After studying fairy tales, you can see how fairy tales can mean different things to different people. Different readings is a way of viewing English texts – it means that your understanding of a text depends on your background and context.
For example, the phrase “close the door” can mean very different things:
- Parent to a child (in a car) – panicked tone
- Man to a woman (in a bedroom) – seductive tone
- Older child to younger child (in the room) – bossy tone
- Parent to a child (in a kitchen) – annoyed tone
- Boss to a secretary (in an office) – firm and brisk
- Pilot to attendant (in a plane cockpit) – firm and authoritative
Example Study: Alice in Wonderland
“I’ve read this before, when I was about five!” is probably the cry of many readers. yet when you return to a novel for the second time and explore it in a different way, you often find ideas emerging that you never thought existed the first time. Many novels can be read for multiple leels of meaning, by which we mean that a novel may have one meaning on the surface (its literal meaning) and many layers of meaning beneath if it is looked at from a whole range of angles.
We always bring our own life experiences and knowledge to a written text. We may have all these stored away subconsciously, and sometimes a book may bring an experience to the surface.
Literal Alice in Wonderland
The first level we read a text on is the literal or surface level – we look at the exact meaning of the words without applying any imaginative interpretation. If you read Alice in Wonderland when you were younger, you probably read it in a literal way – as the story of a young girl who has an amazing dream about all sorts of strange creatures and adventures. Indeed, it can be read literally and enjoyed purely on that level.
- Write a 50 word summary of the chapter, focusing on the main events or ideas. Give your summary a three word heading.
- Write a paragraph describing your initial impression of Alice from this chapter.
Another level on which we can explore the novel is that of the language and stylistic techniques. Alice in Wonderland is regarded as a fantasy. Why do you think this is an appropriate term to use? Carroll not only uses techniques that are appropriate to this genre, he also includes many elements of humour that give the story yet another level for study. Children’s novels in the 19th century were generally very moralistic and serious; they always tried to teach children something important about society and the way in which you should conduct yourself. By writing Alice in Wonderland Carroll provided children with a fun-filled adventure novel that had no moral to be learnt. Children were actually allowed to read for enjoyment and pleasure, and to use their imagination. With this in mind, we can explore Alice in Wonderland as a novel that really changed children’s reading.
- Explain how Alice is Carroll’s resistance against moral storytelling.
- Some say Carroll’s tale was his narrative on drug use. Explain how it might be possible to view it this way.
Using the exposition writing skills developed in the previous exercise, write an exposition to support this thesis:
Alice in Wonderland is merely a fairy tale because it follows all conventions of fairy tales and their basic morals. It is just to please children and does not have a deeper meaning.