In this guide, we will discuss “What mental illness does Alice in wonderland have” and some theories about the mental illnesses other characters seem to display. However, we need to account for the complexity of the book and how it seems to raise awareness over mental health illnesses that were not easy to discuss at the time the book was written.
What mental illness does Alice in wonderland have?
If you have read the book or seen the movies, you may wonder ‘What mental illness does Alice in wonderland have?’, well, some may argue Alice suffers from schizophrenia. This mental illness can make it difficult to differentiate between reality and fantasy, affecting the way you perceive and interact with the world.
The majority of characters of Alice in Wonderland exhibit various psychological traits or symptoms that are present in psychological disorders. For instance, we could talk about the White Rabbit’s obsession with promptness and time; the caterpillar who seems to be smoking hookah most of the time, speaks in riddles in a slow, prophet-like manner, is believed to have a grandiose delusional disorder.
In contrast, some people may argue the Mad Hatter exhibits both bipolar disorder and PTSD symptoms, others say he might have a borderline personality disorder. However, we know that there are two syndromes named after the characters, the Alice in Wonderland Syndrome, which is a disorientating condition affecting the perception of size and the Mad Hatter Disease, which results from chronic mercury poisoning.
However, we are left wondering if complex neurological disorders are depicted specifically for these characters and the intended audience is not expecting to see a range of mental illnesses but instead, experience the diverse characteristics and personalities of their characters.
Alice in Wonderland is a well-known Children’s book written by Lewis Carroll, published in 1865. The way it is written and the fantastic tales contained in it made it one of the most popular works of English literature.
As you may know, the story centres on Alice, who is a young girl who falls asleep in a meadow and dreams that she is following a white rabbit down a rabbit hole. In the process, she gets to experience bizarre and often illogical adventures with strange creatures. As indicated by Britannica:
“She encounters the hookah-smoking Caterpillar, the Duchess (with a baby that becomes a pig), and the Cheshire Cat, and she attends a strange endless tea party with the Mad Hatter and the March Hare. She plays a game of croquet with an unmanageable flamingo for a croquet mallet and uncooperative hedgehogs for croquet balls while the Queen calls for the execution of almost everyone present. Later, at the Queen’s behest, the Gryphon takes Alice to meet the sobbing Mock Turtle, who describes his education in such subjects as Ambition, Distraction, Uglification, and Derision.”
The story was told by Carroll to Lorina, Alice and Edith Liddle who were the daughters of Henry George Liddlle, dean of Christ Church in Oxford. Alice asked Carroll to write out the stories for her, producing a collection of stories titled ‘Alice’s Adventures Under Ground’. However, a visitor to the Liddell home believed in the potential of the stories and suggested Carroll revise and expand it.
By the end of the 19th century, Alice had become the most popular children’s book in England, inspiring numerous films, theatrical performances, among others.
Raising awareness of the mental illness
At the time Alice in Wonderland was published, mental illnesses were still a topic that had a lot of taboo around it. It was a fairly remote topic and those who were labelled as ‘mad’ or ‘insane ‘were meant to be at mental health facilities or Asylums. One of the most famous quoted lines from Alice in Wonderland is ‘We’re all mad here’ which may depict a world where having a mental illness was just normal.
However, we need to be careful when considering diagnosable PTSD or certain conditions that weren’t categorized by then. In 1955, Dr John Todd used the term Alice in Wonderland Syndrome to describe a very rare condition that relates to the incorrect perception of the sizes of body parts or external objects. Moreover, it has been suggested that Alice may have struggled constantly with her eating habits. The fact that Alice seemed to get larger or smaller depending on the drinks and food she found along the way with the tag ‘Eat Me’ may just be an indicator of her struggles with food. She didn’t simply have a small bite but rather binges and then regrets her actions, which is something that happens to people with eating disorders.
Additionally, as indicated by Molly S. from owlcation.com:
“Alice is stuck in a cycle in which she overeats and then has to eat or drink even more to correct her initial consumption. She essentially relies on food to solve her problems. Later, Alice speaks to the caterpillar and tells him that she is dissatisfied with her current size and yet again wishes to be different. The caterpillar tells her that the two sides of a mushroom will change her size, and Alice eventually controls her size with the help of the mushroom through trial and error.
