Alice is bored sitting on the riverbank with her sister, when she notices a talking, clothed White Rabbit with a pocket watch run past. She follows it down a rabbit hole and falls into a curious hall with many locked doors of all sizes. Thrugh a hole, she sees a beautiful garden, but the door is too small. She finds a bottle labelled “DRINK ME”. She drinks and becomes too small to reach a key to enter the door. A cake with “EAT ME” on it causes her to grow too much. The Alice cries and her tears flood the hallway. She swims and meets a Mouse with whom she tries to talk: but all she can think of talking about is her cat, which offends the mouse. The sea of tears becomes crowded with other animals and birds swimming. They get on the bank and start thinking how to get dry again. After listening to the mouse’s lecture on William the Conqueror, a Dodo decides to perform a Caucus-Race: everyone runs in a circle with no clear winner. Alice frightens all the animals away, by talking about her cat. The White Rabbit appears again in search of the Duchess’s gloves and fan. Mistaking her for his maidservant, Mary Ann, he orders Alice to go into the house and take them, but once she gets inside she starts growing. The horrified Rabbit orders his gardener, Bill the Lizard, to climb on the roof and go down the chimney. Outside, Alice hears the voices of animals looking at her giant arm and throwing at her little stones, which turn into little cakes. Alice eats them, and they reduce her again in size. Alice meets blue Caterpillar sitting on a mushroom and smoking a hookah. She admits her current identity crisis, and her inability to remember a poem. Before crawling away, the caterpillar tells Alice that one side of the mushroom will make her taller and the other side will make her shorter. She breaks off two pieces from the mushroom, but one side causes her neck to grow high into the trees, where a pigeon mistakes her for a serpent. With some effort, Alice brings herself back to her usual height. A Fish-Footman has an invitation for the Duchess of the house, which he delivers to a Frog-Footman. Alice lets herself into the house where the Duchess’s Cook is throwing dishes and making a soup that has too much pepper. Alice, the Duchess and her baby (but not the cook or her grinning Cheshire Cat) sneeze violently. Alice is given the baby by the Duchess and the baby turns into a pig. The Cheshire Cat appears in a tree, directing her to the March Hare’s house. He disappears but his grin remains floating in the air. Alice states that she has often seen a cat without a grin, but never a grin without a cat.
Alice becomes a guest at a “mad” tea party together with the March Hare, the Hatter, and a sleeping Dormouse who remains asleep. They give Alice many riddles and stories, including the famous ‘Why is a raven like a writing desk?’. The Hatter reveals that they have tea all day because time has punished him by eternally standing still at 6 pm (tea time). Alice leaves claiming that it was the stupidest tea party that she had ever been to and enters the garden where three living playing cards are painting the white roses red because the Queen of Hearts hates white roses. Other cards, kings and queens and even the White Rabbit enter the garden. Alice then meets the King and the Queen. The Queen is always saying her trademark phrase “Off with his head!” Alice is ordered to play a game of croquet with the Queen and the rest of her subjects but the game quickly descends into chaos. Live flamingos are used as mallets and hedgehogs as balls and Alice once again meets the Cheshire Cat. The Queen of Hearts then orders the Cat to be beheaded, but the executioner complains because the head is all that can be seen of him. The Duchess is brought to the croquet ground at Alice’s request. Alice is introduced to the Gryphon, who takes her to the Mock Turtle who is very sad without reasons. He tries to tell his story about how he used to be a real turtle in school, which the Gryphon interrupts so they can play a game. The Mock Turtle and the Gryphon dance the Lobster Quadrille, while Alice recites “‘Tis the Voice of the Lobster”. The Mock Turtle sings them “Beautiful Soup” during which the Gryphon pulls Alice away because there is a trial. The trial is for the Knave of Hearts accused of stealing the Queen’s tarts. The jury is composed of various animals, including Bill the Lizard; the White Rabbit is the court’s trumpeter, the King of Hearts is the judge. Meanwhile, Alice finds that she is steadily growing larger. The tells her she has no right to grow so rapidly and to take up all the air. Alice replies everyone grows. Then she is called up as a witness. She accidentally knocks over the jury box with the animals inside them and the King orders the animals be placed back into their seats before the trial continues. The King and Queen order Alice to go away, but Alice refuses to leave and argues with the King and Queen of Hearts over the ridiculous proceedings. The Queen says “Off with her head!”, but Alice is not afraid and calls them out as just a pack of cards: the cards start flying over her. Alice’s sister wakes her up for tea. Alice brushes away some leaves (not a shower of playing cards) and leaves her sister on the bank to imagine all the curious happenings for herself.
