Chapter one: Wendy and Alice’s journey into the Symbolic

The two main female protagonists in Peter and Wendy and Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass are Wendy and Alice who find themselves in a purgatory type scenario as they inhabit Neverland, Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. They proceed through these worlds to transfer from the Imaginary into the Symbolic as they develop from children to adults. Lacan deems this inevitable. However, that does not stop Carroll’s attempts to prevent Alice from leaving the Imaginary and there are also hints of this in Peter and Wendy. As Karen Coats states in her essay ‘Looking Glass and Neverland’ ‘Lewis Carroll and J.M Barrie have created Alice and Peter Pan to hold a more or less permanent place as signifiers of the modernist desire to preserve the notion of a pristine childhood’ (Coats, 2007: 78). This chapter will explore this as well as Wendy and Alice overcoming the hurdles Wonderland, Looking Glass and Neverland place in front of them, the potential of these worlds being the unconscious of both the characters, castration and the search for the lack and the desire of both to journey into the Symbolic.

Barrie attempts to warn Wendy of the uncertainty of growing up in Peter and Wendy; asking her to be cautious. The efforts to prevent Wendy growing up are made mainly by Mrs Darling; Wendy’s mother. Barrie alludes to motherhood throughout the book and how sometimes the prospect of motherhood is not given enough thought. Wendy faced the issue of existence before she ever faced the issue of growing up. Mr and Mrs Darling had to consider ‘for a week or two after Wendy came [as] it was doubtful whether they would be able to keep her, as she was another mouth to feed’ (Barrie,2008:70). Although the salient issue appears to be that of money, whether Wendy would receive enough attention and love to undergo a successful growing up phase is also a major concern. Barrie drives home a message that parenthood should be scrupulously considered before taking on such a responsibility. The Darling’s seem to have provided enough love and attention to Wendy up to the point where she is ready to journey to the Symbolic. A pivotal moment occurs for Mrs Darling at the beginning of Peter and Wendy where she realises that Wendy has to grow up.

‘One day when she was two years old she was playing in a garden, and she picked another      flower and ran with it to her mother. I suppose she must have looked rather delightful, for Mrs Darling put her hand to her heart and cried, “oh why can’t you remain like this for ever!”’ (Barrie, 2008: 69)

Mrs Darling’s realisation that Wendy will eventually grow up is one that fills her with fear as it would with any parent. Parents never want their offspring to grow up wishing them to stay as the reliant small child. This is the period before castration where the mother and child’s unity is whole and the mother has yet to be drawn back to the Other. Barrie uses Mrs Darling as a contrast to Peter’s family situation. The difference between Peter and Wendy is that despite looking similar ages, they are at totally different points in their development. Barrie is hinting at this being because of the presence and absence of the mother. He realises the importance in the mother being present for the subject to have a successful development phase which originates at the mother’s gaze upon the child. Although the presence of Mrs Darling appears to hinder Wendy’s development because of her desire to keep Wendy in the Imaginary, her love, affection and presence will actually ensure Wendy successfully enters the Symbolic.

Lewis Carroll attempts in both Alice in Wonderland and Alice through the Looking Glass to stop Alice’s inevitable passage into the Symbolic in order to prevent her growing up. Carroll wants to ‘subvert the will of the big Other; he wants to arrest her splitting. Having recognized the implications of his own Symbolic castration, he seeks to save her’ (Coats, 2007: 84). Both Wonderland and the Looking Glass are fictional manifestations by Carroll that ‘invert and reverse everything in sight’(Reichertz, 1997: 34) and that try to prevent Alice from growing up by distorting what not only she perceives as being true but also common logic in her quest to reach the Symbolic. Whilst discussing time with the mad hatter Alice asks ‘but what happens when you come to the beginning again?’ (Carroll, 2009: 63). Carroll is trying to create a cyclical nature where ego development is impossible because time in a chronological order suggests growth and progress. He treats time in Wonderland as something that can be manipulated to his advantage and by creating a cyclical experience he is hampering the purpose of time. It is somewhere he can keep Alice without her growing up as long as she is unable to figure out how Wonderland works. Carroll does not just explore the idea of changing the logistics of time but also the make-up of the subject as can be seen when the March Hare suggests ‘suppose we change the subject’ (Carroll, 2009: 64). Here Carroll is proposing that the subject itself can be altered and changed to avoid growing up. He wants to show Alice that ‘growing and aging are not necessary or inevitable; they are merely concessions we make to the version of sanity that plays in the Symbolic’ (Coats, 2007: 88) which he demonstrates by enforcing size changes upon Alice. Carroll whisks Alice away from reality and places her in this unconscious world of the Imaginary where everything she recognises to be true is distorted all in an attempt to prevent Alice from growing up. He is ‘ridiculing the process of growing up which will divide him from Alice.’ (Morton, 1978: 295). Carroll has a clear motive to prevent Alice from growing up where as Barrie simply hints at the dangers of entering the Symbolic.

