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In Victorian England, society expected children to make the transition into adulthood as soon as possible. This expectation caused acute mental and emotional stress upon many of the children of this age, as Lewis Carroll shows in the character of Alice in his book, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Coming-of-age in the twenty-first century, however, is a longer, more painful journey than it was during the time in which Lewis Carroll lived. Teenagers must now deal with the emotional aspects of adulthood and formation of personal identity for a greater amount of time, because even the law does not consider one an adult until the age of eighteen.
Children now experience the ambiguous and difficult time of adolescence, where they are neither adult nor child, long past the years of puberty. Such a period allows the hopelessness and identity issues seen in Alice, and other Victorian children, to develop and to become markedly pronounced in an American adolescent. Depression among American teenagers often results because of a youths inability to answer questions about him or her self. The creators of American Mc Gees Alice videogame amplify the themes of identity loss and of despair present in the original books, because growing up in modern-day America is a more painful and mentally disrupting time for the young than it was in Victorian England.
Carroll recognized the irrationality of society molding children into small adults in his books. In Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Alice angrily chastises the Mad Hatter when he offers wine that is not on the table, remarking, it wasnt very civil of you to offer it (Carroll 70). The Mad Hatter snidely replies to Alice, it wasnt very civil of you to sit down without being invited (Carroll 70). Carroll places Alice in a typically adult situation- a tea party- to satirically draw upon the Victorian belief that children Alice's age were expected to communicate easily with calculating adults, whom the Hatter represents. The Hatter and Hares antagonizing remarks lead to Alice's departure in a huff (Carroll 78), and this shows that while children may appear prepared to coexist with adults, when placed in adult situations, they are, in fact, simply child actors. In Victorian London, there was little, if any distinction between children and adults.
As soon as a child acquired language, the community viewed him or her as a miniature adult, (Invention). The social requirement to act beyond her abilities caused a frustration in Alice, as well as other Victorian children, that she eventually refuses to cope with, exemplified by her hasty departure from the tea party. Alice's dramatic size changes are examples of the effects of Victorian expectations to be either child or adult, with no period in between to develop an identity outside of these roles. Alice cannot describe who she is to the caterpillar, explaining, I hardly know, just at present- at least I know who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then being so many different sizes in a day is very confusing (Carroll 47 - 48).
Because Alice intertwines her identity with her height, the instability of her size causes her to wonder whether she still is who she was before she fell into Wonderland. Alice's sense of self was solid before she entered Wonderland, just as before the onset of rapid physical growth, children are more secure in their appearance as well as their personality (Emotional Changes). The connection between identity and physical appearance makes Alice confused and lonely, as it does for most pre-adolescents. I am so very tired of being all alone here (Carroll 24) she exclaims during one of her crying spells.
The emotional impact of the loss of her sense of self causes her to feel isolated in a strange world where she knows no one, especially herself. Carroll uses Alice to show how Victorian society forced children to take on adult roles too soon and therefore caused emotional distress in these children. Toys of this day were merely preparatory tools for adult life. Young girls played with dolls, which they pushed in small carriages, and were encouraged to learn the task of sewing in order to acquire the skill of mending clothes. The fashion of the day required young girls to dress like their mothers with crinoline petticoats (Goes.
net). Victorian society's dictation that young children grow up as quickly as possible did not leave time for a children to work through their emotions. The trailer for the game, Alice, provides a good overlay of the themes of identity loss and mental trauma used to generate its plot. As in the original book, Alice's age is indeterminate in the game, and as a result, she becomes hopeless and despairing.
With a simple piano playing a haunting childrens tune, an Alice voice-over searchingly says, Something is... broken. Alice is broken, just as some adolescents feel when they cannot identify a personal self. The scene is of a childs playroom, filled with Victorian toys, which she later uses as weapons in Wonderland.
When Alice appears, after the subtitle Alice grew up, she has the body of a woman, although she is dressed in clothes of a Victorian child. The obscuring of the definitions of "adult" and "child" portrayed in the trailer show how American society has since smeared the lines between maturity and childish behavior. Adolescence" is a historically recent idea, and it is a cultural and social phenomenon; physical milestones do not denote its beginning and end (Wikipedia. com).
A study conducted by KAS Wickrama supports the conclusion that the rush to adulthood places overwhelming demands on youth who are not fully prepared to take on adult roles. In the game, Alice shows that todays young adults must navigate through an adolescent period that often appears to have no end, which causes severe mental dysfunction. Depression and mental illness accompanying growing up is a theme in the original Alice books that American Mc Gees Alice draws on. In the trailer to the game, Alice is in a Victorian mental institution, characterized by the Gothic black steel bars on the windows and steel framed bed.
