Alice in Wonderland

Alice in Wonderland Summary and Analysis of Chapters 4-6

The White Rabbit comes, fretting about his missing things and the wrath of the Dutchess. Alice looks around for the White Rabbit's gloves and fan, but everything has changed: she sees that hall with its many doors have disappeared completely. The White Rabbit sees Alice and mistakes him for his maid. When he orders her back to his home to fetch his gloves and fan, she hurries off without correcting him. In the White Rabbit's house, she finds a fan and gloves and a tiny bottle, similar to the one she drank from before. There is no sign instructing her to drink, but she begins to drink anyway. Suddenly, she has grown so large that she can barely fit in the house. There is no apparent way out. She hears the rabbit outside the house, calling for Mary Ann. The door is blocked, so the rabbit resolves to go in through the window. Alice, nervous about being caught in her present state reaches out the window with her hand and makes a grab at the air. She hears a shattering of glass; the rabbit must have fallen through a cucumber-frame. The rabbit calls for one of his servants, Pat, and demands that the arm be removed. Alice makes another grab at the air, and this time she hears both animals crash down into a cucumber-frame.

The animals decide to send Bill, another servant, down the chimney. Alice manages to wedge her foot into the chimney, and when she hears Bill scuttling down, she gives a good solid kick. Bill goes flying. The animals and Alice are at a standoff. When she hears them planning to set the house on fire, she calls out that they'd better not. Before long, the launch a barrowful of little pebbles in through the window, some of which hit Alice in the face. But after they land, the pebbles turn into little cakes. Alice eats one of them, and it shrinks her down to the size of the little animals; she runs as fast as she can out of the house and beyond. As she runs away, she sees Bill (who is a lizard) being supported by two guinea pigs.

She finds herself in a dense forest, and she decides to search for something to restore her to her normal size, after which she will go and find that lovely garden she saw through the little door (Chapters 1-2). Suddenly, Alice finds herself face-to-face with a puppy. She starts to play fetch with it, but she soon realizes that at her present size, the puppy poses a considerable threat. Alice barely manages to escape being trampled.

Wandering through fields of giant flowers and blades of grass, Alice searches for something to eat or drink that will restore her to her full size. She comes upon a mushroom, on which is sitting a blue caterpillar smoking a hookah.

Analysis:

More growing. The story plays again with the definition of "growing up." Alice talks to herself when she is stuck in the house, and resolves to write a book about her strange adventures when she is grown up, but then realizes mournfully that she is "grown up" already, in terms of size. In Chapter 2, she made a similar statement when she berated herself, "a great girl," for crying so much. But Alice's size is juxtaposed to her naïve comments and worries; these moments emphasize that growing up is more than a matter of size.

In fact, many of Alice's victories come when she is small, and being large is often a great hindrance. Against the puppy, Alice has nothing but her wits to help her against the animal. She manages to escape. And note that in the house she is impeded by her giant size, and is only able to escape when she shrinks down again. Size doesn't matter as much as adaptability, and Alice's true "growing up" comes with her adaptation to each new challenge.

A recurring theme is Alice's desire to see the garden. Wonderland is in this way similar to dreams with an unfulfilled desire. But the garden itself merely structures Alice's journey: after each new adventure, she presses on toward the garden, but it is the incidents along the way that are making her into a wiser person.

Chapter 5: Advice From a Caterpillar

Summary:

The Caterpillar asks Alice who she is, and she can give no satisfactory reply; she has changed so many times in one day that she feels she can no longer answer the question with certainty. The Caterpillar tells her it is not so confusing to change. They have a conversation in which the very mellow Caterpillar gives important advice to the irritable Alice: she must keep her temper. He asks her to recite "You are old, Father William," which Alice does, although afterward they agree that she recited incorrectly. He also tells her that she will grow accustomed to the sensitivity of the animals. Alice expresses a wish to be larger. The Caterpillar contradicts Alice repeatedly, with absolute composure. After a while he crawls off through the grass, telling her that one side of the mushroom will make her grow taller, and the other side will make her grow shorter.

Alice is not sure which side is which, so she bites into one morsel. She is suddenly squashed down, her chin against her feet; she hastily eats the other morsel, and her body elongates tremendously. Her neck becomes so long that she cannot see her shoulders, and she finds she can use her neck as if she were a serpent. Her head makes its way through the lives of a tree, and she happens on a Pigeon, who mistakes Alice for a serpent. The Pigeon fears for her eggs. Alice tries to assure the Pigeon that she is not a serpent, but Alice must answer truthfully when the Pigeon asks if she has eaten eggs. The Pigeon argues that even if Alice is a little girl, if little girls eat eggs then they must be a kind of serpent. Alice is silenced by the novel idea. After some more arguing, the Pigeon shoos Alice off.

Alice eats from each of the mushroom bits, using them to balance each other, until she brings herself to her normal size. She feels strange to be her correct size again, but she is pleased that one part of her plan is now complete. She resolves to go find the garden, but she comes across a charming miniature house. Alice wants to go inside, and she considerately opts not to frighten them with her normal size; she eats mushroom until she is nine inches high.

