Alice in Wonderland
These questions are either for students or teachers - they are guides to reading and thinking about Alice.
Quotations are not in quotation marks, generally. Bold text is commentary or question.
by John McIlvain
Study Guide HomeLeast Tern
Down the Rabbit Hole ~ The Pool of Tears ~ A Caucus-Race and a Long Tail
The Rabbit Sends in a Little Bill
Advice from a Caterpillar ~ Pig and Pepper ~ A Mad Tea Party
The Queen's Croquet Ground ~ The Mock Turtle's Story
The Lobster Quadrille ~ Who Stole the Tarts? ~ Alice's Evidence
Down the Rabbit Hole
1. There was nothing so very remarkable in that; nor did Alice think it so very much out of the way to hear the Rabbit say to itself, `Oh dear! Oh dear! I shall be late!' (when she thought it over afterwards, it occurred to her that she ought to have wondered at this, but at the time it all seemed quite natural); but when the Rabbit actually took a watch out of its waistcoat- pocket, and looked at it, and then hurried on, Alice started to her feet, for it flashed across her mind that she had never before seen a rabbit with either a waistcoat-pocket, or a watch to take out of it, and burning with curiosity, she ran across the field after it, and fortunately was just in time to see it pop down a large rabbit-hole under the hedge.
What does this tell us about Alices character? Also, notice how long and complicated this sentence is.
2. In another moment down went Alice after it, never once considering how in the world she was to get out again. What does this tell us about Alices character?
3. (Alice had no idea what Latitude was, or Longitude either, but thought they were nice grand words to say .) This seems to be a typical result of Alices learning.
4. (and she tried to curtsey as she spoke-- fancy curtseying as you're falling through the air! Do you think you could manage it?) What does this tell us about Alices upbringing? Note, the 2nd person.
5. `Dinah'll miss me very much to-night, I should think!' (Dinah was the cat .) `I hope they'll remember her saucer of milk at tea-time. What does this tell us about Alice?
6. `What a curious feeling!' said Alice; `I must be shutting up like a telescope .' Be careful of what you wish for.
7. Soon her eye fell on a little glass box that was lying under the table: she opened it, and found in it a very small cake, on which the words `EAT ME' were beautifully marked in currants. `Well, I'll eat it,' said Alice, `and if it makes me grow larger, I can reach the key; and if it makes me grow smaller, I can creep under the door; so either way I'll get into the garden, and I don't care which happens!' What does this tell us about Alices intelligence?
Remember: the white rabbit, falling, the key; the garden, her literal mind `But it's no use now,' thought poor Alice, `to pretend to be two people! Why, there's hardly enough of me left to make ONE respectable person!'
The Pool of Tears
1. Oh dear, what nonsense I'm talking! A lot of Alice contains nonsense. This is at least partially because Lewis Carroll himself was fascinated by nonsense. In Wonderland what is nonsense to some characters is sensible to others. It has been said that "nonesense" in books, like satire, depends on the writer living in a world that is very "sensible" and stable. Do you agree with this idea? In what ways was Lewis Carroll's world sensible and stable?
2. `You ought to be ashamed of yourself,' said Alice, `a great girl like you,' ( she might well say this), `to go on crying in this way! Stop this moment, I tell you!' But she went on all the same, shedding gallons of tears, until there was a large pool all round her, about four inches deep and reaching half down the hall. Alice is talking to herself with a parents voice, but is crying like a little girl. In this story she will have to learn to depend upon her own resources as the adults she will run into will all seem ridiculous.
3. The Rabbit started violently, dropped the white kid gloves and the fan, and scurried away into the darkness as hard as he could go. What are the characteristics of the White Rabbit.
4. Let me see: four times five is twelve, and four times six is thirteen, and four times seven is--oh dear! I shall never get to twenty at that rate! However, the Multiplication Table doesn't signify: let's try Geography. London is the capital of Paris, and Paris is the capital of Rome, and Rome--no, THAT'S all wrong, I'm certain! I must have been changed for Mabel! I'll try and say "How doth the little Is the point of this that Alice is ignorant, or is it that she is confused?
5. What mistake does Alice make with the mouse?
6. So she called softly after it, `Mouse dear! Do come back again, and we won't talk about cats or dogs either, if you don't like them!' When the Mouse heard this, it turned round and swam slowly back to her: its face was quite pale (with passion, Alice thought), and it said in a low trembling voice, `Let us get to the shore, and then I'll tell you my history, and you'll understand why it is I hate cats and dogs.' What does this tell us about the mouse?
