The Quests of Alice in Wonderland and Siddartha

Alina Utrata. AP Literature and Composition 3. Jim Burke. 02/03/13.

Before we are even sentient beings, conscious of the concept of identity, we are given a label. Whether it is our name, or ‘Mary’s daughter’, or the ‘miraculous baby who started talking at two years old’, we grow into a world where our title is already established. Much as how it does not seem odd to us that the sky is blue, or that we have two arms and two legs, the identity we have seems natural. It doesn’t seem necessary to question it. 

But, as the Caterpillar in ‘Alice in Wonderland’ asks Alice, “who are you?”

image

'Who are you?'

The question does not seem very odd, to start. Siddhartha’s identity is easy to answer; he is “the handsome Brahmin’s son”, already his abilities and talents marking him out as a boy destined for greatness in the highest caste in India (Hesse 3). Alice, on the other hand, takes the question more literally, stating that she is just a “little girl.” (Carroll 22). 

The question “who are you” seems quite mundane and unthreatening. But Alice’s tone gives away the true unnerving nature of the question.

‘I-I’m a little girl.’ said Alice, rather doubtfully.” (Carroll 22).

Alice’s doubt in answering such a simple question reveals the intrinsic uncertainty of the identity given to us at birth. The same doubt is reflected in Siddhartha’s decision to become a Samana. Defined as a Brahmin all his life, Siddhartha chooses a new identity for himself which he hopes will help him discover wisdom and reach Nirvana.

image

Both Alice and Siddartha begin a journey that make them question their identity, leading them onto the next phase of their quest.

Siddartha and Alice’s quest follows a series of phases, in which they change as people. For Alice, these changes are very literal. Thanks to some conveniently-place cake and mushrooms, Alice grows very tall, then very short, her neck elongates, she shrinks again; each new person she talks to in Wonderland can been seen as a different phase as well, as Alice has to muster all her child-like logic to deal with the distinct oddness of the various mice, rabbits, lizards and Royal Highnesses in Wonderland. 

Siddartha, on the other hand, changes both his position in society and his belief in how he will achieve Nirvana. He first lives with the Samanas for a number of years, but then grows restless and unfulfilled with their teachings. Siddartha then leaves the Samanas to find the Buddha, but discovers he cannot accept the Buddha’s teachings. He travels to a city and becomes a wealthy merchant, but he is soon dissatisfied with the mundane life of the city-folk and runs away to become a ferryman.

It was the Self, the character and nature of which I wished to learn. I wanted to rid myself of the Self, to conquer it, but I could not conquer it, I could only deceive it, could only fly from it, could only hide from it. Truly, nothing in the world has occupied my thoughts as much as the Self.” -Siddartha (Hesse 38)

To most people, the novel Siddartha represents a reasonable and acceptable journey to find a man’s true identity and achieve Nirvana. Alice in Wonderland, on the other hand, is not supposed to make sense. The characters are crazy, Wonderland is weird, and Alice is certainly not a grown-up girl capable of rational thought.

The inability for others to comprehend or understand you is, I think, characteristic of the quest for self. You are individual, and distinctive, “separated and different from everyone else”, and if others understood and took the same path, they journey would not be uniquely yours (Siddartha 38).

In that sense, Siddartha parallels Alice when Govinda decides to leave him. For all of Siddartha’s life, Govinda has understood and mimicked Siddartha’s actions. But when Siddartha cannot join the followers of Gotama Buddha, Siddartha becomes as illogical to Govinda as all of Wonderland is to us. It is his own distinct thoughts, that nobody else can understand; like Siddartha, Alice is not illogical to herself. Only to us.

image

Everyone seems mad, to other people. But to ourselves that madness seems logical and reasonable.

(Carroll 28).

In the end, I think that Alice and Siddartha’s journeys are best summed up by one of Alice’s conversations with the Chesire cat.

image 

It doesn’t matter. 

In the end, it didn’t really matter who Alice or Siddartha became. It didn’t matter what they did, or what they achieved—who they hurt, who they helped, if they suffered or were happy; it didn’t matter if they achieved there goal.

The only thing that mattered was the journey. 

As Siddartha says, “Whither will my path yet lead me? This path is stupid, it goes in spirals, perhaps in circles, but whiever way it goes, I will follow it.” (Hesse 97)

The path of the Siddartha—much like the path of Alice, the ODONO model, and the phases of life—is stupid. Or, at least, it is irrelevant. What Siddartha learned at the end of his journey, and perhaps what Alice knew all along, was that none of it really mattered. There is no great structure or purpose to life. There is only what we experience. 

To achieve our goals at the end of life is no great matter: it is only that we set about doing it. 

