 2015.

Parker, Robert D. How to Interpret Literature: Critical Theory for Literary and Cultural Studies.

New York: Oxford University Press, 2020.

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