7. It was high time to go, for the pool was getting quite crowded with the birds and animals that had fallen into it: there were a Duck and a Dodo, a Lory and an Eaglet, and several other curious creatures. Alice led the way, and the whole party swam to the shore. What is the change in mood in this paragraph? What two meanings can you think of for the word party?
A Caucus-Race and a Long Tail
1. The first question of course was, how to get dry again: they had a consultation about this, and after a few minutes it seemed quite natural to Alice to find herself talking familiarly with them, as if she had known them all her life. How is Alice different here than in the first two chapters?
2. `Found it,' the Mouse replied rather crossly: `of course you know what "it" means.' A good deal of Alice is related to words and what they mean, especially when they mean different things to different people. Lewis Carroll seems to enjoy this and the potential it has to lead to confusion.
3. Alice thought the whole thing very absurd, but they all looked so grave that she did not dare to laugh; and, as she could not think of anything to say, she simply bowed, and took the thimble, looking as solemn as she could. Does it make sense for Alice to find the whole thing absurd?
4. Notice the poem in a shape of a tail is a tale. If you use a word that has two meanings at once, it is called a pun.
5. This speech caused a remarkable sensation among the party. Some of the birds hurried off at once: one the old Magpie began wrapping itself up very carefully, remarking, `I really must be getting home; the night-air doesn't suit my throat!' and a Canary called out in a trembling voice to its children, `Come away, my dears! It's high time you were all in bed!' On various pretexts they all moved off, and Alice was soon left alone. Why did the speech cause such a sensation. Note the frequent changes of mood in the story. Is mood change characteristic of children?
The Rabbit Sends in a Little Bill
1. It was the White Rabbit, trotting slowly back again, and looking anxiously about as it went, as if it had lost something; and she heard it muttering to itself `The Duchess! The Duchess! Oh my dear paws! Oh my fur and whiskers! She'll get me executed, as sure as ferrets are ferrets! Where can I have dropped them, I wonder?' What do we learn in the opening paragraphs of this chapter about positions in society? How does the White Rabbit behave towards those he thinks are above him? Towards those he thinks are below him?
2. And Alice was so much frightened that she ran off at once in the direction it pointed to, without trying to explain the mistake it had made. What different mood was Alice in just before this? Who has frightened her? What mistake has that person just made?
3. There was no label this time with the words `DRINK ME,' but nevertheless she uncorked it and put it to her lips. `I know something interesting is sure to happen,' she said to herself, `whenever I eat or drink anything; so I'll just see what this bottle does. I do hope it'll make me grow large again, for really I'm quite tired of being such a tiny little thing!' What character trait is Alices exhibiting now?
4. I almost wish I hadn't gone down that rabbit-hole--and yet--and yet--it's rather curious, you know, this sort of life! I do wonder what CAN have happened to me! Notice how Alice. despite being confused, is still willing to be where she is. She seems to like to be taking first one side and then the other.
5. Bill's got the other--Bill! fetch it here, lad! --Here, put 'em up at this corner--No, tie 'em together first--they don't reach half high enough yet--Oh! they'll do well enough; don't be particular- -Here, Bill! catch hold of this rope--Will the roof bear?--Mind that loose slate--Oh, it's coming down! Heads below!' (a loud crash)--`Now, who did that? --It was Bill, I fancy--Who's to go down the chimney? --Nay, I shan't! You do it! --That I won't, then! --Bill's to go down--Here, Bill! the master says you're to go down the chimney!' What do you make of Bill? How is he treated? How does this relate to # 1 above? What could Bill be a pun for?
6. `Poor little thing!' said Alice, in a coaxing tone, and she tried hard to whistle to it; but she was terribly frightened all the time at the thought that it might be hungry, in which case it would be very likely to eat her up in spite of all her coaxing. Notice that here, too, Alice has contradictory feelings. What are the feelings and why does she have them?
7. Alice seems to have a number of reasonable ideas in this chapter although they dont necessarily work out. Do you think anything has been changing for Alice other than her size?
Advice from a Caterpillar
1. 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. What does this dialogue tell us about Alice? About Wonderland? Which character is making more sense?
2. `It is wrong from beginning to end,' said the Caterpillar decidedly, and there was silence for some minutes. Why are there so many silences with the Caterpillar? How does that relate to the hookah?
3. This time Alice waited patiently until it chose to speak again. Is patience a characteristic that Alice has demonstrated before?
