Thursday, October 22, 2009


Lewis Carroll uses many devices to comment on the human relationship with and treatment of animals in both Alice books. How do these devices, these characters, and these interactions reflect on the larger question of animal treatment, in the books and in our world today?


Before we can discuss how animals are treated in the books, we must first see how Carroll treats them as characters. Which traits does he develop in these animals and what do they signify? What point is Carroll trying to make about the distinction between humans and animals?

“Carroll wants his readers to notice that animals clearly have their own worth outside of the lives of humans.”
“Carroll also demonstrates an animal’s worth by showing the deer’s sense of identity.”

“By introducing us to characters like a weeping Mock Turtle, a Caterpillar with a Napoleon complex (kind of), a fearful mother Pigeon, and a greedy, conniving Walrus, the author forces us to see human qualities in wild animals and savagery in ourselves.”

“Our author brings into question an animal’s ability to communicate, feel, love, and reason. So, is there a distinction between the actions of humans amongst animals, versus animals amongst themselves?”
“The moral consequences of eating an egg become more apparent when its mother can argue and attack you.”
“…one can hardly distinguish the differences between human and animal in his imaginative world.”

“Humans and animals both have deep emotions? SAME PERSON.”

“I believe he emphasizes this by making these animals as human-like as possible – so we as readers could take out the descriptions of the animals, replace them with human descriptions, and read the book never knowing that Alice was kicking a talking lizard named Bill but rather kicking a talking person named Bill. Would Alice kick a man named Bill for no obvious reason? I doubt it. Carroll’s human/animal parallel is drawn effectively in this way.”

“Carroll’s personification of the animals in the Alice books further serves the purpose of equalizing man and animals.”


Having recognized the distinctions Carroll consciously makes between humans and animals, how does Alice struggle with this distinction, or lack thereof? How does this relationship affect Alice’s treatment of the animals in wonderland and looking-glass world?

“Lewis Carroll’s failure to differentiate between animals and humans in Alice and Wonderland poses the interesting question: Why do we treat animals as inferior to humans?”

“…we dehumanize animals just because they don't communicate and act the same way as us and therefore allow ourselves to treat them unethically, although lack of understanding for animals is not a “good and sufficient cause” (Anthology, 329) for this unethical treatment.”
“…the astounding difference in Alice's treatment of animals that arises when they DO communicate and act like humans. I think that animals possess a lot of the same traits as us, but we fail to recognize these similarities because we are blinded by what separates us, such as the ability to talk”

“Carroll uses the narrow-minded lens through which Alice views the animals around her to make obvious that treatment of animals as if they are worth less than we as humans, or as if their feelings are any less real or important as ours, is simply wrong”

“While Carroll writes about an animal’s individual worth, he also demonstrates how humans and animals may coexist.”


Although many animals in the books are characterized as humans, Carroll still emphasizes the difference in Alice’s treatment of animals she regards as pets. What does this connection to our pets say about our treatment of animals overall? What is hypocritical about our attitudes towards pets? How does Alice illustrate this hypocrisy in her dealings with non-domestic animals?

“Many people learn to accept animals as their best friends or members of their family, proving that they see animals “more and more the aspect of gentle friends” (Course Anthology 320).”

“Perhaps Carroll is suggesting that if we could see all animals as we see our pets, we might treat them all much better.”

“Especially, I think, is this true with pets, for we feed them, we keep their environment clean, we control much of their lifestyle. We are in a position of power over them to the point where it is difficult to put ourselves on their level and truly understand what is going on in their minds.”


How does Alice’s attitude towards animals change as the books progress, especially towards the end of Through the Looking Glass? What assertion might Carroll be making with this shift in behavior?

“… when Alice herself becomes a Queen, a transition Carroll uses to represent her coming of age, she seems to lose her initial patience and fascination with the creatures.”

“One major trend I’ve noticed is that children are usually more sympathetic to animals than adults are. Combined with a greater sense of imagination as well as a tendency to be naturally compassionate (due to their innocence I presume), children, no matter how they end up as they get older…are more likely to sympathize with animals.”


Carroll’s inclusion of animals in the books and his outrageous crafting of their individual and absurd characters makes it clear that they are meant to represent some larger truth about the human relationship with animals, and perhaps about the human condition in general. What truth is he trying to convey?

“Through her mistakes, Lewis Carroll warns us against indulging our carelessness and selfishness. Through her moments of kindness, Lewis Carroll inspires us to change. In the end, Lewis Carroll reminds us that all creatures of the world are just as worthy as we are to be treated fairly and compassionately, to live and exist harmoniously.”

