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Alice in Wonderland

Lewis Carroll

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Alice in Wonderland | Discussion Questions 31 - 40


In Chapter 8 of Alice in Wonderland, Alice finally enters the garden she first spotted in Chapter 1. How does it differ from the way she imagined it?

Alice has been longing to get inside the garden since she first saw it. Now at last she can walk "among the bright flower beds and the cool fountains." But the minute she walks through the door into the garden, she sees three gardeners painting white roses red—a strange scene that contradicts Alice's expectations of the garden. When Alice asks the gardeners why they're painting the roses, one of them nervously answers that they've planted the wrong color, "and, if the Queen was to find it out, we should all have our heads cut off, you know." At that exact moment, the Queen and her court come in. "The bright flower beds" are being tampered with, and in a way that can't possibly improve their looks. And the reason they're being changed is that the gardeners will be beheaded if the Queen finds out that they planted the wrong rosebushes. For these and other reasons, Alice is about to find out that this garden is not the paradise it seemed when she first spotted it in Chapter 1.

In Chapter 8 of Alice in Wonderland, the Queen orders a beheading for the first time. What does this suggest about Lewis Carroll's attitude toward his young readers?

A few seconds after she meets Alice, the Queen of Hearts screams, "Off with her head! Off with—" Alice cuts her off: "'Nonsense!' said Alice, very loudly and decidedly, and the Queen was silent." Any possible apprehension the reader may have had is dispelled with this exchange. If a seven-year-old can shut her up, the Queen can't be very dangerous. And the fact that the Queen "turns crimson with fury" and glares at Alice "like a wild beast" makes her such an over-the-top character that no one should feel threatened by her. Carroll makes it clear from the beginning that although she terrifies her subjects, the Queen is a comic figure. At the same time, he doesn't try to protect child readers from the idea of a beheading. Victorian children in England were likely to have been fairly familiar with the concept of public executions, which took place with some regularity until they were banned in 1868. By this time, beheading had long since been supplanted by hanging as the method of execution.

In Alice in Wonderland, Alice stands up to the Queen of Hearts the instant she meets her. What does this suggest about Alice's character development?

Considering that Alice wonders if she should lie on her face as the Queen approaches, it's brave of her to refuse to identify the three gardeners lying on their faces. Considering that this refusal immediately causes the Queen to order Alice's beheading, it's even braver of her to interrupt the Queen and tell her "very loudly and decidedly" that she's speaking nonsense. Alice has put up with much milder rudeness up until now, so it's startling to witness her sudden courage. But until now, the bad behavior Alice has tolerated has been directed at her specifically. When she refuses to identify the gardeners, it's because she knows that they're terrified of the Queen. She's standing up to the Queen on someone else's behalf. Following this act of defiance, Alice stops putting up with any more bad behavior in Wonderland. One might expect her to retreat when the Queen orders her execution, but Alice instead takes a stand and refuses to back down.

In Chapter 7 of Alice in Wonderland, Alice walks away from the tea party "in disgust." What causes her disgust, and how does it signal Alice is beginning to change?

As the tea party has progressed, Alice has become more and more irritated with the three other characters at the table. She tells the Hatter "with some severity" that it's rude to make personal remarks. She "sighs wearily" when he asks her a riddle with no answer. She tells the Dormouse that there are no treacle wells "very angrily." Finally, she gets up and leaves. Almost all the characters Alice meets are unpleasant in some way, but until the tea party, she puts up with their rudeness and their inconsistencies. This is partly from politeness and partly from curiosity—she's interested in what they'll say and do next. But the reader gets the feeling that by the time Alice arrives at the tea party, she's getting irritated with the way the characters have been treating her and has decided not to put up with it anymore. This suspicion is borne out in the next chapter, when she meets the Queen of Hearts.

In Alice in Wonderland, how does Lewis Carroll remind readers that the characters are playing cards?

The animated playing cards give Carroll a chance to write unusual visual descriptions, and he makes the most of it: The Queen points at the gardeners, who are lying on their faces, and asks who they are. Since the cards are lying on their faces, and the pattern on their backs is identical to the pattern on all the cards in the pack, "she could not tell whether they were gardeners, or soldiers, or courtiers, or three of her own children." Like real playing cards, the gardeners are easy to turn over; the Knave of Hearts does it with his foot. During the croquet game, the playing-card soldiers have to "double themselves up and stand on their hands and feet, to make the arches." The card suits are matched to various roles in life. This is a correlation requiring both text and illustration. Carroll discusses the courtiers as diamonds, the royal family as hearts, and the soldiers as clubs; his illustrator, John Tenniel, drew the gardeners as spades. This is more punning and wordplay—clubs can be weapons, and gardeners use spades.

