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Alice in

Wonderland
Study Guide by Course Hero

with a limited point of view that focuses on Alice and her


What's Inside adventures.

TENSE
j Book Basics ................................................................................................. 1 Alice in Wonderland is told in the past tense.

d In Context ..................................................................................................... 1 ABOUT THE TITLE


The main character is named Alice, and the story follows her
a Author Biography ..................................................................................... 2 adventures in a fantasy world called Wonderland.

h Characters .................................................................................................. 3

k Plot Summary ............................................................................................. 7


d In Context
c Chapter Summaries ............................................................................... 11

g Quotes ......................................................................................................... 17
Who Was Alice?
l Symbols ...................................................................................................... 18
The original Alice was a real girl, Alice Liddell, whose large
m Themes ....................................................................................................... 19
family lived near Charles Dodgson (the real name of author
b Motifs and Literary Devices .............................................................. 21 Lewis Carroll) in Oxford, England. On a July day in 1862,
Dodgson took Alice Liddell and two of her sisters rowing along
e Suggested Reading .............................................................................. 22 the Isis River. When the three girls asked for a story, he made
one up on the spot, about a little girl who had amazing
adventures when she jumped down a rabbit hole.

j Book Basics Alice Liddell asked Dodgson to write down the story, and in
1864 he presented her with a handwritten, hand-illustrated
manuscript that he called Alice's Adventures Under Ground. In
AUTHOR
1865 Macmillan published the story as Alice's Adventures in
Lewis Carroll
Wonderland, with illustrations by John Tenniel. Dodgson used
YEAR PUBLISHED the pen name Lewis Carroll, which he derived from the Latin
1865 for his first and middle names: Carolus (the Latin form of the
name Charles) and Ludovicus (the Latin form of the name
GENRE Lutwidge). Though it was not a critical favorite, the book was
Fantasy an immediate popular success, as was its sequel, Through the
Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There (1871). These two
PERSPECTIVE AND NARRATOR
books have been translated into 174 languages.
Alice in Wonderland is told in the third person by a narrator
Alice in Wonderland Study Guide Author Biography 2

Who Was Lewis Carroll? Three Real-World Trends That


Dodgson was a complex man. A mathematics lecturer at Christ Shaped Wonderland
Church (one of the 38 colleges at the University of Oxford), he
was also an Anglican clergyman, a skilled amateur 1. Nonsense literature became increasingly popular in the 19th
photographer, an inventor, a games creator, and a talented century. Some characteristics of this genre:
writer who was especially fond of wordplay. He was also a The plot is linear, but the characters and action are
prolific correspondent, writing and receiving almost 100,000 bizarre, making it a challenge to discern the author's
letters. message (if there is one).
Animals often take on human roles.
Jokes, riddles, puns, and other wordplay appear often.
Trends in Victorian Children's Logic is inverted; ordinary actions have extraordinary
consequences.
Books 2. There was increasing social awareness about mental illness
and a move toward better understanding of the mentally ill.
Until the mid-18th century, British books for children tended to Although Alice's adventures have a hallucinatory quality,
be instructive. (One 18th-century picture book contains the she herself is presented as an exceedingly sane and
edifying verse "The naughty Boy that steals the Pears / Is sensible child.
whipt as well as he that swears.") However, the second half of The "mad" or "disturbed" creatures in the book (the White
that century saw huge growth in books meant to entertain, and Rabbit, the Hatter, the March Hare, and the Cheshire
by the 19th century the children's publishing industry was Cat) are described sympathetically. They may say funny
flourishing. things, but the author is not making fun of them.
3. The 19th century saw tremendous progress in mathematics
Part of the entertainment in Alice in Wonderland is in Carroll's and the natural sciences.
strong use of parody. Almost all the verses and songs that Dodgson, a conservative, found many new mathematical
Alice recites or that other characters sing are based on actual theories silly and may have ridiculed them in the Alice
verses and songs that all readers of the time would have books.
known. But Carroll very deliberately subverts the original texts' The study of natural history by both professionals and
meanings, turning the solemn morals into very funny nonsense. amateurs brought new attention to plants and animals.
Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species, published in
Alice in Wonderland was innovative in many ways:
1859, introduced the concept of evolution. Note the pool

Alice is presented as her own person, rather than as a of tears out of which the Dodo and other animals emerge

generic child in need of instruction. She's on her own, in Alice in Wonderland.

without any adults to please. She is not afraid to challenge


Some books reflect society; some influence it. Alice in
authority figures, such as the Queen of Hearts.
Wonderland did both.
Although Alice is polite to everyone she meets, how well she
behaves is not important to the story. She is neither
punished for bad behavior nor rewarded for good.
Children's education is a topic of fun. Textbooks are a Author Biography
parodied, characters give nonsensical explanations for
things, and the common lessons taught in the schoolroom Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, who used the pen name Lewis
are useless to Alice in Wonderland. Carroll, was born on January 27, 1832, in Cheshire, England.
His father was an Anglo-Catholic clergyman with conservative
views on religion. Dodgson was taught at home until age 12,
when he was sent to Rugby School. He was deaf in one ear
and troubled with a stammer, and older Rugby boys made life

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Alice in Wonderland Study Guide Characters 3

miserable for him. Nevertheless, he did very well academically returning to her own world.
and was admitted to Christ Church college at Oxford
University.

Dodgson excelled at mathematics and won the highest


White Rabbit
mathematics honors of anyone in his class. He graduated in
At the beginning of the book, the White Rabbit races past Alice
1854, was assigned a mathematical lectureship in 1855, and
on his hind legs, checking his pocket watch and muttering
wrote several books on mathematics between 1879 and 1888.
anxiously. Alice chases him down a rabbit hole and finds
Although his religious views were not nearly as fixed as those
herself in Wonderland. Readers never learn much about the
of his father, Dodgson became a deacon in the Church of
White Rabbit, but because he's the first Wonderland creature
England. Like many Victorians, he was interested in "psychical
readers meet, and because he reappears occasionally, he's an
research" (paranormal research) and mind reading. He was
important character.
also a skilled amateur photographer and loved designing
games and puzzles.