“I think that was one of Carroll’s goal with his Alice books – to allow us to examine our own convictions and question our own ideals, especially with respect to animals”

“Only when we can really look pass the surface of differences and judge based on fundamental similarities can we view animals as equals to extend our compassion towards them.”

“Throughout Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, Carroll again and again thoroughly unites man and nature. Kittens as the Red and White Queens, talking flowers, Cheshire Cat with clear and cool logic- countless points are made that we are all connected, we are all the same.”

Monday, October 19, 2009


Lewis Carroll makes many comments on the relativity of suffering between humans and animals in his criticisms of vivisection. Though buried in his functional analysis of the problems of the research method, these comments present an idea most directly addressed in the Alice books – what differentiates us from animals, and how does that justify our treatment of them? Carroll states clearly that “the prevention of suffering to a human being does not justify the infliction of a greater amount of suffering on an animal”(Anthology 329), and while he makes it a purpose to differentiate between inflicting pain on an animal and killing it (which “needs no justification”), in the Alice books, Alice is confronted, and most puzzled by, the moral implications of killing animals for food.

Where does our food come from? Animals, a fact
that Alice must face in Wonderland.

Though taken out of context, Carroll’s statement that “ while science arrogates to herself the right of torturing at her pleasure the whole sentient creation up to man himself, some inscrutable boundary-line is there drawn, over which she will never venture to pass,” (Anthology 329) brings up an important assertion that Carroll makes in this essay and in the Alice books – that animals are equally as sentient as humans, and therefore have the same capacity for experiencing pain. The problem arises for Alice when she is confronted by the abrasive sentience of the animals in wonderland – not only are they fully aware of themselves and their own suffering, but they are quick to judge and classify Alice, forcing her to admit to her selfish and sometimes hypocritical reasoning.

In Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Alice’s encounter with the pigeon marks the first time that she really starts to consider the implications of her animal-rich diet. When the pigeon assumes that Alice is “a kind of serpent” because she confesses to eating eggs, “this was such a new idea to Alice, that she was quite silent for a minute or two,”(Annotated Alice, 56). It is this silence which signifies Alice’s struggle to accept herself as being the equivalent of an animal – in her case a predatory one. The next lines support this as the pigeon asks, “What does it matter to me whether you’re a little girl or a serpent?” “It matters a good deal to me,” Alice replies, showing her disdain for the pigeon’s lack of distinction between the two (Annotated Alice, 56).

Alice being berated by the pigeon.

In Through the Looking Glass, Carroll makes an even more outrageous attempt at forcing the reader, and Alice, to accept the sentience of the animals we kill for food, and ultimately the sentience of the animals we inflict suffering upon. At her coronation feast, when introduced to the leg of mutton she was to slice, “Alice returned the bow, not knowing whether to be frightened or amused,”(Annotated Alice, 262). This exchange marks Alice’s continuing dilemma throughout the books- are these talking animals simply an amusing fantasy of wonderland? Or does their sentience reveal a truth that Alice has never considered, the truth of their feeling, their awareness of suffering? The question is answered partly by the queen’s response to Alice’s attempt to slice her new acquaintance - “it isn’t etiquette to cut anyone you’ve been introduced to,” (Annotated Alice, 263). Even in the looking glass world, where everything is opposite, one would not dream of eating a creature that is self-aware, feeling, and in this case, rather polite.

Alice's encounter with the mutton.

Although Alice must question, once again, the morality of eating animals, in this episode Carroll also suggests the futility of trying to prevent all suffering, and makes the same distinction between killing and hurting animals as he does in his essay on vivisection. After the fiasco with the mutton, Alice is quick to avoid the same interaction with the pudding, stating, “I wo’n’t be introduced to the pudding, please… or we shall get no dinner at all,”(Annotated Alice, 263). Though Alice has been forced to accept the moral fact of eating animals – that she is destroying once conscious beings – she makes the point that if we were to let that fact deter us completely, we would never eat. Alice introduces the concept of a necessary evil – one that Carroll also describes when he states “that man has an absolute right to inflict death on animals,”(Anthology, 324). In that vein, Alice takes the initiative to slice the pudding, despite having been properly introduced. She is once again affronted by an unexpected sentience. One could say that Carroll is almost mocking an extremist view – that we offend creation in every instance of killing another creature. The pudding’s ire at being consumed reflects Carroll’s opinion of the “reductio ad absurdum” proposition of trying to classify or justify the relative importance of creatures we kill for food. It is as ridiculous to feel guilt for eating an animal as it is to be scolded by the pudding at a banquet.

