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Alice in Wonderland | Chapter 3 : A Caucus-Race and a Long Tale | Summary

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Summary

Alice, the Mouse, and several other animals climb out of the pool of tears. The Mouse tells a "dry" story to dry them off. When this doesn't work, the Dodo suggests they hold a "Caucus-race." This turns out to mean running in a circle for half an hour, after which the Dodo declares that everyone is the winner. Alice hands out prizes, and the Mouse tells another story—this one a "tale" that turns out, when written on the page, to be shaped like a mouse's tail. Naturally, Alice doesn't understand what's happening, and the Mouse leaves in a huff. The other animals soon follow, leaving Alice alone again.

Analysis

The "dry" story the Mouse tells is taken from the text of a children's history book owned by Alice Liddell and her two sisters. It is indeed very dry, in the sense of being very boring—a good example of Lewis Carroll's fondness for puns and for making fun of the educational customs imposed on Victorian children. The author's wordplay continues with the Caucus-race; in England, the word caucus meant a political organization made up of committees. Carroll is likely hinting that committee meetings run in circles without getting anywhere.

The Mouse's tale involves visual as well as aural wordplay. When printed, the tale turns out to resemble a mouse's long, curving tail. Poems laid out to resemble their subject matter are called visual poetry or shaped verse. Because the Mouse tells the story aloud, Alice wouldn't actually be able to see its shape in real life, but in Wonderland the rules are obviously different.

Alice tends to be sensitive to the reactions of characters around her. It's a bit surprising that she's so obtuse about mentioning her pet cat, Dinah—a sign, perhaps, that she perceives the animals around her as peers rather than as animals. She never wishes she could bring any of her family or friends to Wonderland, just Dinah.

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