To understand how Alice and Wendy’s development and the influence of Carroll and Barrie over them during this process, the worlds they inhabit have to be explored. Neverland, Wonderland and the Looking Glass are emblematic of the unconscious. For both girls these unconscious projections seem to set challenges for them to reach the Symbolic. One of the issues that they face is that of memory. Both Wendy and Alice have their memories tested in the dream worlds they find themselves in. Neverland, Wonderland and The Looking Glass are all manifestations of the unconscious that Barrie and Carroll create for their fictional but these fantasy worlds are needed for the characters to gain access to the Symbolic. Adrian Smith in his journal article ‘Wendy’s Story: analytic perspectives on J. M. Barrie’s Peter and Wendy’ says that when the children fall asleep they are ‘crossing into the hinterland of dreams that is the Neverland, the place between consciousness and the unknowable depths of the unconscious’ (2012: 518) sharing a view that these lands are in between places, stepping stones from one place to another where the access to language and the laws of society lie. He also thinks that ‘Neverland is an interior dimension of the mind…that is specifically concerned with the interior dimension of Wendy’s mind’ (Smith, 2012: 518) indicating that it is a form of the unconscious in her pursuit of the Symbolic, not dissimilar to how Looking Glass is an interior dimension of Alice’s mind. Her admittance into the Symbolic is not an easy task though and whilst in Neverland she begins to find her memory compromised when trying to remember her life before it. She begins to see that her younger siblings are forgetting their parents. John ‘remembered his parents vaguely only’ (Barrie, 2008: 136) and Michael ‘was quite willing to believe that [Wendy] was really his mother’ (Barrie, 2008: 136). To try and prevent this she begins testing them on Mrs Darling, however Wendy too, is struggling to remember: ‘By the way, the questions were all written in the past tense. What was the colour of Mother’s eyes, and so on. Wendy, you see, had been forgetting too.’ (Barrie, 2008: 137). Wendy is slowly forgetting her previous life whilst she searches for an entry into the Symbolic. Wendy’s memory loss seems to represent the prolonged period she has spent in Neverland. It is perhaps an indication that she needs to complete her journey and return home before she becomes trapped within the deep depths of her unconscious.

Remembering for Alice becomes difficult too. In Wonderland, her memory being affected is related to her constant size changes and becomes another ploy exercised by Carroll to scare her about development. Donald Rackin discusses how ‘her continuing changes in size represent a variation of the self-identity theme, since to a child differences in size represent definite changes in actual identity.’ (1966: 316) When in conversation with the caterpillar, Alice declares ‘I ca’n’t remember things as I used-and I don’t keep the same size for ten minutes together!’ (Carroll, 2009: 42).Carroll creates a world where he exaggerates the side effects of growing up in an attempt to persuade Alice to stay in the Imaginary. The issue of her memory in Through the Looking Glass would appear to be more of a test, similar to Wendy’s. Alice finds herself entering some magical woods where everyone forgets their name. She becomes panicked when she loses her identity and questions ‘now who am i?’ (Carroll, 2009: 156). She quickly makes her way through the woods and again remembers herself. This is perhaps suggestive of the Subject losing their identity for only a brief moment when they begin to leave the Imaginary and slowly enter the Symbolic. It can be linked to the idea of language dictating meaning and Carroll’s mocking of this. Both Wendy and Alice’s time in Neverland and Through the Looking Glass appears to be a space in between the imaginary and the Symbolic where the beginning of their journey starts in the former but by the end they have entered the latter with the middle consisting of the challenges to get there with uncertainties as to whether the trials and tribulations are imposed by the authors or are the creation of their unconscious.

