A young girl named Alice finds herself transported into an obscure, yet marvelous world in Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Throughout the course of her journey, young Alice comes across many creatures that bear animal form, but still maintain anthropomorphic characteristics. From these creatures and Alice's interactions with them, the reader learns about, or in some cases is just plain confused by, the world and logic that dwells within it. One of the more interesting interactions in the novel involves caterpillar.

The Caterpillar and Alice looked at each other for some time in silence: at last the Caterpillar took the hookah out of its mouth, and addressed her in a languid, sleepy voice.

"Who are you?" said the Caterpillar.

This was not an encouraging opening for a conversation. Alice replied, rather shyly, "I — I hardly know, Sir, just at this 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 can'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 can't put it more clearly," Alice replied, very politely, for I can'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, won't you?"

"Not a bit," said the Caterpillar.

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

Later in the same conversation:

Alice though she might as well wait, as she had nothing else to do, and perhaps after all it might tell her something worth hearing. For some minutes it puffed away without speaking; but at last it unfolded its arms, took the hookah out of its mouth again and said, "So you think you're changed, do you?

"I'm afraid I am, Sir," said Alice. "I can't remember things as I used — and I don't keep the same size for ten minutes together!"

"Can't remember what things?" said the Caterpillar.

"Well I've tried to say 'How doth the little busy bee," but I came all came different!" Alice replied in a very melancholy voice.

"Repeat 'You are old, Father William,'" said the Caterpillar.

Alice folded her hands, and began:---

Following this, Alice proceeds to tell an obscure story about an old sage and young man. The youth continually questions the elder's practices, such as standing on his head and doing somersaults. The sage responds in each case saying that his youthful practices allowed him to act as he does now. For instance, although he strayed away from headstands as a young man for he "feared it might injure the brain," he now holds that doesn't have one, and, hence, does them all the time. This story follows the small confusing and convoluted style of the dialogue in which it's introduced. The Caterpillar's perplexing questions, like "Who are you?," "Can't remember what things?," and "So you think you've changed, do you?" seem to hint at something deeper than what is being illustrated.

Questions

1. On the back cover of the novel, this work is described as children's book. If such was its intended design, why is the caterpillar using a narcotic? Does it symbolize something? If so, what?

2. At face value, the questions the caterpillar asks seem inane; however, are they truly? What point are they possibly trying to make?

3. What is the purpose of the story that Alice recites?

4. If the work is viewed as a children's book, what would be a theme that the passage supports.


Victorian Web Overview Lewis Carroll Leading Questions

Last modified 22 March 2004