4. `I--I'm a little girl,' said Alice, rather doubtfully, as she remembered the number of changes she had gone through that day. Have you ever had a moment like this where you are unsure of who you are. Sometimes it is called an identity crisis.
5. `Come, there's half my plan done now! How puzzling all these changes are! I'm never sure what I'm going to be, from one minute to another! However, I've got back to my right size: the next thing is, to get into that beautiful garden--how IS that to be done, I wonder?' As she said this, she came suddenly upon an open place, with a little house in it about four feet high. `Whoever lives there,' thought Alice, `it'll never do to come upon them THIS size: why, I should frighten them out of their wits!' So she began nibbling at the righthand bit again, and did not venture to go near the house till she had brought herself down to nine inches high. Why is it important that this comes at the end of the Chapter? What is different about this Alice from the Alice who first talks to the caterpillar?
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Pig and Pepper
1. `I shall sit here,' the Footman remarked, `till tomorrow--' How does the footmans approach to entering the house differ from Alices.
2. Identify from the picture: the Duchess; the cook; the Cheshire Cat; Alice:
3. How would you describe the personalities of The Duchess and The Cheshire Cat?
4. The baby grunted again, and Alice looked very anxiously into its face to see what was the matter with it. There could be no doubt that it had a very turn-up nose, much more like a snout than a real nose; also its eyes were getting extremely small for a baby: altogether Alice did not like the look of the thing at all. `But perhaps it was only sobbing,' she thought, and looked into its eyes again, to see if there were any tears. There is something unpleasant about the pig/baby. Some think it relates to Carrolls dislike of young boys in general. What do you think of Alices attitude here?
4. `That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,' said the Cat.
`I don't much care where--' said Alice.
`Then it doesn't matter which way you go,' said the Cat.
`--so long as I get somewhere,' Alice added as an explanation.
`Oh, you're sure to do that,' said the Cat, `if you only walk long enough.' This is a famous dialogue. What do you think has made it so well known?
A Mad Tea Party
1. What is a hatter?
2. `Then you should say what you mean,' the March Hare went on.
`I do,' Alice hastily replied; `at least--at least I mean what I say--that's the same thing, you know.'
`Not the same thing a bit!' said the Hatter. `You might just as well say that "I see what I eat" is the same thing as "I eat what I see"!'
`You might just as well say,' added the March Hare, `that "I like what I get" is the same thing as "I get what I like"!'
`You might just as well say,' added the Dormouse, who seemed to be talking in his sleep, `that "I breathe when I sleep" is the same thing as "I sleep when I breathe"!'
`It IS the same thing with you,' said the Hatter, and here the conversation dropped, and the party sat silent for a minute, while Alice thought over all she could remember about ravens and writing-desks, which wasn't much.
Who is right, Alice or the March Hare?
3. Alice felt dreadfully puzzled. The Hatter's remark seemed to have no sort of meaning in it, and yet it was certainly English. `I don't quite understand you,' she said, as politely as she could. Most of the remarks in this section seem to mean one thing to Alice, and something else to the Mad Hatter and March Hare. Write out the words in column one, the meaning for Alice in column two, and the meaning for the Mad Hatter or March Hare in column three.
4. `Well, I'd hardly finished the first verse,' said the Hatter, `when the Queen jumped up and bawled out, "He's murdering the time! Off with his head!"' This is one of a number of jokes (for the reader, not for the character), many relating to time, and all relating to words and language. Can you explain this joke?
Notice that the major quotation marks in #2 above are ' ' and the inner quotation marks are . This is standard in England. In America it is the opposite.
5. `Take some more tea,' the March Hare said to Alice, very earnestly.
`I've had nothing yet,' Alice replied in an offended tone, `so I can't take more.'
`You mean you can't take LESS,' said the Hatter: `it's very easy to take MORE than nothing.'
`Nobody asked YOUR opinion,' said Alice.
`Who's making personal remarks now?' the Hatter asked triumphantly. Notice that even when ridiculous, there is a logic to what everyone has to say. Also notice how pleased the Hatter is to have made Alice annoyed enough to be rude.
6. `But they were IN the well,' Alice said to the Dormouse, not choosing to notice this last remark.
`Of course they were', said the Dormouse; `--well in.'
This answer so confused poor Alice, that she let the Dormouse go on for some time without interrupting it.
`They were learning to draw,' the Dormouse went on, yawning and rubbing its eyes, for it was getting very sleepy; `and they drew all manner of things--everything that begins with an M-'
`Why with an M?' said Alice.