In Chapter 9 of Alice in Wonderland, what is the nature of the morals the Duchess points out?

Moralistic slogans were popular in Victorian times. Many Victorian girls stitched needlepoint "motto samplers" with an inspirational verse or phrase. The Duchess's morals, being based on puns and parody, are completely worthless, but she's obviously proud of them. "Take care of the sense, and the sounds will take care of themselves" is a parody of the British proverb "Take care of the pence, and the pounds will take care of themselves." Flamingos and mustard both bite, says the Duchess. "And the moral of that is," she says, "'Birds of a feather flock together.'" This real proverb is meaningless in this context. "The more there is of mine, the less there is of yours" is believed to be a proverb that Carroll himself wrote. It describes a zero-sum game in which the winner's payoff equals the loser's losses. Of course, the Duchess only mentions this proverb so she can make a pun on the word mine. The Duchess's gloss on the moral "Be what you would seem to be" (an inversion in itself) makes no sense at all. By coming up with his own morals, Carroll is gently mocking this kind of instruction and engaging again in wordplay.

What is the Gryphon's significance in Alice in Wonderland?

The mythological creature known as the gryphon is half eagle, half lion. Because both these animals are so powerful, the gryphon is traditionally used as a symbol of courage and wisdom. Gryphons are also often represented as guards to hordes of treasure. In Dante's Purgatorio, a gryphon pulls the chariot of the church; in medieval symbology, the gryphon represents the union of God and man in Christ. At Trinity College in Oxford, the front gates bear the image of a gryphon, and the college's debating society is called the Gryphon. In keeping with one of the main motifs in the novel—the literary device of inversion and reversal—Lewis Carroll's Gryphon has none of these noble associations. When Alice first meets him, he's not doing anything heroic; he's just sleeping on the ground. Instead of using regal language, he speaks like a Cockney. And he certainly has no respect for royalty; the first thing he tells Alice is that the Queen of Hearts is fun to watch.

What is the Mock Turtle's significance in Alice in Wonderland?

The Mock Turtle has the body of a sea turtle and the head of a calf. He is named for mock turtle soup, which was popular in Victorian England. Because sea turtles were expensive and rare, the soup was made with veal by-products—hence the calf's head. Critics have probed the importance of the Mock Turtle without much success. He seems to have been created as a vehicle for jokes and wordplay more than anything else. The passages in which Alice talks to him and the Gryphon are very funny, but they contribute nothing to the plot. The Queen insists that Alice meet the Mock Turtle, the Gryphon introduces him to Alice, there's some singing and lots of parodic recitation, and then Alice returns to the croquet game. The conversation between the three characters allows Carroll to address one of his favorite topics, however: Victorian education. The Mock Turtle's inversions of the names of school subjects are amusing wordplay and also imply a commentary on the usefulness of the traditional "3 Rs" of reading, writing, and arithmetic: "'Reeling and Writhing, of course, to begin with,' the Mock Turtle replied; 'and then the different branches of Arithmetic—Ambition, Distraction, Uglification, and Derision.'"

In Alice in Wonderland, what does the Queen of Hearts's character suggest about Lewis Carroll's view of Queen Victoria?

Victoria ruled for 63 years—the longest of any British monarch up to that date. When Carroll wrote Alice in Wonderland, Victoria had already been on the throne for 28 years. It is likely that Victoria was tucked away somewhere in Carroll's mind as he wrote the book, and John Tenniel, the book's first illustrator, seems to have drawn the Queen of Hearts to slightly resemble Victoria. Queen Victoria was immensely popular, and it's unlikely that Carroll intended the Queen of Hearts to resemble her outright. More probably, he wanted to poke fun at the nature of royal power and conceived the Queen of Hearts as an amusing way to do so. When he was creating the Queen of Hearts, Carroll may also have remembered some of Victoria's best-known utterances: "We are not interested in the possibilities of defeat. They do not exist." "[Women's rights] is a subject which makes the Queen so furious that she cannot contain herself." "The important thing is not what they think of me, but what I think of them." "An ugly baby is a very nasty object—and the prettiest is frightful." "Great events make me quiet and calm; it is only trifles that irritate my nerves."

In Alice in Wonderland, why did Lewis Carroll portray the Mock Turtle as being so sad?

This is yet another occurrence of the science motif in the novel. As a keen amateur scholar of natural history, Carroll would have known that sea turtles have ducts in the corner of each eye. These ducts are connected to glands that continually express salt water; the turtles' kidneys are not up to that task. On land, sea turtles appear to be weeping, a fact that may have inspired Carroll's depiction of the Mock Turtle as a melancholy soul. Besides, a perennially mournful character can be funny—especially if he's sobbing while he dances. Eeyore's role in A. A. Milne's Winnie-the-Pooh is a lot like the Mock Turtle's.

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