It was several months ago that I stumbled across an interesting blog that appears to be the work of more than one author commenting on movies. One of the bloggers offered up a quote from Alice in Wonderland, a 2010 movie directed by Tim Burton with writers Linda Woolverton & Lewis Carroll. ”You used to be much more … muchier. You’ve lost your muchness.” (Mad Hatter).
Anyway, it got me thinking. Always a tedious exercise.
Like those of myriad other playwrights and authors, including his near contemporaries Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw, Carroll mocked the social mores and obligations of Victorian times. The rigid expectations often required the individual to subsume one’s personality in the name of acceptance and what was proper. The consequences for expressing contrary opinions or deviating from standards of appearance or actions could be substantial–Victorian asylums were often the destination of women who refused to obey their father or husband (but that’s another story).
In Wonderland Alice enters a world that is the very opposite of her privileged life; populated by characters bizarre and not governed by normal rules of conversation or behaviour, we share her bewilderment and nod with understanding as she admonishes the March Hare and Hatter for their rudeness. In Carroll’s tale, desire for order and adherence to agreed upon customs in communication and manners must be tossed aside; being open to a completely different perspective in observations and social interactions appears to be the necessary response. How many times have you stopped and looked at things from another point of view? Perhaps the King of Hearts’ reproach to Alice serves to highlight the importance of such:
“Just look down the road and tell me if you can see either of them.”
I see nobody on the road.” said Alice.
I only wish I had such eyes,”the King remarked in a fretful tone. “To be able to see Nobody! And at such a distance too!”
After a time Alice realizes she has altered as she observes, ”I can’t go back to yesterday because I was a different person then”. The theme of dualism, opposites and alter-egos has been explored throughout literary history, from Epictetus to Shakespeare to Mr. Hyde and comic superheroes. We all have another within us, perhaps some part of the child or person we were, or the person we aspired to become. What stopped me in my tracks upon reading the above blog was the analysis of the Mad Hatter’s comment; some of the review quoted here–some of the emphasis mine:
“Ladies and Gentlemen, let me introduce you to the ultimate invective.
I mean we are not talking about a simple “you have changed” at best hissed, at worst pronounced with undertones suggesting that you are no longer suiting the imagination of the person who chose to point out this tiny yet relevant fact to you. We are not even talking about expressing the disappointment or calling someone “ordinary” or even “boring”.
No, no. None of that subjective kind.
And just to be clear, we are as far from constructive criticism as we can get.
We are talking muchness. Muchness that includes not only actions, choices or character features but, most importantly, imagination, faith, courage and potential.
We are stating that someone lost not only everything they once were but also gave up all the things they could have been.
That due to negligence and conformism one stopped following the inner self that once used to save imaginary worlds, live in fantastic creations different from everything that could be built, go through paths that don’t exist and develop and grow in the process. We mean someone blended in with the world around them so comfortably that they care about moving out even a bit not to be called unreasonable or ungrateful by those who manage the surroundings. And at the same time the person would rather lose their muchness than upset the managers.”
Among the aphorisms to be true to yourself and be the change etc. that regularly pop up on social media and hokey e-cards, this somehow slammed home how destructive it is to abandon oneself. To lose not only who you are, but also all that one could have been. That would seem to be the greater tragedy; the loss of one’s potential. Overcoming the inertia of maintaining the status quo is the greatest challenge to embarking on the journey to muchness. It’s not just the broader expectations of those around us, but the limitations we ourselves have embraced.