In 1856 a new Christ Church dean, Henry Liddell, came to Queen of Hearts
Oxford with his family. Dodgson, who loved children, became
friendly with the Liddell household. He was especially close to An animated playing card, the Queen of Hearts is Alice's main
three of the Liddell daughters—Lorina, Edith, and Alice—and antagonist. In fact, the Queen is nasty to everyone she meets.
his adventures with them inspired Alice in Wonderland. But She's like a walking volcano, always erupting with fury, and her
something went wrong in his relationship to the Liddell family, favorite command is "Off with his head!" (or "her head," in
and by the time Alice in Wonderland was published, Dodgson Alice's case). Sensible characters like the Gryphon realize that
was no longer in contact with Alice Liddell or her siblings. the Queen never actually succeeds at getting her opponents
Carroll died on January 14, 1898, in Guildford. beheaded, though she terrifies many of her subjects. The
Queen's mood never changes; it's always pitched at the same
Alice in Wonderland was an immediate popular success with level of rage. But Alice realizes that the Queen has no power
readers of all ages. Well over 7,500 different editions have over her. When Alice defies the Queen at the trial of the Knave
been published, and it's one of the most quoted books in the of Hearts, Alice's own trial in Wonderland immediately comes
world. to an end.

h Characters Duchess
The Duchess is a milder version of the Queen. When Alice
meets her, the Duchess is alternately cradling and shaking a
Alice howling baby. Suddenly, she casually tosses the baby to Alice
and leaves. A few minutes later, the baby turns into a pig and
An adventurous, spunky, and levelheaded seven-year-old who
walks away. Alice next meets the Duchess at the royal croquet
jumps into a dream world, Alice finds herself constantly
game, where the Duchess is more friendly. As she and Alice
confronted by characters who say things that make no sense
chat, the Duchess finds a moral in every topic and practically
and do things she knows are impossible. Alice does her best to
every sentence. None of the morals make any sense, but the
stay grounded and polite with each new encounter—a hard
Duchess is proud of them.
task, considering she changes size so often that she's not
always sure she's the same person. Although she sometimes
gives way to emotion, she becomes braver and more assertive
as her adventure continues. She learns to stand up for herself,
Hatter
and at the story's end, she stands up for a character who's
With the March Hare and the Dormouse, the Hatter presides
being treated unfairly. She even defies a queen before
over a long tea table set with dozens of empty chairs. He's

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Alice in Wonderland Study Guide Characters 4

rather uncivil to Alice, informing her that she needs a haircut


and asking her to solve a riddle that doesn't have an answer.
He bafflingly explains that the previous March, he "murdered
the time" (sang off the beat) and that time punished him by
stopping the clock at six o'clock in the evening, so that it's
always teatime.

Caterpillar
When Alice meets the Caterpillar, he's sitting on top of a
mushroom and smoking a hookah. He contradicts everything
Alice says, but he does make her think. He also tells her that
eating from one side of the mushroom will make her grow taller
and eating from the other side will shrink her. After that, Alice
is better able to control her size.

Cheshire Cat
The Cheshire Cat is one of the few characters who's
moderately pleasant with Alice. He appears and disappears
without warning, but when he's around, he listens to her
sympathetically. However, he's disconcertingly sure that he,
Alice, and everyone else in Wonderland are insane. Another
disconcerting feature of the Cheshire Cat is that he can
disappear gradually, leaving only his smile floating in the air.

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Alice in Wonderland Study Guide Characters 5

Character Map

White Rabbit
Fussy, self-important
rabbit; always
flustered

Caterpillar Gryphon
Laid-back hookah-smoker Leads Alice into Cheerful optimist;
sitting on a very useful Wonderland likes wordplay—and
mushroom play of all sorts

Offers Alice Introduces


good advice Alice to
Alice
Mock Turtle
Seven-year-old girl; jumps
down a rabbit hole into
Wonderland
Orders Alice
beheaded

Friends

Cheshire Cat Queen of Hearts


Grinning feline; Joins his Volatile monarch; happy
appears and disappears tea party to order an execution
at will

Hatter
Irascible fellow
hosting an unending
tea party

Main character

Other Major Character

Minor Character

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Alice in Wonderland Study Guide Characters 6

Full Character List The Dodo climbs out of the pool of tears
and shows Alice and the other wet
Dodo swimmers how to get warm and dry by
running around haphazardly (the Dodo
Character Description
calls this a Caucus-race).

Seven-year-old Alice is the book's


The Dormouse is one of the three
heroine. Sensible, brave, and polite, she's
characters Alice meets at the tea party;
Alice fascinated by Wonderland—but also Dormouse
it can barely keep itself awake and
determined to abide by what she knows
sometimes drifts off mid-sentence.
is true.

The Baby may not actually be the


The White Rabbit leads Alice into
Duchess's Duchess's child; all Alice knows for sure
Wonderland when she chases him down
Baby is that it turns into a pig and wanders
White Rabbit a rabbit hole; he's a fussy, anxious
away.
character who's terrified of being late
and making the Queen of Hearts angry.
The three Gardeners work for the Queen
of Hearts, who orders them beheaded
The Queen of Hearts is the story's
Gardeners when she catches them painting white
Queen of ridiculous antagonist; she shrieks
roses red. Alice rescues them by hiding
Hearts nonstop and constantly orders that her
them in a flowerpot.
subjects be executed.

Half eagle and half lion, the Gryphon is a


The Duchess is a less violent version of
Gryphon brisk, cheerful creature who introduces
the Queen of Hearts and can find a
Duchess Alice to the Mock Turtle.
moral in anything Alice—or she
herself—says.
King of The King of Hearts is mild-mannered,
Hearts timid, and terrified of his wife.
The Hatter is an irritable little man who
Hatter presides over an endless tea party on
the lawn and behaves insultingly to Alice. Knave of A member of the royal family, the Knave
Hearts of Hearts is put on trial for stealing tarts.
The Caterpillar sits on a mushroom,
smoking a hookah; he's cranky and The March Hare is one of the three
Caterpillar March Hare
combative, though he does help Alice characters at the tea party.
control her size.

The Mock Turtle is a sad tortoise with a


The Cheshire Cat, who can appear and Mock Turtle
calf's head who sobs all the time.
disappear when he wants, first appears
Cheshire Cat
in a tree in the woods and tells Alice,
"We're all mad here." Alice meets the Mouse when both of
them are swimming in a pool of tears; the
Mouse
Mouse is painfully insulted when Alice
Bill is a bedraggled lizard who first mentions her cat.
shows up when the White Rabbit asks
Bill him to see who's plugging up his house;
later, as a juror, he writes on his slate The Pigeon meets Alice in the woods
with his finger. Pigeon and is absolutely convinced Alice is a
serpent out to steal her eggs.

The Cook, a temperamental woman,


Cook rules the kitchen in the Duchess's
household.

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Alice in Wonderland Study Guide Plot Summary 7

