Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

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Alice's Adventures in Wonderland Chapter 4 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
It is instead the White Rabbit, looking for his fan and gloves. He is very worried about being late, thinking the Duchess will have him executed. Alice tries to find his things but the room has changed out of all recognition. The rabbit spots Alice and calls impatiently to her to fetch another pair of gloves and a fan from his house. He has taken her for his housemaid, she thinks, but she runs off in the direction of the rabbit’s home nevertheless.
The White Rabbit’s fears about execution raise the specter of both death and social hierarchy within the realm of Wonderland. That this is a rabbit worrying about such things makes it funny, but nonetheless the Rabbits fear is well. And then the Rabbit turns around and asserts that hierarchy against Alice, thinking she is a servant and ordering her around.
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Alice soon arrives at a little house with ‘W. Rabbit’ on a plaque next to the door. Alice goes in without knocking. She considers how strange it is to be a rabbit’s messenger. She imagines what Dinah would say if she could order Alice around. She makes her way to a little dressing room and finds several pairs of gloves.
Alice finds it strange that she has wound up a rabbit’s servant, and that a rabbit should have a nice house and nice gloves. But Alice’s surprise raises a deeper question: why is anyone in the real adult world a servant to someone else; why does anyone have nice gloves?
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Alice also finds a bottle of liquid – it is unlabeled but sure to make something interesting happen so she drinks it down. She hopes it’ll make her larger again. It certainly does, but she soon regrets drinking so much at once, because in a mere moment, she has filled the room and has one foot up the chimney. Alice thinks she would much rather be back at home. Everything is so very strange. She thinks she ought to write a book about it when she grows up, but then, confusingly, she is very big already.
Note how Alice conflates the ideas of size with the idea of growing up. For a child, the two are interchangeable, and the child tends to think that when they “get big” they will naturally become wiser and more knowledgeable too. But now Alice is big, and she’s just as confused as she was before. It’s also worth noting a deeper observation here, too, which is that even for real adults wisdom doesn’t necessarily come with size or growing up. Note also how, whenever Alice is particularly upset, she wants to go home, to regain the comfort of being a protected child as opposed to an adventurer out on her own in the world.
Themes
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Alice has a conversation with herself about the pros and cons of never growing older, until she is interrupted by the White Rabbit impatient for his gloves. She hears the little feet pattering up the stairs and then hears the rabbit try to open the door, but Alice—huge now—is blocking it. She hears the rabbit mutter that he will instead try to go through the window so she puts her hand through and bats him away so that he falls into his vegetable garden. Alice hears the Rabbit angrily asking the gardener to remove the giant person from his house.
Growing up is occurring to Alice like a choice between two lives. She wonders if she will stay large but not get older. She thinks that she would like not to get old, but what if she will always have to learn lessons like a child? Both lives are unsatisfactory. Just as she is being attacked from the outside when the White Rabbit sees her as an intruder, she also attacks herself and sees herself as a kind of foreign object.
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After a brief silence, Alice hears the sound of a cart and a group of the gardener’s animal friends getting out ladders and ropes, and someone called Bill being chosen to go down the chimney. Alice feels sorry for this Bill, having everything charged to him, but nevertheless, she puts her foot as far as it can go down the chimney and gives Bill a kick.
The similarities continue between the animal world of Wonderland and Alice’s world – the White Rabbit, like a country gentleman, has a number of animals in his employ for household tasks and these all have their positions in the food chain, Bill the lizard being the lowest.
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The White Rabbit suggests burning the house down, but Alice threatens to set Dinah on him. Then the animals try throwing pebbles in through the windows. To Alice’s surprise, some of the pebbles start turning into cakes. She thinks that eating one would surely make her smaller. She is delighted when she starts shrinking immediately. She runs out of the house, past Bill and the other animals, into the forest. She plans to find something to make her a little larger so that she can finally get into the garden.
Notice how Wonderland revolves around Alice and her experience. Edible, magical things seem to be planted for her at each new location, for example. We never see the other characters eating and becoming larger or smaller, this is a phenomenon reserved for Alice—Wonderland, as a product of her dream, is something that is focused solely around her.
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But Alice doesn’t know how to become the right size. As she considers the problem, she is beckoned from a nearby tree, by a giant puppy. She coaxes the puppy down but then she realizes that such a giant and probably hungry puppy might rather eat her than play. She picks up a stick instead and the puppy leaps down and is very entertained by the stick, charging at it until he’s tired and closes his eyes, giving Alice the perfect getaway. Now Alice turns her attention to finding something to eat. She sees a huge mushroom, and thinks it might do the trick. She gets on tip-toes to see the top of it. Sitting on the mushroom is a Caterpillar, smoking a hookah pipe.
Alice meets characters that contradict themselves, which helps her to puzzle out her own contradictions as she is a child and growing up at the same time. The puppy is a good example of one of these characters. Alice encounters him only briefly but he immediately embodies two different identities, one a cute baby animal that Alice is probably used to petting, and the other a giant, threatening creature that could eat her. She is beginning to understand that the puppy can be both things at once, just as Dinah the cat can be her beloved pet and a bird-killer.
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