`Why not?' said the March Hare.
Notice the puns on draw and well. It becomes hard to follow some of the conversations because of the shifting meaning of the words and the why not attitude of Alices hosts.
7. This piece of rudeness was more than Alice could bear: she got up in great disgust, and walked off; the Dormouse fell asleep instantly, and neither of the others took the least notice of her going, though she looked back once or twice, half hoping that they would call after her: the last time she saw them, they were trying to put the Dormouse into the teapot.
`At any rate I'll never go THERE again!' said Alice as she picked her way through the wood. `It's the stupidest tea-party I ever was at in all my life!'
Just as she said this, she noticed that one of the trees had a door leading right into it. `Thats very curious! she thought. `But everythings curious today. I think I may as well go in at once. And in she went. This decisive action by Alice seems to work. Has she changed in any way since she first arrived in Wonderland?
The Queen's Croquet Ground
1. Note, we are finally in the garden which was described at the end of the last chapter as beautiful with bright flower beds and. . . cool fountains.
2. What role do the various suits play? Spades _____________; Clubs _____________; Hearts _____________; Diamonds _____________.
3. Notice how card like the cards are.
4. What can you say from the start about the personality of the queen?
5. How does she compare to the king?
6. How does Alice save the gardeners?
7. How does the white rabbit compare to Alice?
8. Alice soon came to the conclusion that it was a very difficult game indeed. What game? Why?
9. `How are you getting on?' said the Cat, as soon as there was mouth enough for it to speak with. How does Alice relate to the cat in this chapter? Why do you think she chooses to speak to the cat?
10. The executioner's argument was, that you couldn't cut off a head unless there was a body to cut it off from: that he had never had to do such a thing before, and he wasn't going to begin at HIS time of life.
The King's argument was, that anything that had a head could be beheaded, and that you weren't to talk nonsense. How do you think you are meant to react to this discussion? Amused? Horrified?
11. Is this part of Wonderland different from the world outside the garden? If so, how. Is Alice different from the way she appeared early in the book?
The Mock Turtle's Story
1.Alice was very glad to find her in such a pleasant temper, and thought to herself that perhaps it was only the pepper that had made her so savage when they met in the kitchen. The idea here seems to be that you are what you eat. Can you think of any other explanation for the change in the Duchess? Note: Camomile makes a pleasant tea, but by itself is very bitter; barley-sugar is a transparent candy made by boiling sugar in a mash of barley.
2. `Somebody said,' Alice whispered, `that it's done by everybody minding their own business!' Who was the somebody?
3. Tut, tut, child!' said the Duchess. `Everything's got a moral, if only you can find it.' And she squeezed herself up closer to Alice's side as she spoke. Do you think Carroll agrees?
4. "Take care of the sense, and the sounds will take care of themselves."' Like much of the Duchess advice, nonsense.
5. Notice how afraid the Duchess is of the Queen who appears just when the Duchess seems to be become more aggravating to Alice.
6. Mock Turtle Soup is usually made from veal (which explains this drawing).
7. `What IS the fun?' said Alice.
`Why, SHE,' said the Gryphon. `It's all her fancy, that: they never executes nobody, you know. Come on!' Why is the Gryphons personality somewhat of a surprise? Also note the poor grammar.
8. `Reeling and Writhing, of course, to begin with,' the Mock Turtle replied; `and then the different branches of Arithmetic-- Ambition, Distraction, Uglification, and Derision.' What are the puns here? Reeling _____________ Writhing _____________ Ambition_____________ Distraction_____________ Uglification _____________ and Derision _____________.
9. `Hadn't time,' said the Gryphon: `I went to the Classics master, though. He was an old crab, HE was.'
`I never went to him,' the Mock Turtle said with a sigh: `he taught Laughing and Grief, they used to say.' Notice the irony. (An old crab is someone who is a grouch.)
10. `That's the reason they're called lessons,' the Gryphon remarked: `because they lessen from day to day.' Perhaps the worst pun in the book. Notice that Alice doesnt get it.
11. Do you think that Lewis Carroll is making fun of schools in general or just in Wonderland?
The Lobster Quadrille
1. The quadrille was a complicated kind square dance popular at ballroom dances at the time Carroll was writing.
2. "Will you walk a little faster?" said a whiting to a snail. There's a porpoise close behind us, and he's treading on my tail. The whiting is a fish like cod. Note also the rhyme and the repetition in the poem, which is, of course, ridiculous.
