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Food and Drink Reveal Truths in Storytelling
In the coming of age stories of Alice in Wonderland (1865) and Through the Looking-Glass (1871) alongside Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010), the characters go through a series of trials in order to reach their goals, come to a stronger sense of who they are, and meet various strange and compelling characters who acts as riddlers obstructing the heroes from their respective journeys. Both the protagonists are tested in their logic, come across frustrating events in developing their sense of sexuality, while also being thrown into complex battles which ask for Alice and Scott’s entire selves. These characters, in facing the magical realist universes they are brought into, come across several instances of food and drink which plays into their decision making, as well as, the food and drink helps to establish story world building in tone, setting, and symbolism. The following research intends to show how food and drink are focal points in these young adults narratives while also cluing in the audience on what is truly happening in the minds and hearts of the heroes.
First, it may prove worthwhile to examine the two novels Alice appears in and then examine the film version of Scott Pilgrim’s universe and move forward to compare and contrast these two works. Alice appears in Alice in Wonderland (1865) in a lucid dream sequence and then again in Through the Looking-Glass (1871) where Alice travels through a series of inverted realities after being pulled through a mirror. This complex reality combines linguistics, advanced science, psychology, and math:
Through these complicated systems of knowledge, by planting more relatable concepts such as food helps the reader understand the journey of Alice, a precocious child born of a wealthy family in England. Already at her young age of around six or so, her family has placed a great deal of importance on her education, which may prove worthwhile to note that for the entirety of the world at this time, a woman’s education was not nearly as valued as the scope Alice receives. Alice in her early age becomes easily bored by her intellectual assignments and finds a great deal more pleasure in exploring the world through her complex imagination. She is easily excited by the new characters she comes across in wonderland, and she deals with them to the best of her mental capacities, as if they were Rubik cubes. She often allows herself to have friendships with these characters giving way to her various frustrations in trying to comprehend the world, but also in helping her discover the keys that move her forward in her quest. At its simplest, Alice desperately needs to define the reality she has stepped into in order to operate within it.
The very first instance of food or drink in Alice’s reality occurs when she has stepped into the rabbit hole and is being transported into the first level of her dream state. She falls deep into a well where she has plenty of time to wonder and perceive the objects around her; the first object she actually takes from this world and explores is a jar “labeled ‘ORANGE MARMALADE.’ but to her great disappointment it was empty: she did not like to drop the jar for fear of killing somebody, so she managed to put it into one of the cupboards as she fell past it” (Carroll, 11-12). Here the reader is able to come to conclusions about Alice’s state of mind; she is not aware of all the variables she is experiencing or the rules of the world, but she is already feeling a pang of hunger and is disappointed when that hunger cannot be fulfilled -- defining what she is needing fulfilled is not thoroughly clear here whether it is a physical hunger, a mental hunger, or a hunger for her emotional state. Out of respect for this new world experience, she is careful with the object she just picked up so as not to create harm.
The next instance where food and drink is mentioned occurs in the well where Alice has a longing to be with her cat:
Longing for the Past
Here we see Alice longing for her past universe and one of her closet companions, Dinah. In this train of thought, she worries about whether Dinah will be given milk and what will she eat. Alice wishes Dinah was with her as loneliness starts to sink in for Alice as she goes through this abyss of a well. She is not sure whether Dinah would be well fed in this new reality since there are no mice, but perhaps a bat could keep her entertained. At this point, Alice loses herself to the dream. Her cognitive abilities become lost in thought and she does not take command over herself and falls sleepy. The linguistics patterns of the words go in and out for her in deciding whether cats eat bats or if bats eat cats. Her sense of perception is tangled and she finally comes to when she at last hits the ground.
