This passage from Alice in Wonderland relates directly to Herbert Spencer's argument that "the intellectual traits of the uncivilized. . . are the traits recurring in the children of the civilized." In Lewis Carroll's presentation of reality from the point of view of a child's hyperbolic fantasy, adults are cruel, childlike, irresponsible, impulsive, and self-indulgent — the exact five adjectives Wohl asserts that Victorians attributed to the Blacks and to the lower classes.

Carroll comically manipulates these prejudices and shows through Alice's eyes how these characteristics also apply to adults, authority figures, and even royalty.

The cook took the cauldron of soup off the fire, and at once set to work throwing every thing within her reach at the Duchess and the baby — the fire-irons came first; then followed a shower of saucepans, plates, and dishes. . . 'If everyone minded their own business', the Duchess said, in a hoarse growl, 'the world would go round a deal faster than it does'. . . 'which would not be an advantage', said Alice, who felt very glad to get an opportunity of showing off a little of her knowledge. 'Just think of what work it would make of day and night! You see the earth takes 24 hours to turn round on its axis'. . . 'Talking of axes', said the Duchess, 'chop off head!'" (48).

As the brutally violent cook hurls saucepans, and the utterly irrational (and ignorant) Duchess mistakes the word "axis" for "axes" and orders Alice's head chopped off, the absurdities of adult and royal authoritative extremes are shown. Wohl tells us that the Victorians felt that the childlike qualities of the "lower races" paralleled the frequent references to the "immature working class". Carroll turns this perception of an "immature class" around by presenting his readers with two irresponsible, childlike figures in the forms of an adult "authority figure" and member of the upper class. With these images, Alice in Wonderland, at once views the adult world on a child's level, questions the authority of adults and of royalty and mocks commonly held prejudices of its day.


Victorian Web Overview Lewis Carroll

Last modified December 1993