Devaney Bennett

In Looking-Glass Insects, Alice encounters mundane obstacles as she begins what is — according to the Red Queen — an easy and overdetermined trip. Her doubts slow her movement, whereas playing-along pushes her forward. The third paragraph may also show the necessity of playing-along by blurring audible and inaudible, thought and word, horse and hoarse, dream and dream, etc.

'Don't make excuses,' said the Guard: 'you should have bought one from the engine driver.' And once more the chorus of voices went on with 'The man that drives the engine. Why, the smoke alone is worth a thousand pounds a puff!'

Alice thought to herself 'Then there's no use in speaking.' The voices didn't join in, this time, as she hadn't spoken, but, to her great surprise, they all thought in chorus (I hope you understand what thinking in chorus means — for I must confess that I don't), 'Better say nothing at all. Language is worth a thousand pounds a word!'...

"The little voice sighed deeply. It was very unhappy, evidently, and Alice would have said something pitying to comfort it, 'if it would only sigh like other people!' she thought. But this was suck a wonderfully small sigh, that she wouldn't have heard it at all, if it hadn't come quite close to her ear. The consequence of this was that it tickled her ear very much, and quite took off her thoughts from the unhappiness of the poor little creature."

1. Did contemporary readers actually discuss the "puzzles" (language, representation) in the book with a view to solve them, or did they understand them as sensible in terms of the plot (a puzzle/game/chessboard)?

2. In Alice in Wonderland, Alice's split personality (boxing her own ears, scolding the the pig-baby) seems to be that of adult/child; in Looking Glass it doesn't seem so straightforward. Are there many other books of the time that try to connect the isolation of childhood with the isolation of all characters from one another? (Jane Eyre seems as if it does; was childhood particularly bad during the years, or were there specific reasons for discussing it more frequently than before?)

3. Did children at the time read Carroll's books? In school?

4. Did Wittgenstein ever read Lewis Carroll, or do people generally make loose connections between the two? He also wrote books dealing with language and children's education.

Keunjung Cho

On the brink of waking up, or departing from the absurdities of Wonderland, Alice "grow[s] to her full size" and proclaims herself too big to be afraid of "a pack of cards" (97). It is as though Alice has "grown up" in a single afternoon, in a dream which has lasted only a few hours. By superimposing Alice's densely packed journey, which seems to launch her toward adulthood, with the slow, lazy afternoon, Carroll seems to be juxtaposing two modes of time. In the following passage, Alice and the Mad Hatter argue over the importance of various units of time.

Alice had been looking over his shoulder with some curiosity. "What a funny watch!" she remarked. "It tells the day of the month, and doesn't tell what o'clock it is!"

"Why should it?" muttered the Hatter. "Does your watch tell you what year it is?"

"Of course not," Alice replied very readily: "but that's because it stays the same year for such a long time together."

By comparing minutes and hours with days/months/years, is the story refuting the notion that these various units of time are truly distinct from each other? If the story is suggesting that time is nonlinear, does it follow with implications about the process of "growing up," or departing from childhood as a process that may not be irreversible, contrary to popular opinion? This issue seems to come up at the end of Alice's story, when her sister also falls into something like Alice's dream (98-99).

I was also interested in Carroll's correlation between physical size and emotional maturity, or Alice's instantaneous physical "sprouting" as an allegory for "growing up." Does Alice's continually changing physical size throughout the story have any sort of correlation to the warped portrayal of time throughout her dream?

Alice has just come across a bottle next to the looking-glass that intrigues her. She drinks about half of the bottle before she begins to grow so much that she does not even fit in the room that she is in anymore. Because of her discomfort and confusion, she is quite sad:

"It wasn't much pleasanter at home," thought poor Alice, "when one wasn't always growing larger and smaller, and being ordered about by mice and rabbits. I almost wish I hadn't gone down that rabbit hole-and yet-and yet-it's rather curious, you know, this sort of life! I do wonder what can have happened to me! When I used to read fairy tales, I fancied that kind of thing never happened, and now here I am in the middle of one! There ought to be a book written about me, that there ought! And when I grow up, I'll write one-but I'm grown up now," she added in a sorrowful tone; "at least there's no room to grow up any more here."

