WHAT’S THE CONNECTION BETWEEN ALICE AND DARWIN?
When I handed out today’s reading, which was selections from Alice in Wonderland, I asked the class to do two things: read it–and come up with an hypothesis as to why we were reading it. Published just six years after Origins, it’s hard to imagine that the kerfuffle hadn’t reached Lewis Carroll. While Carroll did not respond directly to the debates regarding evolution in this children’s book, Carroll does present a post-Darwinian understanding of nature, man, and survival. But how?
I divided the class into groups of two and gave each group a topic to explore. The topics included: Struggle for Life, Agents of Change, Continual Change, Predator vs. Prey, and Hierarchy. For each topic, I asked them to find at least three examples and try to figure out if there was a pattern to those examples. Let’s consider, for instance, how hierarchy is established in Alice. Or is it even established? The King and Queen of Cards may be in charge of the trial, but they make no sense at all, asking first for the sentence and then the verdict, for example. During the trial, as Alice grows taller and taller, she begins to contradict them more and more. So, maybe Alice is in charge? But there are multiple times when the animals don’t give her that sort of respect such when the Hare and the Hatter argue with everything she is saying. The only times when Alice appears to be at the top of the hierarchy are when she is physically able to dominate. But there are exceptions to that, too, that often depend on chance. (Will she survive the fall down the hole? All depends on the hole itself, the speed, what’s at the bottom—factors that she cannot control.) What’s clear is this: the idea that humans are separate from and above all other animals is not a given in this story, and that is one of the many ripple effects from Origins. Nature is in charge. Chance is in charge. Sometimes Alice is taller and sometimes Alice is smaller. Again, nothing and no one is static, but instead in a constant state of flux depending on natural causes—or as Darwin said—natural selection.