Saturday, March 5, 2011

Alice in Wonderland

Alice in Wonderland

    Lewis Carroll's Alice may be one of the most recognizable and culturally relevant characters ever invented. The novel is a runaway classic, and it has been made into countless films, poems, parodies, and plays, and has become a staple of the counterculture. Tim Burton's dark take on the story become one of the biggest grossing films of the year, proving that the story of a little girl encountering strange and unusual creatures is still relevant and popular today.
    Alice is a delightful person who undergoes various changes as the novel progresses. At the beginning, she is curious and perhaps a little too smart for her own good. She isn't content to sit and listen to her sister read. When the opportunity for adventure comes along, she dives right in, not yet savvy enough to consider the consequences. However, Alice's love of nonsense is challenged left and right. It is clear that Alice has been raised a privileged child in the Victorian era; she is educated, (thought no so much so as she would like to think,) self-entitled, relatively used to things going her way, and spoiled. Despite all this, she has been reared vigorously in the stringent notions of good manners, and therefore tries to be kind to everyone she meets, if only at a surface level.
     Wonderland, unfortunately, is a place brimming with characters who are dismissive and blatantly rude. People are callous to her left and right, and those who do speak to her write her off immediately. She's insulted and berated by everyone she meets, challenging Alice's strict rules about courtesy and manners. When faced with this unkindness, Alice clings desperately to her raising, and is confused when the world doesn't give it back to her. It is Alice's desperate normalcy that brings about her apparent madness towards the end; trying to stay with the normal reality she knows in an obviously abnormal place is enough to give on an identity crisis, and so it is with Alice.
      Her famous conversation with the Caterpillar reveals Alice's personal confusion. When he asks her who she is, she replies, "I... I hardly know, Sir, just at present-- at least know who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then." All the peculiar insanity of Wonderland has taken its toll on her sense of self, and it is only during this revelation that Alice begins to mature. "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" is a book about a young girl learning that school knowledge can only get you so far, that not every problem has a solution, and that not everything makes sense. This inevitable loss of childhood innocence is a tragedy in itself, and Alice rises to the occasion. By the end of the novel, Alice has been transformed from a bored, spoiled little girl into a child more aware of the world around her, and this curious transformation has given the world one of the greatest novels (and heroines) in the history of literature.

Kathy and Ruth: Never Let Me Go

Ruth and Kathy
Never Let Me Go

    Kazuo Ishiguru's "Never Let Me Go" is not a classic at this moment, but I have no doubt that it will be one day. Therefore, I have no hesitance about discussing it in this blog. This book is a modern masterpiece in the classic style, and manages to be an incredible romance and a captivating look at the value of human life, and the film made from the book is exceptional as well.
     The story is about Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy, three children being raised in an idyllic British boarding school. They are given the best education possible, and are taught art as well as other subjects with the finest curriculum available. They are made rigorous and healthy, as their personal health, they are told, is of paramount importance. As children, they learn not to question their origins or their purpose in life, but as they grow older, they learn that they have been designed with a specific purpose. They will not live to become shopkeepers or actors or bankers. They will not live very long at all. They are being raised for the sole purpose of growing older and donating their organs to others. After a maximum of four donations, they will "complete," and their brief lives will be over.
      The story plays like a science fiction, and it certainly has science fiction elements, but the story is told in such a classic style that the sci-fi elements do not get in the way. At its core, this is a story about humanity, and how we as a society are prone to deciding whose lives are best wasted and whose are valued above all others.
    The narrator is Kathy (played by Carey Mulligan in the film), who is smart, capable, and naive, and yet innately sensible. She often sees through the ruses of others, but is too much of a submissive person to say much on her own behalf. Her best friend is Ruth (Keira Knightley), who, for reasons of her own, doesn't want to accept her lot in life. While Kathy never allows herself the hope of dreaming of a better future, since it simply won't happen, Ruth spends her childhood, and even her adolescence,  fantasizing about things she might do when she grows up. She particularly fancies being an actress. Their friend Tommy is Ruth's boyfriend; he is a passionate, insecure person who is known to be goodhearted, but violently unstable. Even as a child, he is prone to wild rages that leave him the laughingstock of their school.
     The great juxtaposition of Kathy and Ruth is how they handle the life set out before them. Ruth is the caretaker, the leader of their little band. When they are released from their school and sent out into the real world with nothing more than a foggy purpose and a few books, Ruth works hard to make sure the world doesn't treat her as a specimen. She tries to blend in with others, copying their behaviors, pretending she has forgotten her past (and her future), and dragging Tommy and Kathy along in her fantasies, despite their objections. She and Tommy are dating, but she is clearly the one in charge; she is even known to bully Tommy just to provoke him.
       Kathy sees through Ruth's pretentious nature and is annoyed by it, and yet is too concerned about her own affairs to call much attention to it. She loves Tommy and understands him far better than Ruth does, and it seems that Tommy actually cares for Kathy as well. It is merely Ruth's commanding nature and his own easy nature that keeps him with her. Kathy narrates the story dryly and with warmth and sincerity, speaking the way one does when one has accepted one's life completely. In the end, Kathy is proven to be the stronger one; Ruth's crippling insecurities and fears lead her to complete earlier than expceted, and in the end, Tommy and Kathy are left to venture on a brief journey toward meaning, or rather, the question about whether their lives have meaning at all.
      This is a brilliant work full of moving characters, and it is worth a read and further examination. Kathy and Ruth are dynamic characters who gently portray how frightening and cruel it is to not be in charge of your own life, and further, who lonely it is when you discover that your life doesn't matter to anyone but you.