Lionel Morton in his journal article, ‘Memory in Alice Books’, offers an analysis of the relationship between Carroll and Alice. He discusses how ‘for Carroll nostalgia for childhood is a means of detachment and retreat from the adult world’. (1978: 287) This appears to be the case as Carroll tries desperately to inform Alice how childhood is a far happier place than that of the adult world which is why he wants her to stay there as long as possible before she inevitably grows up. The journal makes claims that Carroll wanted to keep Alice to himself; to ‘cut off [her] memory because Carroll [wanted] Alice Liddell to be cut off from hers and brought into a world he controls’ (1978: 299). It is much more likely that Carroll simply wanted to preserve Alice’s childhood status for a little while longer for him to vicariously revel in nostalgia. Carroll does not want to control Alice. At the most he wants her to remain in the Imaginary and at the least he simply wants her to realise that the adult world is entirely different.

Despite all of the attempted thwarting by Barrie and Carroll as well as the task of acclimatising to their fantasy worlds, Wendy and Alice nevertheless strive to reach the Symbolic in search of the lack after their castration. Due to Mrs Darling becoming distracted by the Other, through attending parties, she realises Wendy and the boys have left too late; ‘Mr and Mrs Darling and Nana rushed into the nursery too late. The birds were flown’. (Barrie, 2008: 101) Wendy, Michael and John all feel as if they are lacking something after they lose their mother to the Other which ends the period of perfect unity between the mother and her children. This results in the boys following ‘Wendy Darling; and her story [which] is that of her emergence from childhood into adolescence.’ (Smith, 2012: 518). The children are described as birds flying the nest; a metaphor usually used to depict the children moving out of their family home and starting a new life. On this occasion it is representative of the children leaving the Imaginary and searching for the Symbolic. They are leaving home in a sense because they will return as different people to when they left. Adrian Smith is under the impression that ‘Mrs Darling is thoughtlessly abandoned by her daughter’ (2012: 519). Wendy does not thoughtlessly abandon her mother. If any abandonment occurs, it is the abandonment of Wendy by her mother. As earlier discussed Mrs Darling becomes distracted by the Other and so Wendy is left to wonder why her mother, who was ever present before, has become less interested in her. This is all natural and necessary according to Lacanian theory which specifies that this castration must occur for the sake of development. Karen Coats agrees as she states that ‘though [the] expulsion is registered as a loss in the Lacanian economy, it also represents a gain-specifically, the gain of a place from which to speak’ (Coats, 1999:118) in which she means the Symbolic. Karen Coats and her journal ‘Looking Glasses and Neverlands: Lacan, Desire, and Subjectivity in Children’s Literature’ and has been the most useful source because of its Lacanian analysis on children’s literature. It discusses how Carroll and Barrie both create Alice and Peter to relive the nostalgia of their life before the Symbolic. She then goes on to discuss the desire formulated by language in Alice Through the looking Glass which is discussed in this paper and jouissance in Peter and Wendy where she thinks Peter is a dead child. On this occasion this paper would have to disagree. Peter is a child who chooses to remain in Neverland to avoid the Symbolic. He defies logic and Lacanian theory and can do so because he is a fictional character. He at first is admired but eventually his hero turned tragedy status stresses the importance of not remaining in the Imaginary.

In Peter and Wendy, Wendy goes in search of this phallic symbol which she thinks she discovers in the form of Captain James Hook and his iron claw hand; Peter’s arch enemy. It is of no surprise then, that when Wendy encounters Hook, she is not filled with fear but rather fascination.