to recite some poems, but—as always happens in


k Plot Summary Wonderland—she keeps getting the words wrong. She is
describing her adventures to the Gryphon and Mock Turtle
On a May afternoon, seven-year-old Alice is dozing on a sunny when a voice calls from the distance, "The trial is starting!"
riverbank. Suddenly, a big white rabbit carrying a pocket watch
Alice goes back to the croquet ground, where a trial has been
rushes by. Alice impetuously follows him down a rabbit hole
set up. The Knave of Hearts is charged with stealing the
that turns into a long tunnel. When she finally lands, she is in a
Queen's tarts. Alice watches as the jurors write down their own
dark hallway, and the White Rabbit is nowhere to be seen.
names to keep from forgetting them. The King of Hearts, as
Alice's first challenge in Wonderland is figuring out what size to presiding judge, tells the witnesses not to be nervous "or I'll
be. The same sense of adventure that led her down the rabbit have you executed on the spot."
hole causes her to eat and drink several mysterious
Just before she is called as a witness, Alice realizes she's
substances that change her size from tiny to huge and back
growing again. Startled, she knocks over the jury box, and all
again. At nine feet tall, she cries a pool of tears; at three inches
the jurors topple out. When Alice has righted them, her
tall, she's forced to swim through the pool with a crowd of
questioning begins. None of the proceedings make any sense,
talking animals—including a dodo. She grows so big that she
and Alice points this out. After all, she's now so tall that she's
fills the White Rabbit's house; she shrinks so fast that her chin
not afraid of anyone in the court. When the Queen orders that
hits her foot. Finally, she meets a caterpillar sitting on a
the Knave be sentenced before a verdict is given, Alice says
mushroom who tells her that she can control her size
loudly, "Stuff and nonsense!" The Queen calls for her
depending on which side of the mushroom she eats.
execution, and Alice exclaims, "You're nothing but a pack of
Alice begins to explore Wonderland, hoping to reach a garden cards!"
she spied through a door in the tunnel. On her way, she meets
The entire pack rises into the air and flies down on her.
an increasingly strange cast of characters, beginning with the
Screaming, Alice tries to beat them off—and wakes to find that
Duchess, who hands over a screaming baby. A few minutes
she's lying on the riverbank and that her big sister is brushing
later, the baby turns into a pig and walks away. Next comes the
some leaves off her face. She tells her sister about her odd
Cheshire Cat, who can appear and vanish at will. "We're all mad
dream. Her sister sends Alice in to have her tea, but the older
here," the Cheshire Cat tells Alice.
girl lingers on the bank, dreaming about Alice's adventures.
The next characters Alice meets—the Hatter, the March Hare,
and the Dormouse—certainly fit that category. When Alice joins
their tea party, they treat her so rudely that she leaves. Alice
finds a way into the garden, but it turns out to be more bizarre
than beautiful, with gardeners painting a white rosebush red.
The garden belong to the King and Queen of Hearts, animated
playing cards who have just arrived for a croquet game along
with the rest of the deck of cards.

Alice joins the game, which is difficult to play because


flamingos are used as mallets and hedgehogs as croquet balls.
Even more disruptive is the Queen of Hearts, who keeps
demanding that one or another character be beheaded. Finally,
the only players left are the King and the Queen of Hearts,
Alice, and the Duchess.

The Queen orders the Gryphon to introduce Alice to the Mock


Turtle, a morose creature who recounts a long story about his
school days. The Gryphon and the Mock Turtle teach Alice an
intricate dance called the Lobster Quadrille. Alice, in turn, tries

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Alice in Wonderland Study Guide Plot Summary 8

Plot Diagram

Climax

7
Falling Action
6
Rising Action
5 8

4
9
3
Resolution
2
1

Introduction

Climax
Introduction
7. Queen's court rises up against Alice.
1. Alice chases the White Rabbit down a tunnel.

Falling Action
Rising Action
8. Alice realizes cards are actually leaves.
2. Alice keeps changing size and meets some talking animals.

3. Alice attends Hatter's tea party.


Resolution
4. Alice meets grumpy Queen of Hearts, who orders
executions.
9. Alice wakes from her dream.
5. Alice plays croquet and learns Lobster Quadrille.

6. Alice called as witness at trial of Knave of Hearts.

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Alice in Wonderland Study Guide Plot Summary 9

Timeline of Events

A May afternoon

Alice is dozing on a riverbank when the White Rabbit


runs by; she follows him down a rabbit-hole.

Minutes later

Alice gets too small, too big, and too small again, which
she finds very frustrating.

Immediately after

A caterpillar on a mushroom tells Alice how to use the


mushroom to change her size.

A little later

Alice arrives at the Duchess's house; the Duchess gives


her a screaming baby that turns into a pig.

Just after that

Alice meets the Cheshire Cat, who sends her to see the
(mad) Hatter.

In a little while

Alice joins the Hatter, the March Hare, and the


Dormouse at their tea party in the woods.

Later on

In a beautiful garden, Alice meets the vicious Queen of


Hearts and plays croquet.

After the game

The Gryphon and the Mock Turtle teach Alice to dance


the Lobster Quadrille.

Suddenly

The Knave of Hearts is on trial for stealing the Queen's


tarts, and Alice is called as a witness.

At the end

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Alice in Wonderland Study Guide Plot Summary 10

All the playing cards in the Queen's court fly at


Alice—and she wakes up on the riverbank again.

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Alice in Wonderland Study Guide Chapter Summaries 11

c Chapter Summaries Chapter 2

Chapter 1 Summary
Eating the magic cake makes Alice shoot up to nine feet tall.
She can easily reach the golden key, but once again, she's far
Summary too big to get into the garden. She begins to cry with
frustration, and her "gallons" of tears create a pool that's four
On a May afternoon in the English countryside, seven-year-old inches deep. The White Rabbit rushes by and, terrified at the
Alice is dozing on a riverbank when a large white rabbit races sight of giant Alice, drops his gloves and fan. Alice picks up the
by. The rabbit checks a pocket watch and then disappears fan, which causes her to shrink until she almost disappears.
down a large hole with Alice in impetuous pursuit. The hole
turns into an exceedingly deep tunnel. After a seemingly The key is out of reach again. Worse, Alice slips and falls into
endless fall, Alice touches bottom and finds herself in a long, the pool of tears, which—now that she's tiny—reaches up to
dark hallway lined with closed doors. her chin. A mouse swims by. Alice tries to start a conversation
but blunders by talking about what a good mouser her cat is.
Alice finds a gold key on a table and uses it to open a little The Mouse offers to tell her its sad story on the "shore" of the
door, through which she spots a lovely garden. She longs to pool. Alice notices that the pool of tears now contains several
explore the garden but is too tall to get through the door. The other strange animals. She swims to shore with the other
contents of a bottle labeled "drink me" cause Alice to shrink creatures following.
until she's too short to reach the key on the table. Next she
finds a small cake labeled "eat me." She obeys the instruction
and waits to see what will happen. Analysis
Talking animals have long been a staple of children's picture
Analysis books, and Alice in Wonderland is full of them. Unlike the
animals in more traditional stories, the ones in Wonderland are
Readers see from the beginning that Alice's adventures will be rarely sweet or friendly; Lewis Carroll does not pander to his
extraordinary. Almost as strange will be her reaction to them. readers simply because they're children.
Throughout the story, Lewis Carroll uses an unemphatic,
almost deadpan style. Like a person in a dream, Alice takes in In Chapter 2, the White Rabbit is terrified by Alice, and the
stride everything that happens to her. Carroll's understated Mouse instantly dislikes her. This is partly because of Alice's
style is convincingly dreamlike and very effective; after all, the clumsy references to cats, but many of the creatures Alice
book would become tedious if Alice were constantly reeling meets will be angry or nervous. Throughout the book, it is often
with shock. Alice's role to feed lines to other characters that will bring out
their offbeat answers.
It must have been refreshing for young female readers to see a
child heroine act so boldly and decisively the minute she sees
the White Rabbit. Alice doesn't hesitate to follow the White
Rabbit, and she's not daunted by landing in a new world. She's
Chapter 3
ready for this adventure.

