Labyrinths and Ladders Part 1:The Labyrinth of Alice in Wonderland
Within mythology, the labyrinth is a common feature. Normally, the labyrinth relates to some sort of painstaking inner struggle. It is often perilous and overwhelming because labyrinths commonly are things which cause apprehension like our own minds. When we initially step within the first area of the labyrinth, we are contemplating whether or not we want to undergo the arduous task of reaching the goal of enlightenment towards the middle. Before that, we have to face the formidable foes that are our repressed parts of ourselves which may make us disbelieve in our overall quest of seeking out o true self within the labyrinth that is mostly constructed of the doubts that mislead us into believing fallacious things about ourselves. To that extent, we begin to feel abashed for certain elements of ourselves and start to lack the motivation to make the dangerous trek to the middle of the labyrinth.
Alice in Wonderland features a labyrinth at the end of the story after Alice braves the journey through her unorthodox thoughts. As a whole, Alice in Wonderland literally details the journey of a suppressed girl within the times where women and men alike were required to live a mental ascetic life. The freedom of the brain was meant as something that creates intervention in fully living within the constraints of the real-world ideal of the protestant work ethic. Paul’s ideas of perfect belief being the most essential part of the Christian life was taken to the point of extremism by enforcing certain restrictions to a mind where doubt can easily lead one astray from the perfection of the false self.
Alice falls asleep and submits freely to her imagination where she journeys through the madness of wonderland in search of her lost self. The whole tale works like the maze at the end of the tale. Through it, she is greeted with people who have different ideals for her self. In life, we are accustomed to being chastised by people who are indifferent about your needs and care selfishly instead about how they think people should live like them. Karen Armstrong defines this as toxic egotism that has been allowed to flourish within the current structure of Christianity that dates from the medieval times but was worsened during the age of rationalism. To counteract the threat of secularism, Christianity began to use exaggerated conceit to protect the mind from allowing these new discoveries to ruin their traditional faith. With this process, Christianity has degraded to a religion of feigned belief and selfishness. It has enshrined the Victorian ideal of having adulation for the morally perfect self above all else. Basically, it helped to politically maintain a hierarchy that needed to be preserved in order for the economic system of that world to work. At this point, it unwise to think of Christianity as being a religion under “God,” but a religion where God even had to offer fealty to the king and queen. Essentially, it was the very thing Machiavelli had foresaw.
In the end, Alice is pursued by Lewis Carrol’s caricatures of the monarchy because she fails to accede to their rule. She is seen as being an obstinate intrusion to their complacency with their place in their hierarchy. Lewis Carrol further lambasts the monarchy for being obstinate from Alice’s perspective. They fail to offer her any chance unless she increases her size and ego. They’ll only listen if Alice’s thoughts parallel their own egotistical thoughts. Otherwise, they are completely indifferent about her intellectual autonomy and want to literally sever her head from her graceful body for being insubordinate.
This labyrinth eventually becomes the area where Alice can finally accept her inquisitiveness. Throughout, the Cheshire cat appears and dematerializes to represent the way our imagination eludes us. It does this because Alice is not accepting of her intelligence. Part of her feels that a greater piece of living lies with mindlessly being complicit with the demands of her superiors. By the end, she finds that it matters not because the monarchy or society as a whole abhors her either way. So, in the end, the possible way to even find some semblance of happiness is to bravely get through the labyrinth within her mind and feel edified by the acceptance of her individual gifts. Alice’s shrewdness in particular helps her to successfully outsmart her superiors.
Fascinatingly, Hrotswithe, a medieval writer, rehabilitates her disconsolate female characters in much the same way by helping them to rediscover their mystic connection with God. In psychological terms, this relates to embracing and utilizing our mental gifts for benevolence. Her crafty female characters find that they are endowed with mystical deductive powers that help them to stealthily outsmart the male forces in their lives that have cruelly tried to suppress their abilities to live a pious life. In the end, their shrewdness aids them with reversing their restrictive lives. In a sense, though there is no physical labyrinth within Hrotswithe’s tale, the women characters still must see past the restrictions of human constructs and fully realize their spiritual gifts instead.
As the Eastern Orthodox describes it, the sanctity of God lies with respecting the internal mystery of ourselves and allowing us to naturally find God through that search. Many times, superficial Christianity becomes the boundaries to finding God in the first place because that Christianity distrusts the true nature and enigma of God. The pernicious forces of Biblical Literalism or fundamental Christianity are in a sense labyrinths that prove to be obstructions to our natural spiritual development. We cannot cleave to their ideas of God unless we wish to become masochistic and depraved.
Next Time, I’ll be analyzing the labyrinth of Pan’s Labyrinth.