Comapring Adolescence in A Separate Peace and Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

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Adolescence in A Separate Peace and Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

 
      Through life, we travel down a yellow brick road, oftentimes meeting friends and foe, whilst dreaming of making our way back home. However, unlike Dorothy, or her friends traveling through Oz, our struggles on this journey as pilgrims to our fate cannot usually be solved by clicking our heels together, saying "There's no place like home." Instead, we must find our lost souls and confirm them into a new being, one with a defined name and role. It is much like purgatory, a time in which one cannot give alms to receive redemption, and where one must make decisions. This journey, our quest for confirmation, is much like that of love in that it is difficult yet cannot be forced into existence. It is difficult to say "Then I defy you, stars!" (5.1.24) when our futures appear to be solidly built, with little room for deviance from the precharted course. It also must be accomplished solely as "each man finds out for himself, in his own way, [that] each man is the world" (Saroyan 130). Adolescence is a time during this pilgrimage when many discover where their navigation system is leading them and who they are to be when they reach that place "like a rainbow after the rain" (Hansberry 151).

 

This pilgrimage is a difficult journey to attempt, and many are afraid of the process or the outcome. As children evolve into adults, there is a loss of innocence. No longer is one able to act in the same manner or perform the same actions; instead, as a body falls further into the more "mature" world, the individual is expected to perform at a higher level and to conform. To lose this innocence is a difficult procedure and often hurts as it leads to loneliness; so many try not to fall over the cliff into adulthood, or bite from the tree of knowledge as the serpent tells them to. After this experience, many people, like Salinger's Holden Caulfield, try to protect others from the experience by dreaming of becoming the "catcher in the rye." Once thrown over the cliff, a whole new world is placed upon a person's shoulders, where one realizes, "I knew a lot of things, but I didn't know the half of it, and maybe I never will either.

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Maybe nobody ever will. If anybody should, though, I should. I want to know, and I'll always want to know, and I guess I'll always keep trying, but how can you ever know?" (Saroyan 98)

 

Death, or sudden responsibility, such as being the messenger of ill news, is one way of being forced over the cliff. Gene, in Knowles's A Separate Peace, is forced to recognize himself after Finny's fall from the tree, and later, his death. This shaped his being for eternity because he was "present in every moment of the day..." (Knowles 194) and Gene tried to force himself to become Finny. When Gene comes back to visit the school, he cannot help but let the painful memories of discovering who he is wash over him, like an after shock of an earthquake. Similarly, once Dickens's Estella is finally forced into the real world, with all of its cruel realities, she, like the star she is named for, falls. She loses her essence of character that had previously held such a strong spell over Pip, and degrades herself in his eyes by marrying such a person as Drummle. Lastly, in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Alice falls down a hole into a "wonder" land where everything is "curiouser and curiouser," (Carroll 8) and where she is able to play around with different sizes in order to determine the one that she would most like to be. At one point, she is also not able to remember her own name: "...who am I? I will remember, if I can! I'm determined to do it!" (Carroll 137) These characters is forced to recognize themselves as they are thrown into a new situation, where they are no longer young innocents, but people responsible for their every action.

 

When trying to define ourselves and our role in society, adolescents are encouraged to conform to an expected norm. We are told that it takes a village to raise a child, yet in this village we are taught to move as a whole, not as individuals. By acting as society dictates, the loneliness during our inner search is not as great, nor is there as strong a need to remove ourselves from the situation at hand. As individuals, one believes, like the philosopher Descartes, that people should form their own opinions and definitions of the world, and not be influenced by their own culture or the opinions by which they have been taught. Instead, the philosophy of "I think, therefore I am," is very important to the transformation time of being an adolescent. Charles Dickens's Pip believes that he is an average child, until Estella, the beautiful Estella with her "cold, cold heart," (Dickens 322) informs him that his hands and boots are coarse. Suddenly, he is forced to acknowledge his station in life and is encouraged to be ashamed of his background, because it doesn't fit the great expectations of those belonging to Estella's society. He then spends much of his life trying to force himself into that level of station, acknowledging that "I am what you made me" (Dickens 322). Adolescence should be about discovering your soul, and being able to find a name that is truly confirmed to you alone.