Alice's adventures are also trials—trials of her patience, her Summary


courage, and even her manners. As she learns that nothing in
Wonderland makes sense, she struggles to stay cheerful and Alice, the Mouse, and several other animals climb out of the
to maintain her own understanding of reality. pool of tears. The Mouse tells a "dry" story to dry them off.
When this doesn't work, the Dodo suggests they hold a

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Alice in Wonderland Study Guide Chapter Summaries 12

"Caucus-race." This turns out to mean running in a circle for house.


half an hour, after which the Dodo declares that everyone is
the winner. Alice hands out prizes, and the Mouse tells another The White Rabbit comes to his house in search of Mary Ann.

story—this one a "tale" that turns out, when written on the Seeing Alice's huge arm sticking out of the window, he sends

page, to be shaped like a mouse's tail. Naturally, Alice doesn't for help. A crowd of animals throw pebbles through the

understand what's happening, and the Mouse leaves in a huff. window, and the pebbles change into little cakes. Alice eats

The other animals soon follow, leaving Alice alone again. one to see if it will shrink her. It does, and tiny Alice runs out of
the house. After escaping from a puppy, she spots a
mushroom with the Caterpillar sitting on top. The Caterpillar is
Analysis smoking a hookah.

The "dry" story the Mouse tells is taken from the text of a
children's history book owned by Alice Liddell and her two Analysis
sisters. It is indeed very dry, in the sense of being very
boring—a good example of Lewis Carroll's fondness for puns Lewis Carroll was obsessed with the world of childhood. In his

and for making fun of the educational customs imposed on letters to children, he sometimes mentioned how sad it was

Victorian children. The author's wordplay continues with the that they would have to grow up one day. Alice "grows up" with

Caucus-race; in England, the word caucus meant a political a vengeance in this chapter, and the process is

organization made up of committees. Carroll is likely hinting disagreeable—awkward and uncomfortable. The White Rabbit

that committee meetings run in circles without getting threatens to burn down the house with her inside; the other

anywhere. animals throw rocks at her.

The Mouse's tale involves visual as well as aural wordplay. Alice herself is mournful about having grown so much. "At least

When printed, the tale turns out to resemble a mouse's long, there's no room to grow up any more here," she reflects.

curving tail. Poems laid out to resemble their subject matter are Without reading too much into Carroll's intentions, the reader

called visual poetry or shaped verse. Because the Mouse tells can still recognize that Chapter 4 reveals some ambivalence

the story aloud, Alice wouldn't actually be able to see its shape about a child getting bigger.

in real life, but in Wonderland the rules are obviously different.


The White Rabbit is a caricature of a Victorian

Alice tends to be sensitive to the reactions of characters gentleman—self-important, vain, and somewhat ineffectual.

around her. It's a bit surprising that she's so obtuse about True to the stereotype, the White Rabbit pays little attention to

mentioning her pet cat, Dinah—a sign, perhaps, that she the people around him. When he mistakes Alice for his

perceives the animals around her as peers rather than as housemaid, it is clear that he has no idea what his housemaid

animals. She never wishes she could bring any of her family or looks like. It is also likely that he doesn't know his housemaid's

friends to Wonderland, just Dinah. name, as he calls Alice by the name of Mary Ann, which was
actually slang for "servant girl" in Victorian England.

Some critics have noted that the puppy doesn't seem to fit into
Chapter 4 Wonderland. It is the only important animal in the book who
doesn't talk to Alice.

Summary
Chapter 5
As Alice sits alone in the hall, the White Rabbit passes again.
This time he mistakes her for his housemaid, Mary Ann, and
orders her to fetch him some gloves and a fan. Alice makes her
way to the White Rabbit's house. In addition to the fan and
gloves, she finds a little bottle whose contents she decides to
try. Instantly, she starts growing until her body fills the entire

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Alice in Wonderland Study Guide Chapter Summaries 13

pepper.
Summary
The Duchess hands the baby over to Alice, who takes him
The Caterpillar stares at Alice before asking her who she is. outside. Gradually, the baby turns into a pig, which Alice turns
They have a confusing and roundabout conversation. Before loose. She then spots the Cheshire Cat in a tree, who gives her
he crawls away, the Caterpillar tells Alice that eating one side directions to the Hatter's. When Alice remarks that she doesn't
of the mushroom will make her tall and eating the other will want to "go among mad people," the Cheshire Cat says, "We're
make her short. Alice tries a bit of mushroom edge and shrinks all mad here."
until her chin hits her foot. She tries a piece from the other side
and grows until she's taller than the trees and has a long,
snakelike neck. Analysis
The Pigeon begins flying frantically around Alice's head,
Lewis Carroll's father was rector of a church that featured a
accusing her of being a serpent hunting for bird eggs. Unable
carving of a cat's head on one wall. Looked at from a child's
to persuade the Pigeon that she's a little girl, Alice takes
perspective, the carving showed the cat to be smiling broadly.
alternating bites of the mushroom pieces until she's nine
This carving may have inspired Carroll's creation of the
inches tall, seemingly the perfect height for Wonderland.
Cheshire Cat. Additionally, the expression "grinning like a
Cheshire cat" was a familiar one in Carroll's day.

Analysis The Cheshire Cat makes the book's first mention of madness,
a popular theme in Victorian literature. This is also the first time
Victorian literature was preoccupied with eating—and with that Alice is warned that the characters she'll meet next are
hunger. The 1830s and 1840s saw severe food shortages in insane, though most of the characters she has already
urban England. In Ireland, a devastating potato famine took encountered have also seemed mad.
place at the same time. Newspapers were filled with articles
about the shortages, and British city dwellers saw many The baby's transformation into a pig is a good example of the
starving people on the streets. Hunger drove plotlines in dream motif that runs through the novel. In dreams, things can
Victorian novels such as Charles Dickens's Oliver Twist (1838) change in unexpected and illogical ways. The transformation of
and Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre (1847). the baby boy is also in keeping with Carroll's opinion of little
boys. "My best love to yourself," he once signed off in a letter
In Chapter 5, Alice eats pieces of an unidentified mushroom to a little girl. He added, "To your small, fat, impertinent,
based purely on the Caterpillar's recommendation. Later in the ignorant brother, my hatred."
chapter, the Pigeon is afraid Alice will eat her eggs and kill her
children. Throughout the book, Alice eats and drinks to control
her size. For her, hunger and its consequences are
Chapter 7
inescapable.

Chapter 6 Summary
In front of the Hatter's house, a long tea table is set under a
tree. The March Hare, the Hatter, and a sleepy Dormouse are
Summary sitting at one end. They shout, "No room!"—but Alice
indignantly sits down, and they have a conversation about
Alice reaches a strange house and hears terrible howling and meaning and time. The Dormouse tells Alice a story and then
screaming inside. She enters to find a kitchen, where the Cook falls asleep at the table. Alice is so disgusted by the rudeness
is stirring a very peppery soup. In the middle of the room, the of the three that she leaves.
Duchess is holding (and occasionally shaking) a screaming
baby boy, who is also sneezing nonstop because of the Alice reenters the long hall, takes up the golden key, and walks

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Alice in Wonderland Study Guide Chapter Summaries 14

into the garden she's been waiting so long to visit.


