Permission to Reason

In chapter nine the Duchess presents morals for a multitude of seemingly scattered thoughts. One moral, however, was left unfinished. Alice begins with the statement “I’ve a right to think” and the Duchess replies with “Just about as much right, as pigs have to fly; and the m-” when she was interrupted by the Queen. I have been pondering many possible ways to finish that thought, but am only left with a sense of puzzlement. Which ever way I approach this concept, it seems I can only come up with contradicting facts. I believe the right or ability to think is what distinguishes a person from everything else.

No matter the external conditions, every person still possesses the ability to grasp at their surrounding ideas, so what’s to say we have no right to think? How can we be given permission if it is within human nature to think, and at the very foundation of our ambition? In fact the levels with which we can comprehend the world around us, should lend itself to further inquiry. This innate capacity to grasp intangible thought is what separates us from other animals . Without thought, we may not be all that different from animals who hunt, eat, and sleep just as humans do.

The moral “Be what you would seem to be” also makes one wonder. How do you know what you ‘seem’ to be? Is that referring to the way others perceive you, or the way you see yourself? Or perhaps this can be taken as a suggestion to protect one’s own individuality? This quote can, once again, tie back to Alice discovering identity. A possible  implication of wonderland functioning like a mirror, where Alice meets the reflection of herself through her experiences.

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5 Comments

  1. This is very interesting. I think the word ‘Seem’ leaves it quite open for interpretation. Perhaps it means Alice should conform to what society expects? Or maybe it refers to the fact that you should be honest about what you are and not secretive. So to be what you seem is to not beguile others into believing you are something you are not. Or it could be referring to the fat that while she seems like a little girl so far in wonderland quite a few of the characters have taken her for something else. But who knows we will never truly understand this book if only because each person will be able to create their own interpretation.

  2. Interesting concept, I never really considered that unfinished moral to any extent. We have as much of a right to think as pigs have to fly? Could this just be one of those strange quirks of Wonderland, or is it something more? I think it just may be something more. In one of my blogs, “A Push for Animal Rights?” (http://aliceproject13.wordpress.com/2009/11/26/a-push-for-animal-rights/) I mentioned the fact that Carroll was an animal rights activist. He strongly opposed the idea that humans had a lot of rights and control over animals, and gave animals no rights. Could this be a point about that? Maybe he’s trying to portray an idea of animal’s rights being as valuable as people’s rights to think. As you said, thinking is just something that we as humans naturally do. We don’t think about thinking. What if something or someone took that right from us? What would we do if we could no longer think? It would be like a dog not having the right to bark. Oh, wait, many people do punish their dogs for barking. Should we be punished for thinking? Is that fair? Maybe this is a dig at human morality and hypocrisy. Then again, maybe it just makes for an interesting story.

  3. You asked “By thinking, do we mean a discrete act or process, a part of the life-of-the-mind that can encompass even the Duchess’ anti-logical (post-logical, perhaps?) paradoxes; or does thinking imply a connection to (and explicit actions in) the tangible world? What resonance does “I’ve a right to think” have for the reader here? Is this a jab or comment about the reader’s role in the whole grand author-text-reader relationship—does the reader have a right (obligation, etc.) to think?”

    Hmmm.

    I think that this is all part of the problem. Thought is both thinking as in developing an opinion, as well as forming concepts that infect our actions. Trying to make thought a disconnected concept is what makes this such a conundrum, because thinking is such an integral part of existence. This means there is no “reasonable” way to completely partition the mental and physical aspects of existence, or likewise try to explain one without stepping into the bounds of the other. I agree that thinking, and therefore logic, connect to the rational, tangible world (which is a link for Alice to reality). Adversely, thought links us to some other place (like a world of what isn’t but could be) and allows us to explore even the things that have no logic or reason behind them. Perhaps when Carroll included “I’ve a right to think” he was giving us the go-ahead to interpret at will, but in the context of wonderland I am never really sure if what something seems to be is what it really is. So, I couldn’t say what Carroll was trying to comment upon, or if he was really trying to make a point at all. At this point I feel like I’m just thinking out loud.

  4. Many inversions and subversions in this tangled rhetorical web, aren’t there? Rachel, I’m impressed by your rigorous skepticism of the Duchess’ moral authority here. She may have as much right to judge as pigs have to fly…but then, maddenly, even that seemingly-sound logic undercuts itself—if pigs CAN fly in wonderland, maybe the Duchess has a strange claim to authority after all.

    Love the questions you both raise about thinking as responsibility, obligation, freedom, or right. By thinking, do we mean a discrete act or process, a part of the life-of-the-mind that can encompass even the Duchess’ anti-logical (post-logical, perhaps?) paradoxes; or does thinking imply a connection to (and explicit actions in) the tangible world? What resonance does “I’ve a right to think” have for the reader here? Is this a jab or comment about the reader’s role in the whole grand author-text-reader relationship—does the reader have a right (obligation, etc.) to think?

    Convolutions of meaning aside, how much can we trust the ‘be what you would seem to be’ moral? You’ve noted its resistance to clear interpretation. But what about intent & motive? Can it be read as subversive, as questionable advice from an unreliable source?

  5. I am inclined to believe all of the Duchess’s moral lessons are moral nonsense. What qualifies her to be the judge? She says “Just about as much right, as pigs have to fly,” but who’s to say pig’s don’t have a right to fly in wonderland? But if this has to be accepted as truth, perhaps Carroll was suggesting that everyone can and has to think, but that it is not a right and that is should be used cautiously and cherished? And being what you seem to be might turns out to be a roundabout phase because often who you are and who you appear to be have a lot to do with one another and are usually determined by examining the opposite. So being who you seem to be is really just like saying “be”, which a fairly noncommittal moral. Either way I like your point.


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