Alexander Egervary

Alice took up the fan and gloves, and, as the hall was very hot, she kept fanning herself all the time she went on talking. "Dear, dear! How queer everything is to-day! And yesterday things went on just as usual. I wonder if I've changed in the night? Let me think: was I the same when I got up this morning? I almost think I can remember feeling a little different. But if I'm not the same, the next question is 'Who in the world am I?' Ah, that's the great puzzle!" And she began thinking over all the children she knew that were of the same age as herself, to see if she could have been changed for any of them.

"I'm sure I'm not Ada," she said, "for her hair goes in such long ringlets, and mine doesn't go in ringlets at all; and I'm sure I ca'n't be Mabel, for I know all sorts of things, and she, oh, she knows very little! Besides, she's she, and I'm I, and — oh dear, how puzzling it all is! ..."


How is Carroll playing with the idea of identity here? The whole plot of Alice seems to me to be centered around that idea, even down to the closing paragraphs, where Alice's sister has a sort of "meta-dream" about Alice's own adventures. Is this just Carroll sympathizing with adolescent feeling of displacement, or is there something else he's trying to get at - something like the de-personalization of the modern age?

Eli M. Friedman

Alice has returned to her normal size once again and has gone out to explore her surroundings. She discovers the Caterpillar sitting on a mushroom and the Caterpillar asks her who she is:

"I — I hardly know, Sir, just at the present-at least I know who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then."

"What do you mean by that?" said the Caterpillar, sternly. "Explain yourself!"

"I ca'n't explain myself I'm afraid, Sir," said Alice, "because I'm not myself, you see."

"I don't see," said the Caterpillar.

"I'm afraid I ca'n't put it more clearly," Alice replied, very politely, "for I ca'n't understand it myself, to begin with: and being so many different sizes in a day is very confusing."

"It isn't," said the Caterpillar.

"Well, perhaps you haven't found it so yet," said Alice; "but when you have to turn into a chrysalis-you will some day, you know-and then after that into a butterfly, I should think you'll feel it a little queer, wo'n't you?"

"Not a bit," said the Caterpillar.

"Well, perhaps your feelings may be different," said Alice: "all I know is, it would feel very queer to me."


  1. For the first passage, is this some sort of symbolism for growing up? If so, is Alice upset about the fact that she is growing up? Does she want to remain a little girl or is it Carroll who wants her to remain a little girl?
  2. In the second passage, is Alice now questioning who she is? In a Jane-Eyre-like fashion, is she trying to define herself in a world with which she is very unfamiliar?
  3. Even though a caterpillar is the infant stage of what inevitably turns into a butterfly or moth, does the Caterpillar represent and old, wise man?
  4. When the Caterpillar makes Alice read the poem, are they talking about death and how one should live his life?

Jonathan Glasser

In the following passage selected from Alice in Wonderland, Alice has just eaten a piece of mushroom that has caused her to grow high above the trees. Using the mushroom pieces to get back to her normal size, Alice finds herself both confused and excited by all the changes that are taking place:

After a while she remembered that she still held the pieces of mushroom in her hands, and she set to work very carefully, nibbling first at one and then at the other, and growing sometimes taller, and sometimes shorter, until she had succeeded in bringing herself down to her usual height.

It was so long since she had been anything near the right size, that it felt quite strange at first; but she got used to it in a few minutes, and began talking to herself, as usual, "Come, there's half my plan done now! How puzzling all these changes are! I'm never sure what I'm going to be, from one minute to another!" [ch. V]


1. Is the growing and shrinking a metaphor for childhood? What kind of commentary is Carroll making about childhood in this passage?

2. Clearly growing and shrinking as a result of eating mushrooms is pure fantasy. However, how is it reality in terms of how children might truly view the world?

3. How do the other fantastic characters that we have met so far (such as the animals in the pond of tears) represent adults? How is the behavior of these characters a source of confusion for Alice (examples: word-games, riddles, rhymes, and poems).

Victorian Web Overview Lewis Carroll

Last modified 28 January 2003