Autobiographical sources – Alice was published in 1865, three years after the Reverend Charles Lutwidge Dodgson and the Reverend Robinson Duckworth rowed in a boat up the River Thames with the three young daughters of Henry Liddell, (the Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University and Dean of Christ Church). During the trip the Reverend Dodgson told the girls a story about a bored little girl named Alice looking for an adventure. The girls liked it and he began noting down the manuscript of the story the next day. He also researched natural history to explain the animals of the book. Then he added his own illustrations and was helped by John Tenniel to illustrate the book for publication.
The “Rabbit Hole,” symbolizes the stairs in the back of the main hall in Christ Church and, in Ripon Cathedral, where Carroll’s father was a canon, there was the carving of a griffon and rabbit
In 1864 gave Alice the handwritten manuscript of Alice’s Adventures Under Ground, with illustrations by Dodgson himself, dedicating it as “as Christmas gift to a dear child in memory of a summer’s day”.
Characters – In The Annotated Alice, Martin Gardner provides information for the characters.
The protagonist is Alice Liddell herself.
Carroll is caricatured as the Dodo, because Dodgson stuttered when he spoke, he sometimes pronounced his last name as Dodo-Dodgson.
The Duck refers to Canon Duckworth
Lory refers to Lorina Liddell
the Eaglet refers to Edith Liddell, one of Alice Liddell’s sisters.
Bill the Lizard may be a play on the name of Benjamin Disraeli because one of Tenniel’s illustrations in Through the Looking-Glass depicts the character referred to as the “Man in White Paper” as a caricature of Disraeli, wearing a paper hat.
The illustrations of the Lion and the Unicorn also bear a striking resemblance to Tenniel’s Punch illustrations of Gladstone and Disraeli.
The Hatter is most likely a reference to Theophilus Carter, a furniture dealer known in Oxford for his unorthodox inventions.
The Dormouse tells a story about three little sisters named Elsie, Lacie, and Tillie. These are the Liddell sisters: Elsie is L.C. (Lorina Charlotte), Tillie is Edith (her family nickname is Matilda), and Lacie is an anagram of Alice.
The Mock Turtle speaks of a Drawling-master, “an old conger eel”, who teaches “Drawling, Stretching, and Fainting in Coils”. This is a reference to the art critic John Ruskin, who came once a week to the Liddell house to teach the children drawing, sketching, and painting in oils.
The Mock Turtle also sings “Beautiful Soup”, a parody of a song called “Star of the Evening, Beautiful Star”, which was performed as a trio by Lorina, Alice and Edith Liddell for Lewis Carroll.
Poems and songs: Carroll wrote multiple poems and songs for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, including:
“All in the golden afternoon…”, recalls the rowing expedition on which he first told the story of Alice’s adventures underground
“How Doth the Little Crocodile”, a parody of Isaac Watts’ nursery rhyme, “Against Idleness And Mischief”
“The Mouse’s Tale”, an example of concrete poetry
“You Are Old, Father William”, a parody of Robert Southey’s “The Old Man’s Comforts and How He Gained Them”
The Duchess’s lullaby, “Speak roughly to your little boy…”, a parody of David Bates’ “Speak Gently”
“Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Bat”, a parody of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”
The Lobster Quadrille, a parody of Mary Botham Howitt’s “The Spider and the Fly”
“‘Tis the Voice of the Lobster”, a parody of “The Sluggard”
“Beautiful Soup”, a parody of James M. Sayles’s “Star of the Evening, Beautiful Star”
“The Queen of Hearts”, an actual nursery rhyme
“They told me you had been to her…”, the White Rabbit’s evidence.