Chapter 8
Analysis
Summary
In Victorian times, many books about etiquette were published.
Up until the 18th century, land ownership was the main way to At the garden entrance, Alice sees three gardeners painting
amass wealth in Britain. The growth of manufacturing during some white roses red. Before they can finish, a royal
the Industrial Revolution brought with it new ways to become procession begins filing in. Last to arrive are the most
rich. As a result, the middle classes burgeoned in the 19th important: the King and Queen of Hearts and their court. All of
century. Perceiving themselves as upwardly mobile, the newly these characters take the form of animated playing cards.
wealthy sought to emulate the traditional upper classes by
voraciously consuming manuals of good manners. Furious at everyone and everything, the Queen of Hearts
constantly orders beheadings. Fortunately, the Queen is
Ten years before Alice in Wonderland was published, Lewis distractible, and Alice—along with the Duchess—joins the
Carroll wrote a parody of etiquette rules about eating. ("As a croquet game everyone has come to play. The game is
general rule, do not kick the shins of the opposite gentleman thoroughly confusing; no one is following the rules. Alice
under the table.") His depiction of the Hatter and animals at tea complains about this to the Cheshire Cat when its head shows
returns to this topic. These characters break just about all the up in the sky above her. The Queen orders that this head also
rules of etiquette: the March Hare offers Alice wine even be cut off, but the Cheshire Cat disappears before anyone can
though he has no wine to offer, the Dormouse falls asleep at decide how to carry out the order.
the table, and the Hatter and the March Hare repeatedly
interrupt and insult Alice. Alice tries to remind them of the rules
of etiquette, but it does no good. Up until this point, Alice has Analysis
tried to understand the odd speech and behavior of the
characters she's met in Wonderland. In this chapter, she starts In Chapter 8, Alice meets the book's angriest character, the
getting impatient. This is not the behavior of a traditional Queen of Hearts. Carroll later wrote that he pictured her "as a
Victorian child heroine, who would more likely endure with sort of embodiment of ungovernable passion—a blind and
patient meekness the cruelties heaped on her. Alice is too aimless Fury."
spunky for that.
Alice stands up to the Queen. As soon as they meet, Alice tells
Wordplay is coupled with the dream motif in this chapter, herself, "They're only a pack of cards, after all." When the
which has a basis in real-life facts and expressions. For Queen asks who the gardeners are, Alice answers, "How
example, hatmakers once used mercury to make felt hats. should I know? ... It's no business of mine"—the first time she's
Mercury is a serious neurotoxin that can cause shaking hands, been openly rude to a Wonderland character. And when the
personality changes, and memory loss. "Mad as a hatter" was a Queen screams, "Off with her head!" Alice interrupts her by
common British expression. Another British expression—at saying, "'Nonsense!'" In Chapter 7, Alice grows angry with the
least 300 years old by the time Carroll used it—was "mad as a rudeness of the animals at the tea party and reminds them of
March hare." Male hares were believed to become aggressive the rules of etiquette. In this chapter, she takes the next step
and excitable in March, the beginning of the breeding season. and responds to rudeness with rudeness. Alice comes from a
Dormice, which are endangered today, were common in middle-class home where people follow rules and try to behave
Carroll's day. These hamster-like animals were strictly well toward one another. Wonderland is a constant challenge
nocturnal and therefore drowsy during the day; they also to her concepts of etiquette and good behavior.
hibernated for long periods. Victorian children sometimes had
In its first half, Alice in Wonderland is episodic. One adventure
them as pets. The actions of all the animals at the tea party
follows another without much discernible progress. Alice
reflect these associations.
grows, shrinks, and wanders around meeting talking animals. In
the second half, Alice turns more assertive, and the plot

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Alice in Wonderland Study Guide Chapter Summaries 15

becomes more linear. In the early chapters of the novel, Alice


doesn't question the reality of the characters she meets. In Chapter 10
Chapter 8, her realization that the royals and courtiers are
"only a pack of cards" suggests that she may be starting to
wake up from her dream. Summary
Though the Mock Turtle is crying almost too hard to talk, it
Chapter 9 manages to sob out that Alice has probably never heard of a
Lobster Quadrille. When she agrees that she has not, the Mock
Turtle becomes a vortex of energy. He and the Gryphon
scream out instructions while "capering wildly about." With
Summary equal suddenness, they collapse and look mournfully at Alice.
Then they dance solemnly around her, singing.
Alice and the Duchess (who's been reprieved from execution)
stroll around the garden together until the Queen commands The dancing over, they ask Alice to recite some lessons for
Alice to return to the game. When the game dissolves because them. She obediently does so, getting the words wrong. Then
the Queen has put all the players under sentence of death, the the Mock Turtle begins to weep out a song about turtle soup.
Queen takes Alice to meet the Gryphon, who introduces Alice In mid-song, someone calls, "The trial is starting!" The Gryphon
to the Mock Turtle. takes Alice's hand and rushes her away.

The Mock Turtle dolefully tells Alice a long, sad story about his
education until the Gryphon interrupts and says, "Tell her
something about the games."
Analysis
Like many well-educated 19th-century Englishmen, Lewis
Carroll knew a great deal about natural science and
Analysis incorporated it into the book. This is the case with the Mock
Turtle. When they are on land, sea turtles appear to shed tears,
Wordplay dominates Chapter 9. Not much happens in this
which is actually their way of discharging excess salt from their
chapter, but it will please readers who like puns. The names of
bodies. The Mock Turtle is traditionally illustrated as a tortoise
practically everything the Mock Turtle has ever studied are
with a calf's head, reflecting the use of veal in an English dish
puns. For instance, when the Mock Turtle mentions "the old
called mock turtle soup.
conger-eel," he's talking about Lewis Carroll's real-life friend
John Ruskin. Ruskin, the most famous art critic of his day, From a critical standpoint, this chapter is weakened by its
taught the Liddell children drawing, etching, and painting in oils, reliance on parodies; there's no action except for the quadrille
which the Mock Turtle refers to as "Drawling, Stretching, and demonstration. Fortunately, the manic instructions from the
Fainting in Coils." Once again, Carroll is making fun of Gryphon and Mock Turtle make that scene very funny. The
traditional schooling. He also does this at the beginning of the actual ballroom dance known as the quadrille is complicated
chapter, when the Duchess delivers a long spiel on morals. It is and hard to learn; Alice Liddell and her siblings learned it from
worth noting that the Duchess is extremely polite and that a tutor. The song "Beautiful Soup" is based on a real song
Alice responds in kind. called "Star of the Evening." In an 1862 diary entry, Carroll
writes that Alice Liddell and her sisters performed it for him.
Because this chapter deals with education, it's fitting that
The song's chorus—"Beautiful star, / Beautiful star, / Star of
Trinity College at Oxford has an emblem featuring a gryphon.
the evening, beautiful star"—prove that it was certainly well
Carroll and the Liddell family would have often seen the
worth a parody.
gryphon on the main Trinity gates.

It is clear in this chapter that Alice has learned from her gaffe
in Chapter 2, when she terrified the Mouse by talking of her
cat's mousing prowess. She is about to tell the Mock Turtle

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Alice in Wonderland Study Guide Chapter Summaries 16

that she has eaten whiting (a type of fish) but stops herself,
and the Mock Turtle continues talking, oblivious to her true Chapter 12
association with the little fish.