In exploring a dark hall light with lamps and series of doors, Alice comes into her first experience of consuming actual food and drink in this universe. She has come across a garden full of bright flowers and open air, but she is unable to get to the other side due to her size; she is unable to fit through the tunnel. Alice finds her key to getting through after returning to a serendipitously placed table:
Alice takes caution before eating or drinking any substances from this new world. She is eagerly searching for a key to her answers, but at the same time taking her problems in logically. Alice wants to avoid poisoning herself, so it is marked here that she wants to continue her journey rather than fail at it while also taking caution that wild beasts will not consume her. She is looking for the rules on her reality and hoping to discover the rules. This way she can be safe and enjoy her time in this lucid dream. Fortunately for her though:
Through the bold move of taking the liquid’s contents, Alice transforms into a being which is capable of going through its obstacles. Without this transformation, Alice would not be able to continue forward in her journey.
In taking the drink she finds pleasure for it tastes of dessert, rich meat, and bread which is known for its sustenance and for filling the stomach. She finds her discovery fantastic to the body as well as compelling; her only concern is that perhaps this transformation to a smaller size may end so she must not take it for granted. This is almost like a backwards sense of puberty. She is now able to leave the dreary halls with dim lighting and the frustrations of not being able to get through many doors and into a place that she can only enter by a small size, whereby a garden waits for her to explore with her imagination. It is not a place easily experienced by a larger, more adult size. She is also aware of this and keeps it in mind that her size is most likely temporary.
Alice in Wonderland and Adolescence
To Alice’s demise, she forgets the key for the door on the table, and now due to her small size, she is unable to reach it. This upsets her greatly because she wants to be tall enough to reach it. She starts to attack her more childlike size and finds that she is hardly even a “respectable person” (Carroll, 20). She takes of a small cake rather hastily to get back to a size where she can reach the key; she has already begun to accept the rules of her reality even if she has only tested the waters so far. After eating of the cake, she is over nine feet tall, but now is completely unable to get through the door to the garden which causes her to be “more hopeless than ever: she sat down and began to cry again” (Carroll, 23). She punishes herself for her transformation, chastising herself for poor problem solving and her apparent monstrous size, “‘You ought to be ashamed of yourself,’ said Alice, ‘a great girl like you’ (she might well say this, ‘to go on crying in this way! Stop this moment, I tell you!’ But she went on all the same, shedding gallons of tears, until there was a large pool all round her, about four inches deep and reaching half down the hall” (Carroll, 28). At this point, Alice goes through a series of emotional expressions all circulating around different aspects of the feminine. She cries so much that the room is filled with a lake, she becomes hot and fans herself, and she comes to her actual size when she mindlessly plays with the white rabbit’s gloves that he left behind. As she comes back to size, she comes “up to her chin in salt water” (Carroll, 28). Salt water is definitely not fit for a human to survive in, and definitely is heavy on the throat and eyes. Alice’s perception of the world is drenched in her emotions, and it is messing with the clarity of her perceptions.
The garden is forgotten for now while Alice must fight for her survival in the coming tide. She perceives several animal creatures in her journey and converses with a mouse about her cat, which offends the mouse since, of course, cats eat mice. Alice learns here quickly about discourse in that what she may find delightful to another may be their bane. After meeting several odd animals, Alice finds herself on a shore and the team of characters work together, in a very twisted sense of discourse, to dry their selves off. They eventually run in circles and feel that in this odd contest of running they deserve prizes. The prize for them ends up being candy found in Alice’s pocket: “Alice had no idea what to do, and in despair she put her hand in her pocket, and pulled out a box of comfits (luckily the salt water had not got into it), and handed them round as prizes. There was exactly one a-piece all round. ‘But she must have a prize herself, you know,’ said the Mouse” (Carroll, 38-39). The characters are rewarding their selves with physical food for their accomplishments and felt that Alice should be rewarded as well; she was given a momentary ceremony with the award of a thimble, found from her own pocket. Unfortunately, Alice yet again mentions her cat and the whole party abandons her. She seems to have forgotten the mouse’s response to her affiliations. It may prove well at this point to shift and see what type of influences food and drink have in the next Alice book before venturing too much further on this rabbit trail.
