Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass tell the story of a young girl and her strange journeys through Wonderland. Alice enters Wonderland twice, once through a rabbit hole and once through a looking glass. There she encounters talking animals, live playing cards, a mad hatter, and many other fantastic and absurd situations. In Through the Looking Glass, Alice meets a talking Gnat who asks her why insects in her world have names if they cannot talk, and Alice replies that it serves no purpose to insects but "it's useful to people to name them, I suppose" (153). This sparks a conversation about the role of names:

Only think how convenient it would be if you could manage to go home without it! For instance, if the governess wanted to call you to your lessons, she would call out "Come here --," and there she would have to leave off, because there wouldn't be any name for her to call. [155]

Alice considers the Gnat's idea and before entering the forest where things lose their names, thinks to herself:

I wonder what'll become of my name when I go in? I shouldn't like to lose it at all — because they'd have to give me another, and it would be almost certain to be an ugly one. But then the fun would be, trying to find the creature that had got my old name! That's just like the advertisements, you know, when people lose dogs. . . just fancy calling everything you met "Alice," till one of them answered. [156]

Finally, Alice enters an enchanted forest "where things have no names," (156). There she meets a Fawn who she travels with. Neither Alice nor the Fawn can remember their own names or anything else's name. The instant they leave the forest they remember their names, and the Fawn "darted away at full speed," crying "Dear me! You're a human child!" (157).

Questions

1. How does Alice react to the Gnat's comments? How is her reaction similar to her behavior throughout the two books?

2. After this conversation, Alice enters the forest and meets a Fawn. She travels with the Fawn until they leave the forest, and it realizes that she is a human child, at which point it runs away in terror. What does this event suggest about the nature of names?

3. Compare the power/role of a name in Wonderland to Ursula K. Leguin's Earthsea series.


Victorian Web Overview Lewis Carroll Leading Questions

Last modified 22 March 2004