Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

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Alice's Adventures in Wonderland Chapter 11 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The arrive at the court, where the King and Queen are seated on thrones and the kingdom is assembled and there is a table of tasty-looking tarts in the center – the court is just as Alice remembers courts described in the books she’s read. She can tell that the man in the wig is the judge. It also happens to be the King.
The court looks real and official to Alice—just as she thinks it should look based on the things she's learned and read. She seems to think, too, that it will run like a real court, dispensing justice impartially, providing a logic and fairness—a rules were rules exist and are followed—that are absent in the rest of Wonderland. That the King is the judge clues the reader in that this will certainly not be the case. By presenting a trial that Alice thinks will finally provide order and justice, and then making that trial ridiculous, Carroll suggests that law in the real world, too, may not operate as purely and cleanly as Alice naively and innocently thinks it does.
Themes
Childhood and Adulthood Theme Icon
Dreams and Reality Theme Icon
Alice points out to the Gryphon the twelve jurors, who are all birds and other creatures and are busy writing things on slates. They are writing down their names, the Gryphon tells her, else they might forget them before the trial is over. “Stupid things!” says Alice, and the King calls for order in the court. The jurors proceed to write “stupid things” on their slates in all kinds of spellings. She also notices that one of them has a squeaky pencil, which won’t do at all, so she sneaks up behind him and steals it so that he must write with his finger for the rest of the trial.
The image of the jurors writing on their slates conjures the idea of serious people taking notes in order to ensure they are ready to give a fair verdict. The reality that they are writing down their own names puts the lie to that initial image, and severely outrages Alice's sense of how a trial should be. Alice steals the one jurors pencil in order to maintain the decorum of the trial, to make the trial seem more like what she thinks a trial should be.
Themes
Childhood and Adulthood Theme Icon
Words, Meaning and Meaninglessness Theme Icon
The King finally calls the White Rabbit to start the proceedings. The Rabbit unravels a scroll and reads the accusation that the Knave of Hearts has stolen the tarts that the Queen made. He calls the first witness, the Hatter, who comes in still finishing his tea and bread. The King tells the Hatter to remove his hat. The Hatter explains that the hat is not his to remove, as he doesn't own the hats but instead sells them. The King and Queen are very suspicious of the Hatter. The King warns him not to be nervous or he will be executed on the spot.
The trial begins normally enough. But with the Hatter's entrance as a witness the sense of the trial as a logical, justice-infused affair immediately disappears. First the King and Hatter become confused over the word "his," which the Hatter interprets over-technically. Yet the King's response is over-the-top and impossible—to threaten to behead someone if they act nervous is certain to make them nervous, of course.
Themes
Childhood and Adulthood Theme Icon
Words, Meaning and Meaninglessness Theme Icon
The Nature of Being and Not Being Theme Icon
Alice feels a strange sensation and realizes that she’s growing again. The Dormouse notices the bench becoming tighter and tells her to stop. She retorts that he is growing too, but the Dormouse insists his kind of growing is normal, and skulks away from Alice. Meanwhile the Hatter is getting terribly nervous. The King orders him to give his evidence at once. The Hatter begins, saying that he is a poor man, and describes a particular tea party, and the thinness of his bread and the twinkling of the tea. The March Hare anticipates that he will soon be accused of something and proactively denies it.
Alice’s growing is no longer determined by her eating and drinking or by some other catalyst object like the White Rabbit’s gloves, her body suddenly grows of its own accord – this is the scary part of growing up for any child, the feeling of being out of control of your own body. Meanwhile, the animals such as the Doormouse are all anxious to avoid drawing attention to themselves while the Hatter becomes visibly nervous on the stand and the March Hare proactively defends himself against what seems like it will be a false implication from the Hatter to save himself—in other words, the very violent "justice" promised by the court warps the testimony of those in the court.
Themes
Childhood and Adulthood Theme Icon
Dreams and Reality Theme Icon
Words, Meaning and Meaninglessness Theme Icon
The Nature of Being and Not Being Theme Icon
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The Hatter continues describing the tea party in question. When he claims he can’t remember what the Dormouse said, the King orders that he must remember or be executed. The Hatter says again that he is a poor man. The King says he is a poor speaker, to which there is a cheer from the guinea-pig section of the court and officers have to sit on the guinea-pigs to suppress the noise. The King is unimpressed with the Hatter’s testimony and tells him to stand down and be gone before the Queen’s officers can behead him.
The Hatter’s difficulty in remembering and recounting the events of a particular tea party reminds us of Alice’s own difficulties remembering. Just like nightmares tend to do, this dream world shows Alice her anxieties exaggerated. This time, she feels acutely the danger of forgetting and being removed from the rhymes and innocence of childhood when the Hatter is told that if he doesn’t remember, he’ll be killed. At the same time, those running the trial again turn to violence as the means of controlling the actions of witnesses (even if the witnesses themselves can't control those actions).
Themes
Dreams and Reality Theme Icon
Words, Meaning and Meaninglessness Theme Icon
The Nature of Being and Not Being Theme Icon
The next witness is the Duchess’s cook. The cook carries with her a pepper pot and has the whole court sneezing. She refuses to give evidence, and the White Rabbit tells the King that he must cross-examine her. So reluctantly, the King asks the cook about the composition of tarts. The Dormouse interjects that the tarts are made of treacle and is ordered to leave, but in the flurry of his removal from the court, the cook disappears, so the White Rabbit calls the next witness. To Alice’s complete surprise, her own name is called.
The cook and the Doormouse offer a moment of levity in the trial—the cook with her characteristic obstinacy (which shows the King's constant threats of violence to be all show and no actual bite) and the Doormouse's characteristic trait of seeing treacle as the only meaningful detail. The comedy of the situation also serves to make it more impactful when Alice is suddenly chosen as the next witness. As a witness, Alice will be not just a watcher of the trial. She will be part of it, experiencing its administration of "justice."
Themes
Dreams and Reality Theme Icon
The Nature of Being and Not Being Theme Icon