Analysis:

The conversation between Alice and the Caterpillar is worth a close look, and makes for an excellent paper topic. The discussion brings into focus the themes of change and growing up; for the Caterpillar, for whom dramatic transformation is a natural part of life, change is neither upsetting nor surprising. He is unshakably calm, with the exception of when Alice complains of being only three inches tall (the Caterpillar is exactly three inches tall). He also seems to be less belligerent than many of the creatures of Wonderland, even though he contradicts almost everything Alice says. He is a sage-figure, whose mysterious silences and terse responses provide a sharp contrast to Alice's exasperation and confused replies. The game in Wonderland is change and transformation, and the Caterpillar understands the game that Alice is trying to learn how to play.

The poem Alice recites, "You Are Old, Father William," is a parody of "The Old Man's Comforts and How He Gained Them," by Robert Southey. The poem is in line with the theme of change and growth: a young man asks his father how he has maintained so many astounding abilities despite his old age.

The Pigeon's classification of little girls as a type of serpent is one of many humorous logical exercises by the creatures of Wonderland. Remember that Carroll was a mathematician with a love of logic puzzles. The creatures of Wonderland always have a reason and a method to their nonsense. They are constantly reasoning their way to absurd conclusions, to the reader's delight and to Alice's confusion.

Chapter 6: Pig and Pepper

Summary:

As Alice looks at the house and tries to decide what to do next, a fish dressed as a footman arrives and knocks on the door. A frog dressed as a footman answers, and the Fish-Footman delivers an invitation from the Queen to the Duchess to play croquet. When the two footmen bow, their curls become entangled, and Alice laughs so hard she has to leave; when she returns the Fish is gone and the Frog-Footman is sitting on the ground. When Alice goes to knock on the door the Frog-Footman tells her that it's no use. Alice tries to talk with him, but she finds him quite contrary, and so she goes into the house herself. She's now in the kitchen, where the Duchess is sitting in the middle of the room, nursing a baby, and the cook is busying herself over a large cauldron of soup. There is also a cat, sitting on the hearth, grinning widely. The air is full of pepper, and the baby is crying.

Alice asks why the cat is grinning, and the Duchess responds that he grins because he is a Cheshire cat. Alice tries to talk to the Duchess, but the Duchess is quite rude. The cook begins to throw everything within reach at the Duchess and the baby, and the Duchess takes no notice, even when the objects hit her. Alice is terrified for the child, but the Duchess tells her to mind her business. Alice answers her smartly. The Duchess begins to throw the baby into the air, singing a song about beating children, before she finally tosses the baby to Alice and tells her to nurse the child herself if she likes. The Duchess heads off to get ready for her croquet match. Alice, concerned for the child's welfare, takes it with her when she leaves the house, but before long the baby has turned into a pig. She puts it down and it trots away into the woods.

Alice soon runs into the Cheshire cat, whom she asks for directions. He points the way to the Hatter's home, and to the March Hare's place, but he warns her that they're both mad. He also says that everyone around these parts is quite mad, including himself and Alice; if she weren't mad, she wouldn't have come. They talk, the Cheshire cat disappearing and reappearing the whole while. He finally disappears a final time, tail first and grin last. Alice decides to go the March Hare's place, but she feels a sense of foreboding when she reaches his home. It is covered with fear and has two great ears. She uses the mushroom to rise her height to two feet, but she still feels quite anxious as she enters.

Analysis:

Alice shows a considerable amount of composure in this chapter. She never breaks down crying, and she somehow manages to keep her temper despite the argumentative creatures she meets. The theme of growing up works its way through this chapter. We meet the Duchess, who almost at first glance tells Alice that she knows very little (71); Alice is quite displeased by the insult, but she holds her own. A moment later, she shows she is adapting to Wonderland's logic when she answers the Duchess smartly. The Duchess says pointedly that the world would go around faster if everyone minded his own business; Alice responds, in Wonderland fashion, that the world going around faster would not be a good thing. The days would become too short. She literalizes the figure of speech and wins another little victory.

Some more of the risks of growing up are apparent in the transformation of the little baby. One of the greatest dangers of making the transition from childhood to adulthood is growing into a disagreeable adult. The child's transformation into a pig (the pig being a symbol for an unpleasant person) is played on for it's full value as a metaphor. The Cheshire cat asks also what became of the child; when Alice tells him that the baby turned into a pig, the cat responds coyly that he thought it would. When the pig trots off into the woods, she thinks of other children she knows who might make good pigs.

Many characters take their names from old expressions. The Cheshire cat's name comes from the phrase, "to grin like a Cheshire cat," an expression of uncertain origin. The March Hare is insane; an old phrase is "mad as a March hare," referring to the animal's wild behavior during mating season. The Hatter's madness makes allusion to the real-life tendency of hatters to go mad; hatters sometimes went insane because of the poisonous mercury used to cure felt.