Alice – Alice, the seven-year-old protagonist, believes that the world is orderly and stable, and she has an insatiable curiosity about her surroundings. Wonderland challenges and frustrates her perceptions of the world.
At first Alice feels comfortable with her identity and, even though she approaches Wonderland as an anthropologist, she has a strong sense of her environment, her social position, education, and the Victorian virtue of good manners.. She becomes increasingly obsessed with the importance of good manners as she deals with the rude creatures of Wonderland. Her fixed sense of order clashes with the madness she finds in Wonderland; social class(the White Rabbit); urbane intelligence (the Mad Hatter, March Hare, and Pigeon)
As a result Alice suffers an identity crisis: she persists in her way of life as she perceives her sense of order collapsing all around her and tries to explain her diverse experiences into a clear understanding of the world.
The White Rabbit – The frantic, harried Wonderland creature that originally leads Alice to Wonderland. The White Rabbit is figure of some importance, but he is manic, timid, and occasionally aggressive.
The Queen of Hearts – The ruler of Wonderland. The Queen is severe and domineering, continually screaming for her subjects to be beheaded.
Alice must inevitably face her to figure out the puzzle of Wonderland. In a sense, the Queen of Hearts is literally the heart of Alice’s conflict. The Queen is a singular force of fear who even dominates the King of Hearts even though she is merely a playing card. The Gryphon later informs Alice that the Queen never actually executes anyone she sentences to death, which reinforces the fact that the Queen of Hearts’s power lies in her rhetoric. The Queen becomes representative of the idea that Wonderland is devoid of substance.
The King of Hearts – The co-ruler of Wonderland. The King is ineffectual and generally un-likeable, but lacks the Queen’s ruthlessness and undoes her orders of execution.
The Cheshire Cat – A perpetually grinning cat who appears and disappears at will. The Cheshire Cat displays a detached, clearheaded logic and explains Wonderland’s madness to Alice.
It maintains a cool, grinning outsider status and has insight into the workings of Wonderland as a whole. Its calm explanation to Alice that to be in Wonderland is to be “mad” reveals Alice that Wonderland is ruled by nonsense, and as a result, Alice’s normal behaviour becomes inconsistent with its operating principles, so Alice herself becomes mad in the context of Wonderland.
The Duchess – The Queen’s uncommonly ugly cousin. The Duchess behaves rudely to Alice at first, but later treats her so affectionately that her advances feel threatening.
The Caterpillar – A Wonderland creature. The Caterpillar sits on a mushroom, smokes a hookah, and treats Alice with contempt. He directs Alice to the magic mushroom that allows her to shrink and grow.
The Mad Hatter – A small, impolite hatter who lives in perpetual tea-time. The Mad Hatter enjoys frustrating Alice.
The March Hare – The Mad Hatter’s tea-time companion. The March Hare takes great pleasure in frustrating Alice.
The Dormouse – The Mad Hatter and March Hare’s companion. The Dormouse sits at the tea table and drifts in and out of sleep.
The Gryphon – A servant to the Queen who befriends Alice. The Gryphon escorts Alice to see the Mock Turtle.
The Mock Turtle – A turtle with the head of a calf. The Mock Turtle is friendly to Alice but is exceedingly sentimental and self-absorbed.
Alice’s sister – The only character whom Alice interacts with outside of Wonderland. Alice’s sister daydreams about Alice’s adventures as the story closes.
The Knave of Hearts – An attendant to the King and Queen. The Knave has been accused of stealing the Queen’s tarts.
The Mouse – The first Wonderland creature that Alice encounters. The Mouse is initially frightened of Alice and her talk about her pet cat, and eventually tells the story of Fury and the Mouse that foreshadows the Knave of Heart’s trial.
The Dodo – A Wonderland creature. The Dodo tends to use big words, and others accuse him of not knowing their meanings. He proposes that the animals participate in a Caucus race.
The Duck, the Lory, and the Eaglet – Wonderland creatures who participate in the Caucus race.
