Alice in Wonderland

Alice in Wonderland Summary and Analysis of Chapters 10-12

The Mock Turtle and the Gryphon talk with non-stop puns. They talk to Alice about the dances they used to have: among them was the Lobster Quadrille, a dance that sounds somewhat like a square dance, except everyone has a lobster for a partner. They demonstrate for Alice, without using the lobsters, and Alice attends politely but is quite relieved when it's all over. They explain some of the parts of the song, puns raging out of control, and then they ask Alice to tell them about her story. When she gets to the part about not being able to recite her lessons correctly, they ask her to recite; as before, the poems come out completely different from how they were when she memorized them. The Mock Turtle sings a song about Turtle Soup, tears in his eyes the whole while. He is about to repeat the chorus when they hear someone shouting that the trial is about to begin. The Gryphon takes Alice by the hand and runs off to watch the trial. As she is dragged off by the Gryphon, she can hear the Mock Turtle continue his song.


The puns are too numerous to go through here; the Gryphon and the Mock Turtle are good characters to examine if writing a paper on language and wordplay. The sea where they grew up is a place where every possible pun is exploited.

Alice continues to show how she has grown. When she first arrived in Wonderland, she managed to offend everyone by talking about how her cat catches and eats certain animals; although she almost mentions that she has eaten lobster to the Gryphon and the Mock Turtle, she catches herself just in time. She also stops herself from saying that she has had whiting for dinner. She has learned from her previous mistakes, and so she is able to keep things civil between her and her peculiar entertainers.

The Mock Turtle is a strange figure. He is always crying, although the Gryphon says confidentially to Alice in Chapter 9 that the Mock Turtle's sadness is mostly in his own head. But his tears coupled with his song make for a rather eerie moment. Perhaps his sadness comes from the fact that Mock Turtle is meant to be consumed; in real life, it only exists as part of the name of a soup, and in Wonderland Mock Turtles only exists to be made into soup. Remember that the Mock Turtle tearfully told Alice that he was once a real turtle. Though a real turtle need not be eaten, a Mock Turtle probably knows how he will end up. The Mock Turtle's song is about beautiful turtle soup, and even as Alice runs off to the trial she can hear his melancholy chorus. The song is yet another moment that touches on the theme of death.

Chapter 11: Who Stole the Tarts?


The King of Hearts is the judge, and the jurors are various animals, some of whom Alice has already met. The White Rabbit recites the nursery rhyme about the knave of hearts stealing tarts from the Queen of Hearts; this is the accusation against the defendant.

The first witness is the Hatter. The king threatens the Hatter all through the cross examination, and that Hatter becomes more and more nervous. During the cross examination, Alice feels herself starting to grow. Also, two guinea pigs, at different points, make noise and are suppressed. The narrator explains that "suppressed" means being stuffed into a large sack and then sat upon. Alice is quite glad to witness it, because she had read the word many times in newspapers and never knew what it meant. The Hatter is excused, and he takes off to go back to his tea. When he gets outside, the Queen calls for him to be executed, but the Hatter manages to escape.

The Cook is the next witness. She is most uncooperative. The Dormouse pipes up during the Cook's cross-examination, and the queen furiously calls for the Dormouse's suppression, expulsion, beheading, etc.; during the scuffle involved in turning the Dormouse out of court, the cook escapes. The king asks the queen to conduct the next cross-examination. The White Rabbit calls the next witness: it's Alice.


Carroll's explanation of "suppression" is another amusing moment of wordplay. He takes advantage of the word's broad range of meanings, as played off against the very specific meaning the word has in the context of newspaper articles reporting trials. Alice makes the mistake (as children often do) of using a very specific example of "suppression" as the best definition of a word.

The proceedings of the trial are obviously unjust, and Carroll is lightly satirizing the justice system. It is not a specific satire of justice as it existed in Victorian England; it can more accurately be read as a satire of some of the dangers involved in trials. The judge and the ever-present queen are tyrannical; the jurors are simpletons who barely know their own names. Alice is appalled by the injustice of the proceedings; it is one of the marks of her basic compassion and her growth as a person that she will refuse to be intimidated or won over by the workings of this court. The theme of growing up is central here. Note that without eating any mushrooms, Alice begins to grow. She also barely notices it. Her growth here is a metaphor for gradually growing into an adult. She entered Wonderland as a tiny version of herself, but she will leave a giant.

Chapter 12:


Alice gets up, forgetting how large she has grown; she knocks over the jury box by accident. She puts the box upright again, and puts all the jurors back into place. The king begins to cross-examine her, bombarding her with bad logic; but Alice remains completely composed, and is able to point out some of the inconsistencies in what he says. The White Rabbit presents a completely ambiguous poem, in an unmarked letter that purportedly was written by the Knave of Hearts. The letter is unsigned, and the characters and objects in the poem are only referred to in pronoun form. What's more, the situation does not seem to fit the Knave's situation. But the King and the others interpret the letter as damning evidence against the Knave.

Alice speaks up through the presentation of this evidence. She denies that there is any meaning in the letter, and she refuses to pipe down. When the Queen calls out for her beheading, Alice declares that she is not afraid; after all, they are only a pack of cards. Suddenly all the cards rise up and fly into her face . . .

And Alice wakes up, with her head in her older sister's lap. She has been dreaming. She tells her sister about all of her strange adventures in Wonderland, and then runs into her house to have her tea.

Her sister remains, half-dosing, dreaming herself about Alice's adventures in Wonderland. She also dreams of Alice in years to come, a grown woman who will retain her childlike goodness and compassion. The adult Alice will have children of her own, and perhaps she will entertain them with the story of Wonderland.


We see Alice at the trial as one who cannot be intimidated, or even outreasoned. She manages to fight her way through the king's poor reasoning, and she also stands up against the unjust evidence. She has grown, in all senses: in size, but also in her capacity for thinking independently. She also has a sense of justice, and she refuses to tolerate the terrible proceedings of the unjust trial. The letter, with its poem full of pronouns, plays again with the ambiguity of pronouns. It also satirizes the use of evidence, not only in trials, but in all situations; as people often do in real life, the people in the trial extrapolate the conclusions they want from evidence that is far from sufficient.

The dream ends darkly, as the cards rise up and fly into her face. Although Alice is then a giant and perhaps has little to fear, this moment still hints at some of the difficulties of the world. Alice makes enemies of the Card Court because she refuses to play their games as they want her to; in a book where Alice learns game after game, this final game is one where Alice must learn the rules but then subvert them. In refusing to be bound by the unjust proceedings of the court, she comes into her own as a developed person with a sense of justice and a capacity for independent thought. The final moment of the dream suggest difficulty, but also Alice's ability to stand up for herself. When the cards fly in her face, she screams, but Carroll tells us that the scream is half-fear and half-anger. The attack is frightening, but Alice is prepared to fight back. The waking world continues with this theme of growth, as Alice's sister imagines Alice in the years to come, a strong adult who retains some of her child-like innocence and compassion.