Summary
Chapter 11
Alice jumps to her feet, knocking over the jury box in her hurry.
Hastily, she replaces all the creatures who have fallen out onto
the floor. The King tells her that "Rule Forty-two" bans from
Summary court anyone more than a mile high, but Alice refuses to leave.

Back on the croquet lawn, Alice and the Gryphon learn that the The King subjects the Knave to a meaningless grilling and then
Knave of Hearts has been charged with stealing a plate of sums up the evidence with hilarious ineptness. The Queen
tarts. The bewigged King of Hearts is serving as judge in the announces that the Knave should be sentenced before the
trial, and 12 creatures make up the jury. The White Rabbit is verdict is reached. Alice blares out, "Stuff and nonsense!"
acting as herald. Shocked, the Queen shouts, "Off with her head!" Alice, now her
full size, says, "You're nothing but a pack of cards!"
"Consider your verdict," the King tells the jury before the trial
Immediately, the whole pack soars into the air and rains down
even begins. It's clear the whole proceeding will be a shambles.
on her head.
In the midst of the confusion, Alice realizes that she's starting
to grow again. The next witness is the Duchess's Cook, who Alice wakes to find herself back on the riverbank, with her
refuses to give evidence and slips away in the confusion. Alice older sister brushing fallen leaves off Alice's face.
is startled to hear her own name being called as the third
witness.
Analysis
Analysis Even in the comic chaos of the trial, readers can see that Alice
has come a long way since she first fell into Wonderland. She's
The action in this trial scene is based on the famous nursery no longer inhibited by timidity or politeness; she's able to speak
rhyme that begins, "The Queen of Hearts / She made some up for the Knave in open court. She may have fallen into
tarts / All on a summer's day." The first stanza of the poem is Wonderland, but she's standing on her own two feet when she
familiar; the next three, about the other Kings and Queens in a makes her exit. As seen from her reaction to "Rule Forty-two,"
card deck, are surprisingly violent and never appear in modern she has also learned to differentiate between rules that make
Mother Goose books. sense and rules that make no sense at all, and she is ready to
apply reason to defend herself against nonsensical rules.
Alice finds the trial ridiculous from the beginning; she's
becoming impatient with her long adventure. Note that this The dream motif is present again in the way the cards throwing
time she starts growing without eating anything special—she is themselves at Alice turn out to be leaves drifting onto her face.
literally growing out of Wonderland, a reflection of her dawning This is typical of how dreams can incorporate and reinterpret
awareness that she's dreaming and is starting to wake up. She things that are sensed in reality just before the dreamer
wonders if she should leave but decides to stay as long as awakens.
there's room—an accurate portrayal of the way dreams seem
to dissipate as the dreamer gradually pulls away from sleep. After Alice wakes up, the tone changes, becoming soft and
sentimental—in typical Victorian manner—as Carroll neatly
winds up the story. As Alice heads home to take her tea, her
sister stays by the river, daydreaming about the younger girl's
adventures.

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Alice in Wonderland Study Guide Quotes 17

— Alice, Chapter 2
g Quotes
One of Alice's greatest challenges is holding onto her identity
when she's undergoing so many changes in size. Early in the
"What is the use of a book without
book, she can't quite believe that she's still herself whether
pictures or conversations?" she's three inches or nine feet tall. This speaks to the theme of
growing up—how children struggle to develop their own
— Alice, Chapter 1 identities as they mature.

Alice asks herself this question in the book's first paragraph.


She's sitting on the riverbank next to her sister, who's reading
"Speak roughly to your little
what looks to Alice like a very dull book. Alice can't know that boy,/And beat him when he
she herself is about to become the star of an adventure whose
conversations and pictures will become famous around the
sneezes."
world.
— Duchess, Chapter 6

"Oh dear! Oh dear! I shall be too Most people wouldn't consider this a lullaby, but it's what the
Duchess sings when she's trying to soothe her screaming
late!"
baby. It is not only an extreme interpretation of how children
were disciplined in the Victorian era but another example of
— White Rabbit, Chapter 1 parody, making reference to the American poem "Speak
Gently" (1848) by David Bates. From a child's perspective,
This commonplace sentence has become world-famous. The punishment might often have seemed just this undeserved. The
White Rabbit mutters it as he passes Alice. Seeing a talking stricture is, however, very much in keeping with how the
rabbit doesn't rouse Alice, but when he takes out a pocket creatures in Wonderland often treat one another.
watch to check the time, she jumps to her feet and follows him
into Wonderland.
"We're all mad here."

"Curiouser and curiouser!" — Cheshire Cat, Chapter 7

— Alice, Chapter 2 Alice knows that Wonderland is different from the real world,
but the characters she's met so far have insisted that they're
Alice's famous exclamation opens Chapter 2. Alice is only normal and she's the one who's out of step. The Cheshire Cat
seven, and she's so flummoxed by suddenly being nine feet tall is one of the few characters in the book whose conversation
that proper grammar is the last thing on her mind. makes sense to Alice. As this line shows, the Cheshire Cat is
Ungrammatical as it is, the remark shows that Alice has kept also more self-aware than most other Wonderland inhabitants.
her composure: many seven-year-olds in Alice's position would
have burst into tears.
"Why is a raven like a writing-
desk?"
""Who in the world am I?" Ah,
that's the great puzzle!" — Hatter, Chapter 7

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Alice in Wonderland Study Guide Symbols 18

The Hatter poses this riddle to Alice. After she's thought about Sluggard." Since they're standing on the beach, this parody is
it for a while, she gives up. The Hatter tells her that he doesn't what comes out of poor Alice's mouth.
know the answer either. Lewis Carroll heard from many
readers who believed they had come up with an answer. In a
preface to the 1896 edition, he suggested, "Because it can
produce [a] few notes, though they are very flat; and it is never l Symbols
put with the wrong end in front."

"Off with her head!"


The Journey

— Queen of Hearts, Chapter 8


Despite its dreamlike qualities, Alice in Wonderland shares the
same focus as many other fantasy and adventure novels, that
This is what the Queen of Hearts says when Alice displeases of the main character's journey. This journey is not only
her at their first meeting. The Queen is always displeased and geographical but also psychological and emotional. In tandem
always ordering people to be beheaded. Luckily, the sentences with her journey through Wonderland, Alice progresses toward
are never carried out. adulthood, learning to question the orders she receives and to
rely on herself.

"Everything's got a moral, if only


you can find it." Following Orders
— Duchess, Chapter 9

Wonderland demands that Alice perform actions before she


The Duchess says this to Alice during the royal croquet game. discovers the consequences. For instance, Alice is repeatedly
She can always find a moral in what people say, even when the told to consume something without being told what it is, such
moral makes no sense. as the "Drink Me" bottle and "Eat Me" cake in Chapter 1.
Although Alice sometimes wonders whether she should keep
sampling unidentified food and drink, she generally complies.