 

Saroyan's Homer, living in Ithaca, must also find a way to become himself. Society however, dictates that he instead become whom he represents to them. This causes Homer to think, "I wish that I could begin to be grown-up the way Ulysses [his little brother] is a child" (Saroyan 134). His history teacher Miss Hicks encourages him to act against society, as she firmly believes that "I would soon be weary of a classroom full of perfect little ladies and gentlemen..." (Saroyan 57). Hansberry's Beneatha strains against the reins of constraint that society has forced upon her. She believes, "There simply is no blasted God-there is only man and it is he who works miracles" (Hansberry 51). After Asagai's teaching she becomes tired of assimilating, encouraging her family to take action against it. Lastly, she believes for a time that "there isn't any real progress... there is only one large circle that we march in, around and around, each of us with our own little picture in front of us-our own little mirage that we think is the future" (Hansberry 134). She, like many others, has always been taught not to question what society has taught her, yet she still feels the need to do so.

 

In order to defend ourselves against the process of falling off the ever-present cliff, we build Maginot Lines against the events that occur during adolescence. By building this imaginary boundary around ourselves, we are not allowing any negative influences or events in, yet we are also not permitting any growth of the person inside the fence. Mrs. Macauley, whom Saroyan frequently uses to deliver advice, informs her son who is struggling with the process of confirming himself that "if a man has not wept at the world's pain he is only half a man, and there will always be pain in the world" (Saroyan 131). In order to reach the end of adolescence, we have to be able to appreciate emotions, even if we have not experienced them to the utmost extent. Without this experience, individuals may strive to be, but not become, completely human. Maginot Lines often prolong this event; however, they cannot hold it off forever and often cause even greater pain.

 

Once the boundary is no longer able to protect the individuals, the effect is overwhelming as they are left to face the big bad wolf of reality alone, without any backup and without their "protective cloud of vagueness" (Knowles 196). The perimeter can fall in various ways, by being caught unprepared, deteriorating through overuse, or lastly, falling victim to a turncoat, working on the inside, who had known the secrets of the inside by acting as a friend. Arne Tangherlini's Leo uses a virtual reality world in order to avoid that of her peers and grandmother. But once this world begins to conflict with the one that she is physically present in, she is no longer able to hold onto her barrier. Instead, she is left questioning it and not knowing where to turn, but realizing, "I am as much myself as I ever was" (Tangherlini 208). Finny, in A Separate Peace, uses friendship as a Maginot Line. Once this relationship is over, however, he is left with the reality that the war really existed, and the realization that a lost friendship can inflict "an even deeper injury than what I had done before [jouncing the limb] (Knowles 194). This knowledge leads to his death. Both Knowles's Gene and Erich Maria Remarque's Paul Baumer are left having to acknowledge the fact that they had taken away the life of a fellow human. They cannot build a defense against what they have done, as they are not given the supplies or the opportunity. Both feel lost without this barrier, yet they must first prove that they are worthy of the specialized treatment of avoiding the truth. Leper uses nature to avoid the realities of war and school. However, once nature tempts him with the prospect of becoming a ski patrol volunteer, he cannot resist. In the ski patrol the cold realities of life and war become too harsh for him and he is left labeled as a "psycho" (Knowles 135). Romeo and Juliet use their love as a Maginot Line against their experiences in life. Their "love" is forced into being, as an escape from an arranged marriage or easily available lust. This boundary also fails them: in the end they are left dead, the result of their hastiness.

 

Adolescence is a time in one's life during which questions are the only way to discover who one truly is inside and to form a definition for oneself. As the yellow brick road introduces new twists and turns throughout our lives, we, as individuals, are faced with decisions and temptations that lead us to our final destination, adulthood, where we are finally able to recognize who we are, even if we still do not understand the whole picture. This tumultuous time in our life must be faced with courage, and it must be faced. Without its experience, "sometimes it's like I can see the future stretched out in front of me-just as plain as day... Hanging over there at the edge of my days. Just waiting for me-a big, looming blank space-full of nothing. Just waiting for me" (Hansberry 73).

 

Carroll, Lewis. Alice's Adventure's in Wonderland. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1985.

 

Works Cited:

 

Dickens, Charles. Great Expectations. London: Everyman, 1998.

Hansberry, Lorraine. A Raisin in the Sun. Literature and Its Writers: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, and Drama. Eds. Ann Charters and Samuel Charters. Boston: Bedford Books, 1997.

Knowles, John. A Separate Peace. New York: Macmillan, 1961.

 

Saroyan, William (ed.) The Arabian Nights. New York: Platt & Munk, Publishers, 1966.

Tangherlini, Arne. Leo Fergusrules.Com .Wellfleet: Leapfrog Press, 1999


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