Though the points I have discussed here are only a fraction of Alice’s interactions with animals, I believe they have the most bearing on Carroll’s actual opinions on the treatment of animals, which, as evidenced by his essay, he cares about greatly. The Alice books serve to confront us with a reality we often ignore, or are indifferent to, that animals have the capacity to feel, and are as vulnerable to suffering, if not more so, as we are. Although Carroll seeks to reduce the suffering of animals, he is also aware of the absurdity of trying to prevent all suffering, and illustrates this in the ridiculous difficulty Alice has in her dealings with animals throughout the book. The challenges Alice faces in this regard can be characterized by an excerpt from Jude the Obscure, a story in which efforts made by the protagonist are equally as futile as Alice’s attempts to treat the creatures of wonderland fairly and with as much civility as she can manage – “It was impossible to advance in regular steps without crushing some of them at each tread,” (Anthology, 322). As Jude must “carefully [pick] his way on tiptoe among the earthworms,”(Anthology, 322) Alice must be constantly wary of what she says and does while in the company of these incredibly sensitive and easily offended animals. Though it would be easy to criticize Alice for her insensitive dealing with these animals, we must feel sympathy for her in that she is overwhelmed not only by the curious and often illogical demands of these creatures, but also by their blatant sentience, as we would be overwhelmed if we were expected to keep track of every animal we harm in passing – from the food we eat to the very steps we take.
Are we to avoid every earthworm?

Monday, October 12, 2009


I’ve had many fantasies of my future self. In almost every case I am some sort of charismatic leader - whether political, religious, or revolutionary, I am always at the forefront of new and controversial ideas, proudly proclaiming them to the masses, raising my fist on the podium, a master of extemporaneous speaking…

But that isn’t me. Yet.
I often fantasize about being a speaker
like Barack Obama(1), isn't he charismatic?

I’ve had many causes in these fantasies, environmentalism, socialism, science, art; they’re all interchangeable passions. So what is it that fuels this persistent dream? What passion makes me a leader, makes me the one with all the answers? I have to look at what all of these future selves have in common. Yes, of course in all of them I am the one on the podium, the one conducting the crowd, but this reflects more of my distorted ego than it does my guiding passion. But there is one other consistency. Regardless of the subject of my declarations, I am always exposing some new truth, enacting some new knowledge, and giving it to the world – I am educating.

A passion for education has been apparent throughout my entire life, first in fantasies and later in my actions. One of my fondest memories of the third grade is standing on the large log in the playground and giving my classmates a lecture on the topic “why nothing is something”. No one was listening. But I developed the ability, at a very young age, to be completely unfazed by a lack of attention. If I have something I really want to say, I will keep saying it no matter what. From that point on, lunchtime lectures were a common affair for me. I suppose my real goal was to have some sort of intellectual discussion with my peers, but seeing as they were all also in the third grade, it usually turned out rather one sided. This pattern continued throughout my life. My freshman year of high school brought me back to the lunchtime lecture, a sign that it was my standby method of socializing in uncomfortable situations. Passions make themselves most apparent as comfort zones – what do I do when I don’t know what to do in a situation? I start talking, discussing things I’ve recently learned, giving my opinions on the news, formulating philosophical ideologies, etc. I know that talking for the sake of talking isn’t what makes someone a teacher, and it isn’t the same as educating, but it is the passion that has led me on a path towards education, in many ways.

A precocious child(2), not unlike myself in the 3rd grade.

In my last few years of high school, I started talking less and doing more. Somehow my passion for sharing my ideas with large groups was able to overshadow my disdain for student organizations. I was never the type of person who liked to be involved. But I saw an opportunity to do the things I liked to do – organizing people and information, communicating new ideas in new ways – and I took it. This is the power of passion, it forces you to do things you otherwise would not, to pursue all opportunities to share that passion. I joined senior council, became president of National Art Honor Society, joined an advisory board for a nearby museum, and became active in organizing student exhibitions in the arts district. My family is still confused by my level of involvement - I’m the last of four children and the first to ever join any sort of organization, let alone be in charge of one. So how do these actions lend themselves to a passion for education? In all of my extracurricular activities, similar to my fantasies, I sought to bring something new to the table, either a new idea for an event or a publication or an exhibit. All of the things I helped organize served some sort of educational purpose. One of the projects I am most proud of is the zine I created with the NAHS. Not only did I want to give the visual arts cluster something to present to the public, beyond our gallery exhibits, I wanted to give them experience in a field that our curriculum touched little upon, but that many students end up going into – publication design. In order to produce the zine as a collective, everyone had to learn about using layouts, creating printing forms, book making, copy editing – everything involved in making one little book. Because this was my project, I was in charge of getting people involved and making sure they knew what they were doing. Though the final product could’ve come out cleaner and earlier (December vs. May),
the experience was one of the highlights of my time at the Arts Magnet, and really helped to define my passion for education and information dispersal.