"'Tis the voice of the Lobster: I Some scholars have suggested that this is because Alice
typifies the obedient Victorian female obeying the rules of a
heard him declare/'You have patriarchal society. However, Alice's own curiosity also plays a
part, as she often simply wants to see what will happen when
baked me too brown, I must sugar
she drinks and eats the things she's given. (And of course
my hair.'" there wouldn't be a story without Alice consuming these items.)

Alice complies with many other orders in the course of the


— Alice, Chapter 10
story, such as going to get the White Rabbit's gloves and fan in
Chapter 4, even though she is not the serving girl he has
Like most educated children in the 19th century, Alice has mistaken her for. This may also be seen as her being obedient
learned many poems and songs by memory. But whenever a or curious, but it should be noted that the major shifts in the
Wonderland character asks her to recite something, story occur—Alice achieving access to the garden and
Alice—who cannot control what she dreams—can only eventually waking up—when she ceases to follow orders and
stammer out a parody version. Here, the Gryphon has just acts on her own initiative.
asked her to recite a real-life poem called "'Tis the Voice of the

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Alice in Wonderland Study Guide Themes 19

The Hidden Garden m Themes

Alice spends a lot of time trying to enter the garden that she Communication Breakdown
sees for the first time in Chapter 2. Walled gardens were
popular in the 19th century. Walled vegetable gardens were
more common than the walled flower garden Alice enters, but
walled flower gardens are generally more attractive to the From the beginning of her stay in Wonderland, Alice finds she
imagination. has trouble communicating with the creatures she meets. She
says exactly the wrong thing to the Mouse, for instance, when
In Alice in Wonderland, the garden's symbolism is fluid. she brings up her cat, Dinah. Communication between Alice
Obviously it shares imagery with the Garden of Eden—a lost and the others at the Hatter's tea party is fraught with trouble
paradise. It can also be seen to represent unattainable beauty. as well, especially because they are so rude to her. At the
It looks beautiful when Alice sees it from afar, but the croquet match, the Duchess acts friendly and confiding, but
loveliness vanishes as soon as she's actually inside the garden her aphorisms make little sense. In general, many characters
in Chapter 8. Gardeners are painting the roses, a croquet preach at Alice rather than share ideas. All these exchanges
game is being set up, and the angry Queen of Hearts is recall and parody real-world social situations in which
storming around spreading panic wherever she goes. strangers and acquaintances meet and attempt to make
conversation.
The garden turns out not to be walled after all. Alice hasn't
been there long before the Gryphon leads her to a stony beach Charles Dodgson, the real name of author Lewis Carroll, was a
that's somehow part of the same property. If Alice's reserved man who suffered from a stammer since childhood.
adventures are a dream, the garden is like a dream within a Although he enjoyed a wide circle of friends and
dream; the setting changes without warning, and none of the acquaintances, he was all too familiar with the pitfalls inherent
action is logical. in the types of social situations Alice encounters in
Wonderland. His parodies focus the reader's attention on the
problem of breakdowns in social communication.

Growing and Shrinking


Growing Up (and Down)
Alice undergoes 12 size changes in Wonderland, almost always
as a result of something she eats or drinks. Repeatedly, she's
the wrong size for whatever she's trying to do—too big to get Alice undergoes 12 changes in size while she's in Wonderland.
into the garden, too small to reach the key that would help her When she's tiny, she can't reach what she needs, but when
get in, and so on. she's giant, she frightens everyone away. Like many children,
she rarely feels as though she's the right size for what she
Until the Caterpillar gives Alice the mushroom, she can't
wants to do. Like all children, she has no control over what
control how big or small she gets; she just has to accept
happens to her body.
whatever happens. Of course, children can't control their
growing in real life, and children at the age of puberty are But then she meets the Caterpillar, who teaches her how to
famously awkward; they feel too small for some things and too control her size. That's something most children would envy.
big for others. The growing and shrinking in the book are Being able to choose her size is, in a way, like being able to
clearly signs for growing up—for reaching maturity. As Carroll choose her age. For the rest of the story, she chooses to stay
depicts it, growing up is a painful and confusing process, and it little—until, with no warning, she grows back to her full size and
doesn't necessarily have positive results. has to leave Wonderland abruptly.

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Alice in Wonderland Study Guide Themes 20

In the end, Alice can't escape growing up. She even matures in At first, Alice is startled by this rudeness but tries to remain
the course of her adventures, learning to trust her instincts polite. But as she progresses through Wonderland, she
more and to make informed judgments on the actions of the becomes more assertive and less concerned with appearing
characters she meets—actions often frowned upon in Victorian polite. When characters are rude, she pushes back. And it's
England. only after she actually insults the Queen and her court that she
returns home.

Identity
Self-Reliance
Children tend to form their identities based on those around
them—their parents, their siblings, their circle of friends—and Alice chooses her own path when she follows the White Rabbit
how those people view and respond to them. When Alice finds into Wonderland, and despite feeling utterly disoriented, she
herself alone in Wonderland, she starts to question her identity. manages to hold it together. Like any seven-year-old, she
Not only does she see the world from a new perspective (quite breaks down from time to time, but she never despairs, and
literally, since she keeps growing and shrinking), but the she accepts the fact that she alone is responsible for being in
creatures she meets do not respond to her as she is used to. Wonderland.
The Pigeon, for example, sees Alice as a serpent and, like the
Mouse, considers her a threat. Alice has to question herself as When the Hatter and the March Hare tell Alice there's no room

well, because she suddenly cannot rely on her memory. She at the tea party, she sits down anyway; she can see for herself

forgets poems she previously knew by heart and can't answer that there are plenty of chairs. When she decides they're being

questions to other characters' satisfaction, all of which she too rude, she leaves. The first time she meets the Queen of

finds extremely frustrating. This leads Alice to doubt that she is Hearts, Alice tells herself there's nothing to be afraid of. And in

still the same person she thought she was. In fact, when the the trial scene, she openly disagrees with the King and Queen,

Caterpillar asks who she is, she replies, "I—I hardly know, Sir, at times even correcting them. She's definitely not a helpless

just at present—at least I know who I was when I got up this little Victorian girl.

morning, but I think I must have been changed several times


since then."

Victorian Society
Rules versus Good Behavior
Alice in Wonderland is full of comments on Victorian society, in
which Carroll found much to criticize. He addresses topics

Wonderland is full of rules that have little to do with how such as how children are raised and disciplined (the Duchess

people should behave toward one another. and her varied reactions to her baby), the middle-class
obsession with time and punctuality (the White Rabbit
It's a challenge for Alice to make sense of the way Wonderland frantically checking his watch), and 19th-century views on
characters behave, and no wonder—in her world, they would mental illness (the Cheshire Cat's comments about everyone in
be perceived as behaving badly. A strange child has landed in Wonderland being "mad").
front of them, but no one offers to help her. They refuse to
answer her questions and never ask her any questions about Carroll returns again and again to the one area of Victorian life

herself. They criticize her. The Queen threatens to behead her with which he himself was most involved: education. Much of

more than once. For the most part, the only thing about Alice Victorian schooling was based on rote learning, and Alice is

that interests them is whether she can recite things from repeatedly asked to recite from memory, whether it is her

memory—a common task asked of Victorian children. times tables or a poem. In such situations, Carroll frequently

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Alice in Wonderland Study Guide Motifs and Literary Devices 21

subverts the content and parodies the task. For instance, Alice Wonderland. Such references to mathematics are superficial,
attempts to recite Isaac Watts's instructive poem "How Doth however, in comparison to his subtle jabs at the symbolic
the Little Busy Bee" in Chapter 2, but instead she recites "How algebra that intrigued so many of his contemporaries.
Doth the Little Crocodile." In Chapter 9, the Gryphon and the
Mock Turtle discuss their school days with Alice, and Carroll The tea party is the best example of this. In 1843 the Irish

uses wordplay to ridicule the common school subjects: mathematician William Rowan Hamilton came up with a way to

"'Reeling and Writhing, of course, to begin with,' the Mock multiply and divide the coordinates of two points in three-

Turtle replied; 'and then the different branches of dimensional space; he did this by assuming a fourth dimension.