Through the Looking Glass
In Through the Looking-Glass (1871), Alice ventures through a mirror reality that is similar to her own, but different in function. She is slightly older and more experienced after going through the first puzzling world of her lucid dream. The first encounter with food or drink occurs early on in the first chapter. Alice, upset by her cat’s actions, acts as a parent to the pet: “‘Her paw went into your eye? Well, that’s your fault, for keeping your eyes open -- if you’d shut them tight up, it wouldn’t have happened. Now don’t make any more excuses, but listen! Number two: you pulled Snowdrop away by the tail just as I had put down the saucer of milk before her! What, you were thirsty, were you?” (Carroll, 13). Alice is now trying on the veil of a parent and is seeing the importance in giving her child food. As with Alice in Wonderland, Alice is not only fed the perception that giving food is a prize, but taking food away as punishment:
Alice’s discourse continues further as she navigates through a pretend version of parenting. Her heart is set on pretending and using this discourse as discovery. Alice loves to pretend and use her bold imagination:
Alice’s fascination of food is intriguing. She obviously enjoys seeing how food influences her body and even sees it in her playtime. Here she refers to a wild beast and its need for food; perhaps this shows how Alice’s wild imagination is in constant need of meat to carry it forward. Her discourse changes and she begins to give a prelude on the looking-glass land; there is more build up in this novel than in Alice in Wonderland before Alice enters the secret realm. Alice notes the differences in the land beyond the mirror, that the words in books go the other direction and that perhaps the things that happen there are just a trick of the mind. Alice tells all these things to Dinah and then wonders if the food there would be good for her, just like in Alice in Wonderland: “‘I wonder if they’d give you milk, there? Perhaps Looking-glass milk isn’t good to drink -- but oh, Kitty! (Carrol, 17). Here we see Alice questioning reality and trying to see if food on the other side would taste the same -- a very advanced question for a child to ponder and to solve. At this instance, Alice is drawn into the other world and able to see differences in the looking-glass world and her actual reality.
Avoid Bad Food
Alice explores the world and her entrance into this kingdom disrupts it. As she plays with the chess pieces, the king freezes and Alice then searches the room to “find any water to throw over him” (Carroll, 25). Water here is depicted as helping the objects of the universe to be returned back to a calm state rather than a state of madness. Due to Alice’s disruption into the universe, the characters lose their sense of sanity and water signals a need for reviving one out of shock. Alice tries to communicate with the creatures by writing a message to the king, but it is all backwards to him. Alice finds a book with an odd poem “Beware the jabberwock, my son. The jaws that bite, the claws that catch! Beware the jubjub bird, and shun the frumious Bandersnatch!” (Carroll, 28). This poem is titled “Jabberwocky” which is one of the cleverest clues to understanding Carroll’s two part series. Jabberwocky means invented or meaningless language; nonsense. What Carroll may be implying is a warning: do not let nonsensical meanings ensnare you and eat you up, keep your eyes on the target and do not be distracted by false notions as well as be careful that you as well do not eat nonsensical, non-sustenance food for yourself.
Alice avoids any relations to food while floating up a stairwell and speaking to the flowers of the garden, but once she find the chess Queen her mind goes back to food when asked to find a sense of manners, “‘Curtsey while you’re thinking what to say. It saves time.’ Alice wondered a little at this, but she was too much in awe of the Queen to disbelieve it. ‘I’ll try it when I go home,’ she thought to herself, ‘the next time I’m a little late for dinner.’” Here we see that in Alice’s development into an adult, dinner was considered significant. We do not get a glimpse of this in Alice’s actual life, but we can imagine that in Alice’s family this is where a great deal of conversation centered, where Alice would be summoned to eat, and where manners were expected. Perhaps, Alice has so much interest and respect for food because of her origins in society and how fortunate she is to have a plethora of delicious food at her table.