The Cook – The Duchess’s cook, who causes everyone to sneeze with the amount of pepper she uses in her cooking. The Cook is ill-tempered, throwing objects at the Duchess and refusing to give evidence at the trial.
The Pigeon – A Wonderland creature who believes Alice is a serpent. The pigeon is sulky and angry and thinks Alice is after her eggs.
Two, Five, and Seven – The playing-card gardeners. Two, Five, and Seven are fearful and fumbling, especially in the presence of the Queen.
Bill – A lizard who first appears as a servant of the White Rabbit and later as a juror at the trial. Bill is stupid and ineffectual.
The Frog-Footman – The Duchess’s footman. The Frog-footman is stupid and accustomed to the fact that nothing makes sense in Wonderland.
Objects and places: Rabbit Hole; golden keys; small door; garden; bottle labelled Drink me; cake labelled Eat Me; fan; little bottle; biscuits; mushrooms; mad hatter’s watch; door in a tree; rose; Croquet; Lobster Quadrille; letter
THEMES, MOTIFS & SYMBOLS
The Tragic and Inevitable Loss of Childhood Innocence: Alice feels discomfort while she goes through a variety of absurd physical changes and struggles to maintain a comfortable physical size. These constant fluctuations represent the way a child may feel as her body grows and changes during puberty.
Life as a Meaningless Puzzle: Alice encounters a series of puzzles – Caucus race, Mad Hatter’s riddle, the Queen’s ridiculous croquet game – that seem to have no clear solutions, no purpose or answer which imitates the ways that life frustrates expectations, even when problems seem familiar or solvable.
Death as a Constant and Underlying Menace: Alice continually finds herself in situations in which she risks death; this suggest that death lurks just behind the ridiculous events of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland as a present and possible outcome. (ex.: Alice falls falling off her own house, the Queen who is always screaming “Off with its head!”)
Motifs (recurring structures, or literary devices that develop and inform the major themes).
1. Dream: Alice’s adventures take place in her dream, where the characters and phenomena of the real life mix with elements of Alice’s unconscious state. For this reason there are many nonsensical and disparate events in the story and the narrative follows the dreamer who tries to interpret her experiences in relationship to herself and her world.
2. Subversion: Alice quickly discovers one aspect certain in her travels; everything will frustrate her expectations and challenge her understanding of the natural order of the world and the relationship between cause and effect.
3. Language: Carroll makes use of puns and plays on multiple meanings of words, invents words and expressions and develops new meanings expanding the lexicon beyond expectation and convention. Anything is possible in Wonderland, and Carroll’s manipulation of language reflects this sense of unlimited possibility.
Symbols (objects, characters, figures, or colours used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.)
Objects in Alice in Wonderland can assume different values and meaning depending on the situations.
1. The Garden: may symbolize the Garden of Eden, an idyllic space of beauty and innocence; the experience of desire. The two symbolic meanings work together to underscore Alice’s desire to hold onto her feelings of childlike innocence that she must relinquish as she matures.
2. The Caterpillar’s Mushroom: may be seen as a sexual threat (phallic shape); or a psychedelic hallucinogen. Anyhow Alice must master the properties of the mushroom to gain control over her fluctuating size, which represents the bodily frustrations that accompany puberty.
3. Identities: Alice is puzzled because she can’t recognize herself during her journey and she admits she has lost her identity. Also the characters do not know who she is really and sometimes mistakes her for someone else
4. Knowledge: Alice repeats the lessons she’s learned in school both to test herself whether or not she is the same little girl that she used to be, and because someone asks her to explain what she knows. When Alice fails repeating what she has learnt or when the characters she meets contradict her or tell her that she is wrong, she fears that she has indeed become a different stupid child and becomes frustrated. To Alice, an important distinction between children and grown-ups is that children have a lot to learn and are always being subjected to some educational exercise while adults apparently don’t have to learn anything.
5. Meaning: Alice is surprised and disconcerted when she finds herself speaking nonsense, and most of the times she understands the meanings of each individual word, but is unable to find meaning in a statement as a whole.In the novels there are humorous nonsense verses, most of which are parodies of popular poems from Carroll’s time.