Arithmetic—Ambition, Distraction, Uglification, and Derision.'" He called his new system quaternion algebra. As the name
implies, a quaternion comprises four elements, and according
to Hamilton, time is one of these elements. Carroll used the
Hatter's tea party to show what happens when time is taken

b Motifs and Literary out of the equation: the remaining elements are stuck in limbo,
rotating aimlessly—just as the Hatter, the March Hare, and the

Devices Dormouse rotate around the table.

Dreams, mathematics, and science are three motifs that recur


Science
frequently in Alice in Wonderland. Carroll also returns again
and again to the plot devices of inversion and reversal and to
Science was a popular topic in Victorian times. Whereas earlier
the literary technique of wordplay.
it had been a pastime of the upper classes, science during the
Victorian era was a pastime and vocation for the middle
classes as well. Throughout Alice in Wonderland, there are
Dream many references to topics in the natural sciences, such as
evolution, metamorphosis, and the characteristics of specific
Wonderland is a dream, and characters and settings change in animal characters.
dreamlike ways. From the moment she arrives, Alice grows
smaller and taller in response to what she eats or drinks, but at This motif can be seen in Alice's constant changes in size.
the end she grows for no reason at all. When the Duchess Carroll suffered from migraines, which can leave sufferers
hands her a baby, the baby promptly turns into a pig. When she feeling as if their bodies are changing uncontrollably in size
leaves the tea party, she opens a door in a tree only to find and shape, and it is thought that the author used his own
herself back in the room where she first arrived in Wonderland. physical experiences to inform his description of Alice's
In Chapter 3, the Mouse tells a tale about a Fury who puts a predicament. (This neurological condition was dubbed Alice in
mouse on trial and ends up ordering the mouse's execution; Wonderland syndrome in 1955 by John Todd, an English
later on, Alice meets the Queen of Hearts, who is very psychiatrist.) As Alice tries to regulate her size, she uses trial
definitely a Fury and who frequently orders beheadings. and error—a very scientific approach.

Snippets of reality morph into unreality in Wonderland, as


cards become the King and Queen of Hearts and their court
Inversion and Reversal
and a game of croquet is played with flamingos for mallets and
hedgehogs for balls.
Nothing in Wonderland is quite as expected; in fact, it's often
just the opposite. The animals have a race, but they run in a
circle and all stop at once. Alice, who thinks of herself as a
Mathematics polite little girl, is often perceived as a threat. For instance, in
trying to make conversation with the Mouse, she manages to
Because Carroll was a mathematics professor at the University terrify the creature, and later the Pigeon mistakes Alice for a
of Oxford, it is not surprising that he engages in number play serpent trying to steal her eggs. At the tea party, the March
and parodies the teaching of mathematics in Alice in

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Alice in Wonderland Study Guide Suggested Reading 22

Hare offers Alice wine even though they have no wine. In the asks Alice, "Why is a raven like a writing-desk?" When she
garden, the gardeners are painting the white roses red. And in cannot solve the riddle, he admits he doesn't know the answer
Chapter 12, when the King wants the jury to consider their himself. When Alice finally asserts, "At least I mean what I
verdict, the Queen of Hearts insists, "Sentence first—verdict say—that's the same thing," the animals disagree vehemently
afterwards." with her, and a debate about sentence grammar ensues:

Of course, some of these inversions are misinterpreted by


Wonderland characters. In Chapter 6, for instance, the "Not the same thing a bit!" said the
Cheshire Cat convinces Alice to agree that dogs are not mad
Hatter. "You might just as well say
and then points out, "A dog growls when it's angry, and wags
its tail when it's pleased. Now I growl when I'm pleased, and that 'I see what I eat' is the same
wag my tail when I'm angry. Therefore I'm mad."
thing as 'I eat what I see'!"
Another example of inversion and reversal is Carroll's
pervasive use of parody. Many of his verses are more than
nonsensical or silly rewordings of well-known poems—they
"You might just as well say," added
also undermine the original morals or messages of those the March Hare, "that 'I like what I
poems. This is clearest in the Duchess's parody of David
Bates's "Speak Gently": get' is the same thing as 'I get
what I like'!"
Speak gently to the little child!
Its love be sure to gain; "You might just as well say," added
Teach it in accents soft and mild: the Dormouse, who seemed to be
It may not long remain. talking in his sleep, "that 'I breathe
when I sleep' is the same thing as
Bates's moral is that a person should treat others with gentle
kindness in order to receive the same in return. This moral is 'I sleep when I breathe'!"
completely subverted in the Duchess's lullaby:

"It IS the same thing with you,"


Speak roughly to your little boy,
said the Hatter.
And beat him when he sneezes;
He only does it to annoy,
Because he knows it teases. e Suggested Reading
Carroll, Lewis. Alice in Wonderland, 3rd. Ed. Donald Gray. New

Wordplay York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2013. Print. Norton Critical
Editions.

The novel is packed with puns, trick questions, and other


Carroll, Lewis. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, 2nd ed. Ed.
wordplay. In Chapter 3, for instance, Alice and the animals are
Richard Kelly. Peterborough ON: Broadview, 2000. Print.
soaking wet after falling into the pool of Alice's tears. They
wonder how they can dry off, and the Mouse decides to tell Carroll, Lewis. The Annotated Alice: 150th Anniversary Deluxe
them "the driest thing I know," a lecture on William the Edition. Eds. Martin Gardner and Mark Burstein. New York and
Conqueror's conquest of England. In Chapter 7, the Hatter London: W.W. Norton & Company, 2015. Print.

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Alice in Wonderland Study Guide Suggested Reading 23

Carroll, Lewis. The Annotated Alice: The Definitive Edition. Ed.


Martin Gardner. New York and London: W.W. Norton &
Company, 2000. Print.

Cohen, Morton N. Lewis Carroll: A Biography. New York:


Vintage, 1996. Print.

Day, David. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland Decoded.


Toronto: Doubleday Canada, 2015. Print.

Douglas-Fairhurst, Robert. The Story of Alice: Lewis Carroll and


the Secret History of Wonderland. Cambridge, MA: The
Belknap Press/Harvard University Press, 2015. Print.

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