After conversing with the queen for some time, the queen inspires Alice to become her own chess version of a queen, and the two race in a preposterous way across the land – made like a chessboard. This takes the wind out of Alice who is developing a sense of the physical rules of the world, and feeling “‘so hot and thirsty!’” (Carroll, 47). And how does Alice relieve herself of thirst? The Queen ends up pulling out a little box from her pocket, “‘Have a biscuit?’” (Carroll, 48). Alice does not want to disappoint the Queen; even though she does not want the biscuit, she takes it regardless, which if she had listened to her instincts, she may have avoided its dryness: “So she took it, and ate it as well as she could: and it was very dry; and she thought she had never been so nearly choked in all her life” (Carroll, 47). The Queen moves on to explain the rules of the game in bringing Alice to queen status; the already made Queen offers Alice another biscuit to which Alice denies, “‘one’s quite enough!’” (Carroll, 48). Alice clearly is sticking up for herself here while also remaining polite to the Queen; both giving herself favor in the court while not discriminating against her own personal choices. And what happens if Alice wins the game and becomes a ‘Queen’ herself: “and in the Eighth Square we shall be Queens together, and it’s all feasting and fun!” (Carroll, 49). Feasting is the goal for Alice, a bounty of food and joyous occasion. The dictionary defines “feast” as (1) a large meal, typically one in celebration of something. For instance, a plentiful supply of something enjoyable, especially for the mind or senses; (2) an annual religious celebration; (3) a day dedicated to a particular saint; and (4) to eat and drink sumptuously. Here we see that the goal in mind for Alice is to have a religious festival of food to both pleasure her physical and mental self. Feasting also has demonic implications which makes this story all the more questionable. Could perhaps Alice want to possess the objects around her to further her own experience and maybe this ritual ceremony that she is being inducted into will allow her to possess a higher degree of sustenance?
Alice wants control of her surroundings and she does want to be in command, but I think it may prove difficult to decide whether these are innocent intentions or if she is consistently hungry and upset because she does not have what she desires; which brings up an important question, what is it that Alice wants? Is she lonely and that’s why she is making up such vast realities? Perhaps; especially considering she probably is a very bored little girl who is oppressed in her world of education and noble-like-family which prevents her from making true companionship; what we do know about Alice is her best friend seems to be a cat named Dinah, which is relatively close in spelling to ‘dinner’ or ‘diner.’ Alice’s world is often changed by what she consumes whether physically or emotionally, and these commodities can catalyst radical effects on herself and her surroundings.
Alice does end up proving herself in both of these magical realist worlds; she escapes the trial with the Queen of Hearts by growing larger and then wakes from her other dreamscape by shaking the Red Queen. She takes control over these things and reverts back into reality; it should not be discounted that both of these queens are red, highly emotional, and the masters of entire territories that are predominately drowsed in poor logic. Perhaps what Alice is needing is to free herself of the chains around her and to accept reality and the puberty she will enter later in life. She enjoys in indulging in all the world has to offer, but at some point she must wake up and realize that these elements do not have power over her and that indulging in fantasy may allow the elements to transform and ridicule her. It is through Alice’s mindset that she is able to go through all these various levels, and with the right mindset and emotional scope, she escapes as the situations begin to appear hellish in the final chapters.
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
As for Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010), Scott must fight his girlfriend’s seven evil exes in order to maintain a relationship with Ramona Flowers, and in doing so, he discovers self-respect for himself. As well, the film follows Scott’s band, the Sex Bob-ombs, and their rise to success as Scott battles Ramona’s evil exes. All this while going through several different levels of reality in the style of video games. The film begins with the Sex Bob-ombs eating breakfast before a band practices. At 00:40 seconds into the film, the viewers see orange juice on the table along with coffee in all of the male band players’ hands. The Sex-Bob-ombs discuss Scott’s recent relationship development with a seventeen year old Chinese girl, Knives, who is still in high school. Only seconds later does the viewer see bandmate Stephen Stills munch on a piece of bread while Scott goes on about his relationship, and that it’s not that deep. The band therein practices together showing their camaraderie while Knives therein is introduced to them.
Later at night, the band discusses cozily, with coffee, how they feel about Knives – approval, for the most part. From there, Scott’s sister, Stacey Pilgrim, calls from a coffee shop to gather all the gossip on Scott and Knives, and in turn, report this to all people belonging to her social network. At this point, the audience has been introduced to several of the main characters in action: the hero Scott; his sidekick: Stephen Stills; his old flame and somewhat annoyed friend: Kim; and the young coming of age: Young Neil; beyond the band, Scott’s opening girlfriend: Knives; his sister: Stacey Pilgrim; and Scott’s gay roommate: Wallace. From here out, the audience should be able to tell that this is a heavily character driven plot. In order to help pinpoint what’s happening in the narrative, the director and production designer have carefully placed visible food and drink items on the set as design and props to help carry the story and give a distinction in room tone; for instance, it would be strange to have alcohol in the morning at breakfast without implying something about the characters.