‘A different treatment was accorded to Wendy, who came last. With ironical politeness Hook raised his hat to her, and, offering her his arm, escorted her to the spot where the others were being gagged. He did it with such an air, he was so frightfully distingue, that she was too fascinated to cry out. She was only a little girl.’(Barrie, 2008: 178)

As the novel reaches its penultimate scene in which Peter and Hook face each other it does also between Wendy and her entry into the Symbolic. The missing piece she is searching for appears to be that of Hooks claw hence why she is fascinated with the villain rather than scared. However, according to Lacan, this missing lack can never be fulfilled as it does not exist and so it is unsurprising when Hook perishes and the deemed phallic symbol is lost forever. The idea of the lack is that it eventually leads to the discovery of the Other and the realisation that no one has this missing piece which leads to the concept of desire and drive. Humans constantly strive to fill this desire despite the impossibility of this. At this moment Wendy realises that there is no way back to full unity and instead she becomes invested in the Other and ready to be a part of the Symbolic realm.

Alice also aims to retrieve something that represents the ‘missing piece’ in ‘Through the Looking Glass’. Her aim is that she would ‘like to be a Queen’ (Carroll, 2009: 144). Being Queen for Alice is the missing piece, the end of the adventure and the entry in the Symbolic all tied into one. It becomes her main desire and links to how her mother figure the Duchess, is distracted by the Name of the Father. The Duchess in Wonderland leaves Alice in order ‘to play croquet with the Queen’ (Carroll, 2009: 55) making Alice feel like she is missing something which she perceives as Queen status. This is much like the situation with Wendy and Mrs Darling who is distracted by going to parties. Karen Coats in the chapter ‘Looking Glasses and Neverlands’ discusses the idea of the phallic symbol using Shel Silversteins ‘The missing piece’. She states that a circle with a wedge taken out of it goes in search of his missing piece and that when he finds his missing piece ‘she is a perfect fit and is willing to be defined as his “missing piece,” so they roll off together. But he notices that with her in place, he rolls too fast to enjoy the journey’ (Coats, 2007: 81). The circle then ‘decides to remove the missing piece, and he rolls lopsidedly off in the opposite direction, again singing the refrain of his search.’ (Coats, 2007: 82). This allegory is metaphorical for how this idea of filling the lack is fantasy because experiencing a feeling that something is missing is imperative to human existence. Wendy sees her perceived phallic symbol destroyed with the death of Hook and Alice is underwhelmed with her position as Queen as she is still treated with no respect or authority. This is exemplified in the ‘Queen Alice’ chapter where Alice, who takes her seat next to the Red and White Queens, is not treated with the same respect they are. She is still spoken down to and has little control over any proceedings. She is not even allowed to invite guests to her own dinner party. The phallic symbol she has found is underwhelming and not at all what she expected. This anti-climax in discovering that the lack cannot be filled leads to both completing their time in their fantasy worlds and results in them being ready to enter the Symbolic.

Both Wendy and Alice’s journey into the Symbolic proves to be a difficult one. They are both faced with interruptions from their creators; Alice especially is conflicted by her want to develop and Carroll’s desire to keep her in the Imaginary for as long as possible. Wonderland seems to be Carroll’s main attempt to keep Alice within the realms of childhood and his ‘interest in the asymmetry between Wonderland and the world beyond it teaches Alice that the symbolic order does not—and cannot—add up.’ (Lane, 2011: 1037) as is explored in chapter three when the influence of language is addressed. Even though Carroll shows Alice that the Symbolic does not make sense it does not stop her wanting to explore it and so she overcomes his best attempts to keep her from growing proving Lacan’s theory that ‘the subject cannot be reduced to [the] imaginary dimension’ (Chiesa, 2007: 13). Wendy’s entry into the Symbolic is without as much interference but still is testing in that it propels her into a role of motherhood and responsibility. Neverland and Through the Looking glass become places where both Alice and Wendy realise they are ready to enter the Symbolic. It is also where they come to learn that the lack they thought they had to recover is non-existent and in doing this they discover the Other. Both manage to manoeuvre their way from the Imaginary and into the Symbolic completing a successful ego development.


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