Lewis Carroll: “Follow the white rabbit”(1)
Chasing the feminine through the symbol of the White Rabbit
I read Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, and its sequel Through the Looking-Glass when I was a child. It was really something. I remember playing in my granny’s garden talking to the flowers and waiting for a white rabbit to guide me to a new thrilling adventure. As many persons, i associated immediately the book to the Disney movie when it came out. The movie was very nice, but when you imagine all a world on your own, sometimes the “clash” with the common reality is very strong.
Many opinions have been given about Lewis Carroll, about his strange love for children. Some defined him as a pedophile with a firm conviction. This is a very strong accusation, and i like thinking that today we do not have enough informations that shoulder such position.
After following Professor E. Rabkin course (*), I realized that Carroll was himself still a child. He could not have written all this Alice’s Journey if he did not, himself, imagined and lived this adventure. I like thinking of Carroll as a man that lived along with his never totally grew up child side, and that helped him to create the Wonderland that inspired thousands of artists.
When you read Alice as full grown adult, trying to analyze each point with a critical eye, it’s amazing of the quantity of symbols that pops up from characters and places.
There is one particular character that intrigued me: the white rabbit. According to popular beliefs and ancient civilizations as the Celts, Indo-Buddhists, Chineses, and the ancient Egypt, “the rabbit is symbolically linked to the moon“(2). It is also linked to the image of the feminine (It is the “favorite animal of Aphrodite”(3) and consequently to fertility. The rabbit in the book by the way talks, he’s dressed, and has a deep notion of time.
The rabbit symbolizes two elements that seem to counteract: he’s the first dreamlike element that appears in front of Alice and guide her into the Hole of the unconscious/fantastic/wonderland, but once she gets in, the rabbit follows a well-defined process, he’s worried and rushed, more similar to an adult than to an animal or a child (infact he has an active part in the court, a place open just to adults and persons that follows the laws and the rationality). When he asks the girl for his gloves and fan he does not relate to her as “Alice”. They finally talk and “see” each others only when she is able to realize one of her two purposes: enter into the garden.
To give an interpretation of this relation between Alice and the White Rabbit, we can see the rabbit as the hasty desire of this child -who’s becoming an adolescent- to chase and discover her womanliness, to understand who she is (in the books we read she says for several times that she’s confused after all these physical changes) and on the other side the rabbit as the element of the moon, the dream, that leads the young lady into a “no-frontier” world where the Reason is not the mainstay of all the assumptions.
This interpretation of the White Rabbit can be seen as well as a “discovery of the truth” : in “Matrix”, during their first contact on Neo’s PC monitor, Morpheus tells him to “follow the white rabbit”. When he opens the door, he sees a young lady, a “cyberpunk Eve” with a white rabbit tattoo on her shoulder. Following her leads him to the beginning of his path to the painful discovery of the truth.
(1) - title refers to the metaphor in “The Matrix” movie: at the beginning, Neo is sleeping in front of a computer and he is told to wake up and follow the white rabbit.
(2) - Encyclopédie des Symboles – La Pochotèque – Le Livre de Poche p.361 ISBN 2-253-13010-9
(3) - ibid p.363
– L. Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Illustrated by Sir John Tenniel
– (*)MOOC notes – Michigan University via Coursera , E. Rabkin “Science Fiction: our mind, our modern world”