Looking closely, Alice has slit her wrists, as she lies staring menacingly up at the ceiling- a stuffed bunny in her arms. McGee comments that his Alice is [messed up] in the head. Alice has all kinds of thing going on at once: screwed up psyche, coming of age, dealing with emotional trauma, fighting for her life, and trying her best to just be Alice (Gamespy. com). McGee clearly saw that he could use Carroll's idea of a confused child and apply it to the current youths own confusion, now magnified as a result of a longer growing-up process.
Puberty has stemmed into a darker, more uncertain time if an adolescent begins to feel unable to develop his or her character. These feelings of uncertainty can range from minor feelings of angst to depression. Recently, the United States Surgeon general reported that approximately 3. 5 million children and teen-agers suffer from clinical depression (Koplewicz) and, according to MV Snyman, studies indicate that one in five young people experience at least some symptoms of non-clinical depression. In the game, Alice is clearly suffering from mental trauma because of her journey. McGee uses Alice, just as Carroll used his Alice, to display the themes of identity loss and the trauma it invokes in adolescents. McGee shows in the game that identity loss can ultimately lead to death.
He amplifies his Alice characters loss of sanity to show her loss of identity. The player must track Alice's sanity and Will to Live meters so that she does not perish in Wonderland. Suicide has risen to be the third leading cause of death in adolescents (In Harms Way). McGee uses the frightening reality of teenage suicide to shade his interpretations of Carroll's Alice. The videogame version of Alice has become popular with the Gothic subculture in America because these adolescents can see in Alice and other Victorian children the emotional struggle that is currently raging inside. Typically, it is more acceptable for angst-ridden teens to express and openly deal with the dark and confusing emotions that a longer coming-of-age period has fostered in them.
Members of the Goth subculture generally dress in Victorian-inspired fashion and draw upon the hidden darkness of growing up during the Victorian age (Boddeley 11). The Alice game explores the connection to the Goth scene with Alice's Victorian dress with Satanic symbols and the Gothic settings of the mental institution. Adolescents belonging to the Goth scene have found that literature, such as Carroll's own Alice books, history's Victorian era, and Gothic forms of entertainment, like the videogame, illuminate the themes hopelessness and despair that their search for identity in present-day society now intensifies. The mental trauma that Carroll shows in Victorian children through Alice has not changed with time. Only the representation has changed because of the longer growing-up period adolescents must navigate. Young adults today have no definite role of child or adult.
In creating adolescence, society has seen a decrease in the youths mental health. Identity formation is key in both Carroll's book and Mc Gees game, but both interpretations of Alice show that the transformation from child to adult is an emotionally traumatic time. In each case, Alice has no one in her journey through Wonderland alone. If society offered more guidance to its children, they could reduce the potential for emotional trauma.
Works Cited Adolescence. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia. com. 16 Oct. 2005. < web > Body, Eddie. Classic Note on Alice in Wonderland. 02 Jan. 2001... 28 Sept. 2005. < web > Path: Summary and Analysis of Chapters 1 - 3. Analysis.
Carroll, Lewis. The Annotated Alice. Ed. Martin Gardner. New York: W. W.
Norton & Company, Inc. , 2000. Clothing. Victorian Children. 16 Oct. 2005. < web text/Victorian% 20 Children. pdf> Emotional Changes. Puberty. Young Adult Health. 8 Oct. 2005. < web > Game-spy.
com- Interview: American McGee. Gamespy. com. 16 Oct. 2005. < web > Boddeley, Gavin. Goth-Chic.
Ed. Paul A. Woods. London: Plexus, 2002. In Harms Way: Suicide in America.
National Institute of Mental Health. April 2003. 16 Oct. 2005. < web > Koplewicz, Harold S. M. D. More Than Moody- Recognizing and Treating Adolescent Depression.
Education Update Online. Oct. 2002. 16 Oct. 2005. < web > Snyman, MV, M Pogenpoel, and M Com. Young Adolescent Girls Experience of Non-Clinical Depression. Education. Chula Vista: Winter 2003. Vol. 124, Iss. 2; pg. 269.
The Invention of the Child. London's Children in the 19 th Century. Museum of London. 16 Oct. 2005. < web facts / world city 6. html> Wickrama, KAS, Michael J Martin, and Glen H Elder.
Community Influence on Transitions to Adulthood: Racial Differences and Mental Health Consequences. Journal of Community Psychology. Brandon: Nov. 2005. Vol. 33, Issue 6; pg. 639.
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