Alice in Wonderland

Writing style and themes


Some of the book's adventures may have been based on and influenced by people, situations and buildings in Oxford and at Christ Church, e.g., the "Rabbit Hole," which symbolised the actual stairs in the back of the main hall in Christ Church. A carving of a griffon and rabbit, as seen in Ripon Cathedral, where Carroll's father was a canon, may have provided inspiration for the tale.[21]

Since Carroll was a mathematician at Christ Church, it has been suggested[22][23] that there are many references and mathematical concepts in both this story and Through the Looking-Glass; examples include:

  • In chapter 1, "Down the Rabbit-Hole", in the midst of shrinking, Alice waxes philosophic concerning what final size she will end up as, perhaps "going out altogether, like a candle"; this pondering reflects the concept of a limit.
  • In chapter 7, "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 (for example, "Why, you might just as well say that 'I see what I eat' is the same thing as 'I eat what I see'!"); in logic and mathematics, this is discussing an inverse relationship.
  • Also in chapter 7, Alice ponders what it means when the changing of seats around the circular table places them back at the beginning. This echoes a classic circular combinatorics problems, possibly dating from antiquity.
  • The Cheshire cat fades until it disappears entirely, leaving only its wide grin, suspended in the air, leading Alice to marvel and note that she has seen a cat without a grin, but never a grin without a cat. This echoes ancient questions in logic about substances and predicates.

As is common in other examples of children's literature (for example, the infamous gold standard reading of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz) there have been attempts to reinterpret Alice's Adventures in Wonderland as having a coded submersive layer of meaning. For example, literary scholar Melanie Bayley asserted in the magazine New Scientist 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.[24] However, such views are not widely held.

It has been suggested by several people, including Martin Gardner and Selwyn Goodacre,[22] that Dodgson had an interest in the French language, choosing to make references and puns about it in the story. It is most likely that these are references to French lessons—a common feature of a Victorian middle-class girl's upbringing. For example, in the second chapter Alice posits that the mouse may be French. She therefore chooses to speak the first sentence of her French lesson-book to it: "Où est ma chatte?" ("Where is my cat?"). In Henri Bué's French translation, Alice posits that the mouse may be Italian and speaks Italian to it.

Pat's "Digging for apples" could be a cross-language pun, as pomme de terre (literally; "apple of the earth") means potato and pomme means apple, which little English girls studying French would easily guess.[25]

In the second chapter, 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!'" These words correspond to the first five of Latin's six cases, in a traditional order established by medieval grammarians: mus (nominative), muris (genitive), muri (dative), murem (accusative), (O) mus (vocative). The sixth case, mure (ablative) is absent from Alice's recitation.

In the eighth chapter, three cards are painting the roses on a rose tree red, because they had accidentally planted a white-rose tree that The Queen of Hearts hates. Red roses symbolised the English House of Lancaster, while white roses were the symbol for their rival House of York. This scene is an allusion to the Wars of the Roses.[26]

Eating and devouring

Carina Garland notes how the world is "expressed via representations of food and appetite", naming Alice's frequent desire for consumption (of both food and words), her 'Curious Appetites'.[27] Often, the idea of eating coincides to make gruesome images. After the riddle "Why is a raven like a writing-desk?", the Hatter claims that Alice might as well say, "I see what I eat…I eat what I see" and so the riddle's solution, put forward by Boe Birns,[28] could be that "A raven eats worms; a writing desk is worm-eaten"; this idea of food encapsulates idea of life feeding on life, for the worm is being eaten and then becomes the eater  – a horrific image of mortality.

Nina Auerbach discusses how the novel revolves around eating and drinking which "motivates much of her [Alice's] behaviour", for the story is essentially about things "entering and leaving her mouth"[29] The animals of Wonderland are of particular interest, for Alice's relation to them shifts constantly because, as Lovell-Smith states, Alice's changes in size continually reposition her in the food chain, serving as a way to make her acutely aware of the 'eat or be eaten' attitude that permeates Wonderland.[30]

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