The Political Allegories of American McGee’s Alice
In answer to a question in the forums of american mcgee dot com.
The question I could not resist. What do the bosses in American McGee’s Alice represent? The entire game is the story of a war between Alice’s two personalities. Psychologically, one personality represents idealism and childlike innocence, while the other represents the hard-bitten realism of a bitter adult -- an allegiance to the social darwinism of Ayn Rand. Here is where the story becomes political. At the very end of the game, when the Red Queen makes her speech, the allegory of the game finally becomes undeniable. The hints all throughout the game have piled up to the point that doubt disappears. Alice’s two personalities represent strains of political thought. The Alice that we meet at the beginning of the game and play as a character represents an idealistic political philosophy -- social democracy or possibly even socialism. The Red Queen represents a political philosophy of pure egoism straight from the pages of Ayn Rand. The Red Queen is an unapologetic advocate of social darwinism under the guise of “realpolitik” as the conservatives like to call it:
“...This realm is for grown-ups, raw, well-ordered, ruthless... Self-pitying dreamers are not wanted here. They cannot survive here...”
There is no doubt that the “self-pitying dreamers” are the liberals and progressives of the Democratic Party in the U.S. and social democrats and socialists in the world in general. Overtly, the game is the war between Alice’s two personalities. Covertly, it is an allegory representing the struggle between the idealistic left and the social darwinistic right.
Let’s get back to the bosses. I’ve already explained the Red Queen. Now for the Queen of Hearts. The Queen of Hearts is literally a puppet on the end of a tentacle. Never have I seen a more perfect visual metaphor for what is known the world over as a “puppet government” -- a government that does the bidding of a foreign power or an entrenched privileged wealthy class. The tentacle that the Queen of Hearts is at the end of is one of many of the Red Queen. The depiction of the Red Queen as a gigantic, octopus-like monster whose tentacles reach throughout Wonderland is a perfect metaphor for multinational corporations which are frequently depicted in Latin American and leftist newspapers as giant octopi. The United Fruit Company in Central America, now known as Chiquita, was once known to Hondurans as “The Octopus” because its influence stretched everywhere in the country. Personally, I think that the first face of the Red Queen bears a striking resemblance to Ronald Reagan.
The Jabberwock does not appear to have any political significance and supports the psychological plotline of the game. He represents Alice’s survivor’s guilt.
The Mad Hatter is almost as politically significant as the Red Queen. The Hatter “is obsessed with time” like a factory owner who wants to exert maximum control over his employees through Taylorized (assembly-line) production methods. The clocks found throughout his realm represent time clocks: an instrument of the factory owner’s control over employees. He also wants to convert all the inhabitants of Wonderland into automatons who function as soldiers to enforce the Red Queen’s will. We learn in the level “Crazed Clockwork” that he is already converting insane children into automatons. The insane children are seen in “Mirror Image” incarcerated in classrooms into which the Hatter is pumping some sort of toxic gas -- sort of like the way American schoolchildren’s heads are filled full of patriotic drivel in civics and history classes so that they will grow up to be perfect soldiers for a government that represents the investor class. Every time in Mirror Image when Alice breaks a classroom clock, the gas stops pumping into that classroom. The breaking of the clocks represents a rebellion against the tyranny of the factory. When all the clocks are broken, a barrier explodes and the path forward toward a battle with the factory owner’s henchmen (the Tweedles) becomes clear. Think of the Tweedles as Pinkerton Guards.
The casebook included with the game hints that, psychologically, the Tweedles represent a pair of hospital orderlies who may have attempted to molest Alice.
The Red King appears to have no political significance. He is noticeably the only boss that does not talk.
The Centipede obviously represents militarism. He reminds me of Donald Rumsfeld -- President George W. Bush’s first Secretary of Defense who is best known for his statement that you go to war with the military that you’ve got.
The Duchess represents the sense of entitlement that you find among the wealthy. “She treats everything as prey,” states the Mock Turtle. Bill McGill gets in a lick, too. “Ruins me home, builds this monstrosity. She’s as mad as monkey mash, and just as tasteless.” Almost sounds like some working-class person in New York who had to sell his little house so Donald Trump could build one of his palaces for the wealthy. Personally, I think the Duchess bears a striking physical resemblance to Barbara Bush, the wife of the first President Bush and the mother of the second President Bush.
The casebook included with the game states that Alice attacked a nurse in the asylum calling her “Duchess.”
Some of the non-boss characters have political significance, too. The gnomes of the first level are obviously the oppressed working class. The Gnome Elder who acts as Alice’s guide in the first two chapters of the game is a union leader. Like many union leaders in the world today, he is a target for execution.
At the end of the Centipede boss fight, Alice is on top of a spire with the Cheshire Cat and a toadstool. Addressing Cheshire, she states "What a horrible choice: eat a toadstool or remain food for insects." Is this a comment about the relentless "lesser-of-two-evils" choice that the U.S. political system so consistently presents its citizens? It's pretty obvious which party is the toadstools and which party is the insects!
And let us not forget the Cheshire Cat. While he is not politically significant in the game, he represents the voice of Lewis Carroll as he guides the hallucinating and catatonic Alice through her darkened version of Wonderland. To the sharp-eyed among you, there’s a letter on Alice’s writing desk in the opening video which is addressed to a Mr. Dodgson (Lewis Carroll). The girl in the game is clearly meant to be an alternate universe version of Alice Liddell. The video game character even looks like Alice Liddell.
Finally, I hope everyone noticed that the Queen Of Hearts literally takes her face off before she begins to attack. The mask reminds me of Japanese Kabuki theater. What could that gesture mean?
There are also religious references in the game. The leadup to what I call "The Wall of Souls" in the second Caterpillar's Plot level strongly reminds me of the Twenty-Third Psalm:
Yea, even though I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death,
I will fear no evil.
Thy rod and thy staff,
They comfort me.
The religious reference of the level "Ascension" is obvious.
And here I end. I seriously wonder how much I missed that is still waiting to be discovered. Perhaps the release of the second game will settle once and for all the question of whether I am hallucinating in seeing all these symbolisms, as some of the old-timers at the americanmcgee dot com forums have suggested.