This pattern of food and drink reference carries out throughout the film. During the first date with Knives, the audience sees the couple walking out of a pizzeria with Knives carrying a gigantic slice of pizza and Scott Pilgrim with a bottle of Coke Zero which he twists with a Freudian slip of the hands. To help with the exes numbering system that the film applies, Scott drinks Coke Zero several times throughout the film to denote that he is zero since he has not become an ex of Ramona’s – throughout the film, symbolic numbers are found to chart the exes. Pilgrim finally opens up his bottle of Coke Zero right after Knives tells him that his band rocks, implying that his usage of drink was used as a sign of being flattered.
Meeting Ramona Flowers
Moving forward, the band goes to a party so as to promote their music. In the first shot of the party, Young Neil and Pilgrim stand across from each other with red party cups while people in the background drink beer. The red party cups are used to help focalize the main characters as well as give the opportunity to mask their choice of drink. Scott is bored with the party so he explores the house and runs into Comeau. Comeau inquires as to why Scott isn’t drinking which Scott replies that he doesn’t, but Comeau remembers a distinct moment where Scott was drunk -- Scott notes that his drink is Coke Zero, his code drink. Pilgrim ventures around the party and notices Ramona Flowers -- he squeezes his cup of Coke Zero symbolically showing his sudden interest and a change of status to come; Ramona barely even sips her own drink out of boredom. Scott attempts to hit on Ramona but for the most part, strikes out. He goes home full of thoughts on Ramona and is interrupted in his flow of thoughts by his roommate who comes home throwing his keys at Scott’s head and stating, “Guess who’s drunk?” The two have an intimate conversation about Ramona while in bed -- they share the same bed even though Wallace is homosexual and Pilgrim is heterosexual, this gag is carried out through the entirety of the film and even the men Wallace brings home will also sleep in the bed and work alongside Wallace to figure out Scott’s deepest relational problems. Right after this first intimate roommate conversation, Stacey calls, yet again from the coffee shop, and inquires on details about Scott’s new found love interest.
The film takes a break from food references for about seven minutes until during Scott and Ramona’s date. Ramona lists several types of teas that she can offer. Here we get the depiction that Ramona is lovely through her home's ambience and the intimacy it creates around Scott and her, which is brought out with the subject of tea. Ramona sets the cups down hard; she gave him ‘sleepy time‘ tea -- it’s night, and she says she’s going to get him a blanket since he is cold. Since Ramona takes awhile to retrieve a blanket, Scott follows her and accidentally runs into her changing clothes -- wherein they begin to makeout and the subject of tea is moved aside; however, they do not have sex so as not to ruin the intimacy of the relationship since they are not at that level, at least in Ramona’s opinion.
The film swiftly moves to the next setting: a bar full of alcohol where the first evil ex fights Pilgrim. The first usage with alcohol used is when Wallace holds a bottle of beer and flirts with Stacey’s boyfriend, showing the mixed sense of sobriety, alcoholism, and mischief that Wallace employs in his flirt tactics. Jimmy, Stacey’s boyfriend, eventually in another shot holds a bottle of beer foreshadowing to the audience what may happen with Wallace and Jimmy. As for the girl’s table, including Stacey, Knives, and Ramona, there is one cup of liquid shown with a whitish alcohol or soda. Once Ramona’s first evil ex appears, Wallace shouts, with beer in his hand, to “Fight!” It is evident that the choice of drinks being carried out here are helping to identify character for the audience while also allowing these characters to use the props to express who they are.
