Diluted and ineffectual violence in the ‘Alice’ books

By George Kruglov  (source of this article)
This text is reproduced on this site with permission from the author

In Alice’s Adventure in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass the author uses diluted and ineffectual violence, to better entertain his young readers. For something to be truly violent it needs to have two parts, one part is a physical force and the other is damage or injury. The violent acts committed by characters through out the two stores lack the aspect of damage and injury, making the violence watered down and ineffective.

Some examples of this diluted violence are, the fight between the Red Knight and White Knight, the fight between the Lion and the Unicorn, and the cook’s actions towards the Duchess. The ineffectual violence allows the author to preserve the unrealistic appearance of both the Wonderland and the Looking-Glass world, from which the pains and injures of reality are forever exiled.

A distinct example of the author’s usage of diluted violence to entertain his young readers is shown in the instance of the fight between the Red and White Knight. It is well known, that little kids love fairy tales with knights and kings. For most children at some point in their childhood have imagined themselves being a knight, fighting others knights and rescuing princesses in distress. This childish craving to become a knight  and to do knightly deeds is all to natural.

The author uses this desire for petty violence in the scene with the two Knights.  Like the knights of fairy tales these two fighters are dressed in full armor and are eager to fight.  They attack one another with full force, yet here the author decided to alter the appearance of their violent actions to the reader. For he does not allow them to fight as normal knights should, but gives them nutty features that children can find amusing and even relate to. In the story Alice describes the knights actions by saying,”if one Knight hit the other, he knocked him off his hours; and , if he misses, he tumbles off himself, they hold their clubs with their arms as if they were Punch and Judy…and they always fell on their heads”(187).

The actions of these knights are so juvenile that it makes one believe that the knights were supposed to represent children fighting.  Their use of their clubs does not show a violent intention, but more of a playful one, which is further supported by them constantly falling head first from their horses.  It is clear that their seemingly violent actions were not intended to cause harm. This is shown in their actions during the battle as well as by them being totally uninjured and unaffected at the end of the fight. Alice says when they finished fighting that,”they shook hand and the Red Knight mounted and galloped off”. The use of diluted and ineffectual violence in this scene makes the actions of the Knights appear childlike, and being so, they become more appealing to the author’s younger audience.

The author’s desire to appeal to his young audience through the use of diluted violence is shown in the fight between the Lion and the Unicorn. To understand this scene  one needs to look at a child’s mentality towards lions and unicorns, because the story is meant to be seen by children.

To most kids, a lion is a powerful animal that in most of the stores plays a role of king of the jungle. The unicorn on the other hand is looked upon as a fabled creature,  represented as a horse with a single horn on forehead. These two animals are both considered by children to be powerful and capable of violent acts. Being that the lion is large, has claws and teeth, and the unicorn has a large, sharp horn. It should then come as no surprise that the author shows these two powerful animals in a violent setting. The author describes the fight between them by saying,”they came in sight of a great crowd, in the middle of which the Lion and Unicorn were fighting, they were in such a cloud of dust that Alice could not make our which was which”(180).

The Hatter then adds that,”each of them has been down eighty-seven times”(181). Yet, these seemingly violent acts are really ineffective, because the Lion and the Unicorn are not effected by the fighting. They do not show any signs of physical damage and the second the fighting stops their thoughts tern towards food.

The author could have made the fighting more violent and effective, but he could not dear to do so, because he had given these two character childlike personalities, and if physical pain was alluded to, it would appear as if children were being hurt. Little children are known for fighting amongst themselves for no particular reason. The Lion and the Unicorn in the story are also fighting for nothing. In the beginning the readier is told that they are fighting for the crown, but when Alice asks the White King  if the one who wins would get the crown the King says, “dear no! what  an idea”(180).

Another aspect in the behavior of these two creatures that alludes to them being modeled after children is, the speed with which they alter themselves. Most children are known to become board and easily swayed from any action that they have been doing for a long time. This swaying of emotions and desires also took place in both the Lion and Unicorn. After fighting for what seemed to be a very long time these two combatants instantaneously just stopped fighting as if it was all just a game and shifted their focus from fighting to planing what food they would want to eat.

Yet, the most distinctive action on the part of these two creatures that gives away that they are supposed to represent children is, the Lion calling the Unicorn a “chicken”(184). Name calling is something that is considered a childrens’ speciality, and by name calling the two characters shows themselves truly childlike.  By making the Lion and Unicorn so infantile, the author handicapped himself, because of it he is unable to use real violence, but only ineffectual violence. Yet, the ineffectual violence allows him to combine the childlike aspects of the characters with the seemingly violent actions, making the scene both relatable and interesting to his young readers.

Through both stories the author uses ineffectual violence, especially in the instance of the cook and the Duchess. The actions of the cook towards the Duchess at first glance appear to be very violent. The the author described her actions by saying,”at once [the cook] set to work throwing everything within her reach at the duchess and the baby the fire-iron came first; then followed a shower of sauce -pans, plates and dishes”(43).

If left as is, this would be considered a scene with real violence. Yet, knowing that he needs to appease a younger audience and does not allow real violence to take place for it would shatter his magical sanctuary from reality. Pain is one of the most powerful sensations in real life, and by showing pain of any kind the author would have brought a strong sense of unwanted reality into the stories. His stories were designed to provide an escape for kids from the real world and its hardships. What bigger hardship is there then pain.

So to prevent the destruction of his wonderful world, he added this to the scene, “the Duchess took no notice of them even when they hit her”(43). By telling the reader that the violent actions of the cook did not cause any pain or discomfort, the author is able to preserve his fanciful universe. By implementing ineffectual violence rather then real violence the author was able to both use violent actions to make the story more interesting for his young readers and still preserve its surreal appearance.

It is clear why Lewis Carroll only used the ineffectual type of violence thorough out his stories. The books main audience was meant to be children, especially young children.  If ever a person is able to look at the daily actions of young kids one would probable see a lot of violent tendencies. Little kids are known to fight amongst themselves, to throw things when they are angry or craving attention, and  most of the time they are injured doing these violent activities.  In these acts of childish violence the children only have one true internal fear, the fear of pain and  bodily injury. That is of course the only deterrent that checks them in their violent perversions.

In making the magical worlds of his stores, Lewis Carroll wanted to bring pleasure to children, and what better way is there of doing so as by taking out the only thing that stands between them and the pleasure of childish violence, pain. By taking out the aspect of pain from all of the violent actions of the characters, as in the instances of the two Knights, the Unicorn and the Lion, and the Cook and the Duchess,  he was able to dilute the violence so that it turned the Wonderland into a childrens’ Utopia. A place where their playfully violent actions would not have a painful reaction.

This was the underlaying goal of the author when he inserted the ineffectual violence into the stories. He was hoping that by doing so he could in some way create a magical escape from reality for his young readers, and by all means he was very successful in accomplishing that goal with the help of diluted violence.