Eating disorders weren’t an open topic of discussion back when Alice in Wonderland was written, but currently, there is more and more awareness about how serious and dangerous eating disorders can be.
Additional theories on mental health issues
According to Holly Barker, a doctoral candidate in clinical neuroscience at King’s College London, suggests there are two additional identifiable conditions that she believes are evident in Alice: Depersonalization and Prosopagnosia.
With Alice questioning her own identity and feeling different at several points of the story, Barker suggests that there are symptoms of Depersonalization Disorder. This disorder has a wide range of symptoms that include the feeling of not being in one’s own body, a lack of ownership of thoughts and memories and movements seem to be initiated without conscious intention.
Moreover, as indicated by Josh Jones from openculture.com: “Patients often comment that they feel as though they are not really there in the present moment, likening the experience to dreaming or watching a movie. These symptoms occur in the absence of psychosis, and patients are usually aware of the absurdity of their situation”. Finally, it is said that DPD is often a feature of migraine or epileptic auras but it could also be experienced in response to stress, being tired or drug use.
Finally, it is said to be associated with experiencing trauma and abuse during childhood. It tends to act as a defence mechanism that allows an individual disconnect from adverse life events.
Prosopagnosia is a neurological disorder that is characterized by a selective inability to recognize faces. Even though it can be hereditary, it can also result from a stroke or head trauma.
Individuals with prosopagnosia seem to rely on particular discriminating features that can help them to differentiate or tell people apart since they are unable to distinguish family members and people who are close to them from total strangers-
Why is this blog about What mental illness does Alice in Wonderland have important?
As we have discussed, there are many theories about the mental illnesses Alice is said to have, however, if we consider the background and the time when the book was written we can find that the most of the proposed illnesses were not even categorized during that specific time. It could lead us to believe the personality traits, even if they appear as bizarre or strange, are just the product of the author’s imagination and probably a result of what he knew and understood about mental illness.
However, even if it is a children’s book it comes across as complex and no wonder why many experts have tried to understand the characters through science and what we know about abnormal psychology.
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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about What mental illness does Alice in Wonderland have?
What mental illness does the Mad Hatter have?
Some people may argue the mad hatter has Borderline Personality Disorder and some may actually say he suffers from a neurological disorder that affects the central nervous system, derived from mercury poisoning. This is the reason why it has been named the mad hatter disease or mad hatter syndrome, named after the character.
What is the main message of Alice in Wonderland?
The main message of Alice in Wonderland seems to be the tragic and inevitable loss of childhood innocence. Some people may argue that the changes Alice goes through, throughout the movie, resemble those that occur during puberty. She seems to feel very uncomfortable because she is never the right size and she is constantly looking for a way to feel comfortable again with her own body.
What does 10 6 mean on Mad Hatter’s hat?
The numbers 10/6 written on the Mad Hatter’s hat (depicted by English illustrator John Enniel) refers to the cost of the had, 10 shillings and 6 pence but later on, became the date and month to celebrate Mad Hatter Day.
What does the queen of hearts symbolize in Alice in Wonderland?
The queen of hearts symbolizes a singular force of fear who even dominates the King of hearts. She is the ruler of Wonderland and it is the character Alice must inevitably face to figure out the puzzle of Wonderland. The Queen of Hearts becomes the heart of Alice’s conflict.
What happens when Alice falls down the rabbit hole?
When Alice falls down the rabbit hole it takes her to Wonderland. Falling down the rabbit hole means entering a strange and absurd alternate universe. Some people believe it is supposed to represent a psychedelic experience, probably after the intake of drugs or other substances.
What we recommend for personality disorders
- If you are suffering from a personality disorder then ongoing professional counselling may be your ideal first point of call. Counselling will utilize theories such as Cognitive behavioural therapy which will help you live a more fulfilling life.
Hcs.harvard.edu: “De-stigmatizing Mental Illness Early: Role of Childhood Animations”
Britannica.com: “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”
Molly, S. (2018, Mar.) Mental Illness in Alice in Wonderland. Retrieved from owlcation.com.
Jones, J. (2018, Jan.) The Psychological & Neurological Disorders Experienced by Characters in Alice in Wonderland: A Neuroscience Reading of Lewis Carroll’s Classic Tale. Retrieved from openculture.com.