The cover of our first zine, lovingly hand-printed
photo credit to author

I also had the opportunity to bring my “lectures” to a wider and more attentive audience through my involvement in the visual arts cluster. I helped organize student exhibitions for the printmaking department, at the Crow Collection of Asian Art and the Dallas Museum of Art. My main contribution to these shows was solidifying the theme and purpose of each exhibition and communicating that idea to the artists involved, and, eventually, to the viewers of the exhibit in the form of the wall text displayed at each show. So not only did I get to help determine the general direction the show would go in, what statement the art would make when put together, I got to make the final statement, the paragraphs that explained to strangers what we were doing and why we were doing it. I also spoke at the openings of each exhibit, and getting to share my ideas in front of a receptive audience was one of the most fulfilling things I’ve ever done. My passion for education becomes very apparent in the projects I choose to take on and how I interpret those projects. It would be easy for me, as an artist, to simplify the exhibitions we planned and focus solely on the visual nature of the artwork. But because of my passion, in every case I made it about the meaning, about the statement, and about the context of each piece within the larger group. And that should be the goal of every educator, to show people what’s beyond the obvious.

Presenting the wall text I wrote
for the Crow.
photo credit to author

Not only has my passion manifested itself in my actions, but it is also very apparent in the actions of those I consider to be my role models. I am very quick to respect good teachers, and equally as quick to write off bad ones. As someone with a passion for education, I expect to see the same passion in those who have chosen to pursue it as a career. I have had the privilege of working with some amazing teachers throughout my life, and these people are my role models. No doctors, no lawyers, no artists or scientists – my role models have all been teachers, even my mother, who has taught art to children for as long as I’ve known her. It’s teachers that have shown me the most about myself – how I learn, the type of work I like to do, what I’m capable of. It’s teachers that inspire the best in people, and it’s the best in people that inspires me.

Me with Charlotte Chambliss, a
teacher and a huge influence on me.
photo credit to author

Though seeing people reach their potential does bring me joy, it is just a convenient product of my passion for educating. Education has its roots in compassion, in selflessness, but I cannot say that this compassion is what drives me. I am driven by something different, less humanitarian. Passions are solely internal forces, and it is an internal force that leaves me desperate for an outlet for my thoughts, for a venue in which to organize all the information floating around in my head, and for a way to make this knowledge useful to others. I can’t say that I want to change the lives of teenagers or bring enlightenment in the form of heightened literacy – I just want to talk, and be listened to. So the passion that drives this compassionate endeavor – to teach and to give knowledge – is a completely selfish one – a passion for talking, a passion for knowing, a passion for giving my opinion even when it isn’t asked for. But I think this is what makes my passion for education more versatile. I’m not passionate about any specific type of education; I see no difference in the relative importance of school and television, literature and magazines. Every source of information seeks to educate in some way, and all sources can be improved upon. It is really this improvement that I seek, not just in what is being taught, but in how it is being taught, and in what format. This is why I am so drawn to publications and graphic design as sources of education. Once people complete their mandatory twelve years, what incentive do they have to continue learning, aside from obvious professional reasons? My passion for education goes beyond what I can accomplish in the classroom. My fantasies of a future self may not be so far off. Though I may not end up on the podium, I want to educate on a massive scale – reaching out through publication design and my ability to organize information in unique and appealing ways. I may not have the courage or interpersonal skills needed for direct education, but my passion will not be quelled, and I will always seek new and exciting ways to get my message across.
Cover of Seed Magazine(3), a great
example of an educational publication.

Although my passion for education may be internal, its application is sure to have positive external consequences. It’s already reared its head in how I’ve approached school, how I’ve learned to work with others, and how I choose to communicate in general. Despite my “selfish” motivations for wanting to educate, it is, nonetheless, a deed whose benefit to society is obvious. Not only do we need more educated citizens, we need them to be educated correctly. For this end, we need more great teachers, teachers with not only a passion for knowledge, but a passion for packaging that knowledge in its most accessible and usable form. Educating will always be much more than a source of income for me because I am truly passionate about the dispersal of information. It is that level of personal investment that makes great teachers across all fields. When teachers are passionate about what they teach, their students can become passionate about learning it, and the lust for knowledge can become contagious.



1. Zimbio, "Obama Gives Fathers Day Speech At Sunday Church Service,"

2. News @, "Precocious: Precocious Definition,"

3. Seed Magazine, "Issue Number 22: The Last Experiment,"