3. `Thank you, it's a very interesting dance to watch,' said Alice, feeling very glad that it was over at last: `and I do so like that curious song about the whiting!' Do you think Alice is sincere, or just being polite?
4. `I can tell you more than that, if you like,' said the Gryphon. `Do you know why it's called a whiting?' This is the beginning of a joke that end up with a pun (eels and soles) and depends upon knowing that shoe polishers were done by book blacks so called because they used black polish blacking. In Wonderland everything is reversed black and white.
5. 'Tis the voice of the Lobster; I heard him declare, "You have baked me too brown, I must sugar my hair." As a duck with its eyelids, so he with his nose Trims his belt and his buttons, and turns out his toes.'
When the sands are all dry, he is gay as a lark,
And will talk in contemptuous tones of the Shark,
But, when the tide rises and sharks are around,
His voice has a timid and tremulous sound.
Alice seems to go backwards a bit in this chapter and is relieved later when she can just listen to the Mock Turtles Song. Although she is used to the nonsense of others by now, she is still having trouble with her own jumbled thoughts and confusion.
Who Stole the Tarts?
1. Alice had never been in a court of justice before, but she had read about them in books, and she was quite pleased to find that she knew the name of nearly everything there. `That's the judge,' she said to herself, `because of his great wig.' The judges in England wear wigs in court.
2. Consider your verdict,' the King said to the jury. `Not yet, not yet!' the Rabbit hastily interrupted. `There's a great deal to come before that!' Note the intelligence of the King.
3. [The Queen] said to one of the officers of the court, `Bring me the list of the singers in the last concert!' on which the wretched Hatter trembled so, that he shook both his shoes off. Why is the Hatter afraid?
4. Here one of the guinea-pigs cheered, and was immediately suppressed by the officers of the court. (As that is rather a hard word, I will just explain to you how it was done. They had a large canvas bag, which tied up at the mouth with strings: into this they slipped the guinea-pig, head first, and then sat upon it.) `I'm glad I've seen that done,' thought Alice. `I've so often read in the newspapers, at the end of trials, "There was some attempts at applause, which was immediately suppressed by the officers of the court," and I never understood what it meant till now.' Does she really understand what it means even now? Look up suppressed in dictionary,
5. Well, if I must, I must,' the King said, with a melancholy air, and, after folding his arms and frowning at the cook till his eyes were nearly out of sight, he said in a deep voice, `What are tarts made of? Why would the King be melancholy?
6. `Never mind!' said the King, with an air of great relief. `Call the next witness.' And he added in an undertone to the Queen, `Really, my dear, you must cross-examine the next witness. It quite makes my forehead ache!' Why is the king relieved? What does this tell us about the relationship between the king and queen?
7. Did you notice that Alice had started to grow again?
8. Did you notice how things return in this chapter? Make a list of five of these things:
____________________ ____________________ ____________________
1. `Oh, I beg your pardon!' she exclaimed in a tone of great dismay, and began picking them up again as quickly as she could, for the accident of the goldfish kept running in her head, and she had a vague sort of idea that they must be collected at once and put back into the jury-box, or they would die. What characteristic of Alices is demonstrated here? Is it one she has always had?
2. Some of the jury wrote it down `important,' and some `unimportant.' Alice could see this, as she was near enough to look over their slates; `but it doesn't matter a bit,' she thought to herself. Why doesnt it matter?
3. Well, I shan't go, at any rate,' said Alice: `besides, that's not a regular rule: you invented it just now.' How is Alice different here than earlier in the book? What does her attitude towards the king seem to be? Why do you think that she does not show him more respect?
4. `It proves nothing of the sort!' said Alice. `Why, you don't even know what they're about!' To whom does Alice say this? Why is this significant?
5. `That's the most important piece of evidence we've heard yet,' said the King, rubbing his hands; `so now let the jury--'
`If any one of them can explain it,' said Alice, (she had grown so large in the last few minutes that she wasn't a bit afraid of interrupting him,) `I'll give him sixpence. I don't believe there's an atom of meaning in it.' What is important about this line?
6. Notice that as Alice grows larger she seems to also become....(complete the sentence) ___________________________________.
7. `Who cares for you?' said Alice, (she had grown to her full size by this time.) `You're nothing but a pack of cards!' Why does this sentence seem to signal that Alice is ready to leave Wonderland?
8. . . . the whole place around her became alive the strange creatures of her little sister's dream. What do you think the point of sharing Alices dream might be?
9. What does the final paragraph tell us about what Carroll thought the point of his story was?
John McIlvain 1/25/03