Steady Relationship with Ramona
After some discussion with Ramona about the evil exes, Scott and her are in a steady relationship. Wallace cooks breakfast for Scott as they discuss the newly formed relationship; as bacon sits on Pilgrim’s chest, Wallace tells Pilgrim he must break up with Knives, who Pilgrim hasn’t had the nerve to break up with. Bacon here could suggest the type of material wrapped around Scott’s heart, for pig is considered to be one of the more unhealthy types of meat for a number of reasons – pigs will eat off other pigs including their tumors, the colon has issues digesting the meat, and pig meat is actually the closest in taste to human flesh. Right when Scott tries to break up with Knives, she invites him to dinner with her parents signifying intimacy on her part. Scott, however, breaks up with Knives, and Scott’s friend Kim says, “Scott, you are the salt of the Earth,” in a sarcastic tone, then says, “I meant scum of the Earth.” As we can see, this pair of lines helps define the sarcasm underlying Kim and how she perceives Scott.
There are multiple references to food in the entire film, and just like with the end of the Alice books, there is promise at the very end of the film to feast where Scott will meet with his Mega Scott self to discuss reality, relationships, and “French toast with bananas, and a side of bacon.” Other ways in which food is addressed in the film may dissuade Scott from going after his goal such as when he eats with Ramona and is distracted by the fact that garlic bread can make him fat. When the second evil ex breaks away from Scott he goes to drink coffee; when Scott is done with the second evil ex he goes to visit his sister, who ends up being Julie, a very angry woman with a foul mouth, berates him for his relationship style while making his drink which was intended to help him enjoy and relax his way through the hero’s journey. Other more fascinating things that happen with food are: the third evil ex is a vegan, empty cups while Scott and Todd (the third evil ex) fight which shows a sobriety in battle, Scott saying everything is okay with the line, “We’re all peaches and gravy,” Scott and Ramona’s split around a setting of alcohol, the main villain Gideon consistently smacks gum, and this mocking line toward Pilgrim, “There’s no use crying over spilt coke, buddy,” the line which describes Knives, “Listen, Kung-Pow Chicken,” Scott declaring to Gideon before he finishes him “I’ve got beef,” and Young Neil’s victory of eating a coin that he misbelieves to be chocolate. Clearly, this film uses food to help paint the narrative as well as portray the characters and their actions, quirks, motives, and issues.
Overall, this study shows in depth how examples of food and drink in both the Alice books and Scott Pilgrim relate to their respective narrative. These two works may be separated by a century and a half, but they share a great deal of commonalties such as being coming of age stories, being immersed in magical realism, having aspects of sexuality defamiliarized, and the high number of references involved with food. The hub intends to prove that food and drink can be used as staples here to help the audience understand what’s happening in the text, while also highlighting a theme that occurs around the substance itself whether used as a prop or just part of a scene’s design. Food and drink relates to the settings as well as in story world building, and this can help in the overall discourse of unraveling and decoding a given narrative.
Bayley, Melanie. "The mathematical meaning of Alice in Wonderland." New Scientist 204.273919 Dec. (2009): 38-41. Academic Search Premier. Web. 13 May 2011.
Carroll, Lewis. Alice in Wonderland. London: Macmillan, 1865. Print.
Carroll, Lewis. Through the Looking Glass. London: Macmillan, 1871. Print.
Cera, Michael, perf. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. Dir. Edgar Wright. 2010. CD-ROM.
Andrea Lawrence (author) from Chicago on March 19, 2016:
Thank you! There is some definite body changing adolescence happening in Alice in Wonderland. It is fun to take a Freudian lens to it.
Deb Hirt from Stillwater, OK on March 19, 2016:
I also grew up with Alice in Wonderland. It was a great way to detach from the occasional hardships of reality, which teens sometimes find necessary in order to cope. After al, their bodies are going through some very significant changes. Once they reach adulthood, there is no turning back. Well done.
Andrea Lawrence (author) from Chicago on March 16, 2016:
Thank you! Alice in Wonderland can be analyzed in a number of ways. It's a never ending treasure in literature.
Reynold Jay from Saginaw, Michigan on March 15, 2016:
You followed me today and then I discovered you and this fascinating article. My recent children's series has been compared to Alice in Wonderland and other classics so you may well imagine my interest in this recent article. Well done and IMPRESSIVE.