Alice and Siddartha Essay in an Alternate Format

Before we are even sentient beings, conscious of the concept of identity, we are given a label. Whether it is our name, or ‘Mary’s daughter’, or the ‘miraculous baby who started talking at two years old’, we grow into a world where our title is already established. Much as how it does not seem odd to us that the sky is blue, or that we have two arms and two legs, the identity we have seems natural. It doesn’t seem necessary to question it.

But, as the Caterpillar in ‘Alice in Wonderland’ asks Alice, “who are you?”

Colored the cover of my book :3 Much better now.    http://hmbooks.ca

Who are you?

The question does not seem very odd, to start. Siddhartha’s identity is easy to answer; he is “the handsome Brahmin’s son”, already his abilities and talents marking him out as a boy destined for greatness in the highest caste in India (Hesse 3). Alice, on the other hand, takes the question more literally, stating that she is just a “little girl.” (Carroll 22).

The question “who are you” seems quite mundane and unthreatening. But Alice’s tone gives away the true unnerving nature of the question.

“'I-I'm a little girl.' said Alice, rather doubtfully.”

—   (Carroll 22)

Alice’s doubt in answering such a simple question reveals the intrinsic uncertainty of the identity given to us at birth. The same doubt is reflected in Siddhartha’s decision to become a Samana. Defined as a Brahmin all his life, Siddhartha chooses a new identity for himself which he hopes will help him discover wisdom and reach Nirvana.

Both Alice and Siddartha begin a journey that make them question their identity, leading them onto the next phase of their quest.

Siddartha and Alice’s quest follows a series of phases, in which they change as people. For Alice, these changes are very literal. Thanks to some conveniently-place cake and mushrooms, Alice grows very tall, then very short, her neck elongates, she shrinks again; each new person she talks to in Wonderland can been seen as a different phase as well, as Alice has to muster all her child-like logic to deal with the distinct oddness of the various mice, rabbits, lizards and Royal Highnesses in Wonderland.
Siddartha, on the other hand, changes both his position in society and his belief in how he will achieve Nirvana. He first lives with the Samanas for a number of years, but then grows restless and unfulfilled with their teachings. Siddartha then leaves the Samanas to find the Buddha, but discovers he cannot accept the Buddha’s teachings. He travels to a city and becomes a wealthy merchant, but he is soon dissatisfied with the mundane life of the city-folk and runs away to become a ferryman.

“It was the Self, the character and nature of which I wished to learn. I wanted to rid myself of the Self, to conquer it, but I could not conquer it, I could only deceive it, could only fly from it, could only hide from it. Truly, nothing in the world has occupied my thoughts as much as the Self. this riddle, that I live, that I am one and am separated and different from everybody else, that I am Siddhartha; and about nothing in the world do I know less than myself, about Siddhartha.”

—   

Siddhartha (Herman Hesse 38).

Siddartha’s musings on the nature of self reflects that, for Alice as well as Siddartha, the different phases that they both go through represent a change in their identity or definition of self. They began their journey certain of who they are, or what they wanted to find, but there were more changes and roadblocks than they accepted to find.

(Source: chromatolysis)

To most people, the novel Siddartha represents a reasonable and acceptable journey to find a man’s true identity and achieve Nirvana. Alice in Wonderland, on the other hand, is not supposed to make sense. The characters are crazy, Wonderland is weird, and Alice is certainly not a grown-up girl capable of rational thought.
The inability for others to comprehend or understand you is, I think, characteristic of the quest for self. You are individual, and distinctive, “separated and different from everyone else”, and if others understood and took the same path, they journey would not be uniquely yours (Siddartha 38).
In that sense, Siddartha parallels Alice when Govinda decides to leave him. For all of Siddartha’s life, Govinda has understood and mimicked Siddartha’s actions. But when Siddartha cannot join the followers of Gotama Buddha, Siddartha becomes as illogical to Govinda as all of Wonderland is to us. It is his own distinct thoughts, that nobody else can understand; like Siddartha, Alice is not illogical to herself. Only to us.

(Carroll 28).
Everyone is mad in their own special way.

In the end, I think that Alice and Siddartha’s journeys are best summed up by one of Alice’s conversations with the Chesire cat.

It doesn’t matter.

In the end, it didn’t really matter who Alice or Siddartha became. It didn’t matter what they did, or what they achieved—who they hurt, who they helped, if they suffered or were happy; it didn’t matter if they achieved there goal.
The only thing that mattered was the journey.

As Siddartha Says, “The river is everwhere.”

“The path is stupid, it goes in spirals, perhaps in circles, but which ever way it goes, I will follow it.”

Siddhartha, Hermann Hesse

(via oh-deir-deactivated20140104)

The path of the river—much like the path of Alice and Siddartha, the ODONO model, and the phases of life—is stupid. Or, at least, it is irrelevant. What Siddartha learned at the end of his journey, and perhaps what Alice knew all along, was that none of it really mattered. There is no great structure or purpose to life. There is only what we experience.
To achieve our goals at the end of life is no great matter: it is only that we set about doing it.