Examples: the Mad Hatter demonstrates an important distinction between statements with apparently identical meanings (“I say what I mean” and “I mean what I say”); the Duchess advises Alice that if the meanings are right, then the proper form will follow as a matter of course (English proverb “Take care of the pence and the pounds will take care of themselves.”); the Mock Turtle exclaims that there’s no point in Alice reciting her lessons if she can’t explain what she recites; the trial is rich with nonsensical words.
Mathematical concepts and logic – Mathematician Keith Devlin asserted in the journal of The Mathematical Association of America that Dodgson wrote Alice in Wonderland in its final form as a scathing satire on new modern mathematics that were emerging in the mid-19th century.
“Down the Rabbit-Hole”: Alice’s final size represents the concept of a limit.
“The Pool of Tears”: the multiplication which produces some odd results is the representation of numbers using different bases and positional numeral systems.
“Advice from a Caterpillar”: the Pigeon who asserts that little girls are some kind of serpent, for both little girls and serpents eat eggs represents the substitution of variables.
“A Mad Tea-Party”, the March Hare, the Hatter, and the Dormouse give several examples in which the semantic value of a sentence A is not the same value of the converse of A giving examples of inverse relationship.
Alice ponders what it means when the changing of seats around the circular table places them back at the beginning. This is an observation of addition on the ring of integers modulo N.
The Cheshire cat fades until it disappears entirely, leaving only its wide grin in the air; Alice notes that she has seen a cat without a grin, but never a grin without a cat. This refers to non-Euclidean geometry, abstract algebra, and the beginnings of mathematical logic and can represent the very concept of mathematics and number itself.
French language – the writer probably chiose to use Franch language to make references and puns about it in the story because French lessons were a common feature of a Victorian middle-class girl’s upbringing. Examples: Alice posits that the mouse may be French and speaks the first sentence of her French lesson-book to it: “Où est ma chatte?”; Pat’s “Digging for apples” could be a cross-language pun, as pomme de terre means potato and pomme means apple; Alice initially addresses the mouse as “O Mouse”, based on her memory of the noun declensions “in her brother’s Latin Grammar, ‘A mouse — of a mouse — to a mouse — a mouse — O mouse!'” which correspond to the first five of Latin’s six cases, (the absence of the sixth case, mure (ablative) may be due to the wide variety of possible translations); the white and red roses of the Queen of Hearts are a reference to the Wars of the Roses.
In Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There, the White Queen offers to hire Alice as her lady’s maid and to pay her “Twopence a week, and jam every other day.”: in Latin that the word iam or jam meaning now in the sense of already or at that time cannot be used to describe now in the present, which is nunc in Latin.
The book received little attention and poor reviews. Only after the publication of Through the Looking-Glass, the first Alice tale gained in popularity and by the end of the 19th century Sir Walter Besant wrote Alice in Wonderland “was a book of that extremely rare kind which will belong to all the generations to come until the language becomes obsolete”.
Many adaptations have mixed Alice in Wonderland and Through the looking Glass causing much confusion. The Jabberwock and Tweedledum and Tweedledee only appear in the sequel Through the Looking-Glass, but are often included in film versions. The Queen of Hearts is commonly mistaken for the Red Queen who appears in Through the Looking-Glass, but the Queen of Hearts is a card present in the first book, while the Red Queen represents a red chess piece, as chess is the theme present in the sequel.
The book has inspired numerous film and television adaptations from the period of silent, white and black movies on: the most famous include Walt Disney’s version in 1951; Alice in Wonderland or What’s A Nice Kid like You Doing in a Place like this? (1966) a TV animated musical movie by from Hanna – Barbera; and Tim Burton’s 2010 adaptation for the cinema.
With the immediate popularity of the book, live performances began: an early example is Alice in Wonderland, a musical play by H. Saville Clark and Walter Slaughter in 1886 while a recent version is 2006 gothic rock musical, The Eighth Square, a murder mystery set in Wonderland, written by Matthew Fleming and music and lyrics by Ben J. Macpherson.