Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

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The Caterpillar Character Analysis

sits atop the magic mushroom that Alice finds in the forest. He has the appearance of a wise old professor – he smokes a hookah lazily and takes a very long time to say anything. He treats Alice wearily and with condescension, but also gives her advice and shows her how to eat the mushroom to grow and shrink.

The Caterpillar Quotes in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

The Alice's Adventures in Wonderland quotes below are all either spoken by The Caterpillar or refer to The Caterpillar. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Childhood and Adulthood Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Bantam Classics edition of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland published in 1984.
Chapter 4 Quotes

She stretched herself up on tiptoe, and peeped over the edge of the mushroom, and her eyes immediately met those of a large caterpillar, that was sitting on the top with its arms folded, quietly smoking a long hookah, and taking not the smallest notice of her or of anything else.

Related Characters: Alice, The Caterpillar
Page Number: 32
Explanation and Analysis:

This passage closes the fourth chapter and serves as the transition between Alice’s encounter with an oversized puppy and her pivotal conversation with the Caterpillar. Her decision to explore the mushroom only comes after she looks around for something else to eat or drink. This plotting demonstrates, first, how Alice is gradually learning the symbolic logic of Wonderland. She knows, by now, that her dreamworld is organized around digestible objects.

By connecting the idea of a magical food with the following meeting with the Caterpillar, Carroll also seems to imply that the conversation with the Caterpillar will offer a different, non-physical form of transformation. And this preference for psychological exploration comes into focus when the Caterpillar is introduced with the “long hookah,” a symbol with several interlocking meanings. It can be interpreted as an image of Eastern cultures (about which Europeans like Carroll often fantasized), as an indication of mind-altering substances, as a sign of laziness—or as a combination of all three. The Caterpillar’s uninterested response to Alice highlights his apathetic or addled state, setting the stage for the dreamlike quality of their ensuing conversation about identity.

It is important to note, however, that no convincing evidence has surfaced regarding Carroll himself ever using mind-altering substances, despite the fact that his interest in dreams and fantastical worlds, which is clearly on display in Alice in Wonderland, is often misread as a sign that he himself was a proponent or user of psychedelics. While it may be tempting to interpret the hookah-smoking caterpillar as a symbol for drugs, it is unlikely that Carroll intended such a meaning.

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Chapter 5 Quotes

'Who are YOU?' said the Caterpillar.
This was not an encouraging opening for a conversation. Alice replied, rather shyly, 'I--I hardly know, sir, just at present-- at least I know who I WAS when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.'

Related Characters: Alice (speaker), The Caterpillar (speaker)
Page Number: 34
Explanation and Analysis:

The Caterpillar’s question builds on Alice’s continued anxiety about her identity. Alice has previously ruminated internally on the issue, wondering how she can be the same person when she changes size so rapidly. So when the Caterpillar voices a similar inquiry, what should be a perfunctory question—asking a new person who they are—instead becomes a deep philosophical quandary.

Alice tries to reassure herself with a set of logical assertions. When she says she knew who she “WAS” previously, she points out that identity can only be known in retrospect. And she implies that understanding a past self does not guarantee comprehension of the present. Furthermore, she cannot pinpoint the exact moments of personal development, but rather notices the incongruity between the past self and the present one. From these two ideas, she arrives at the conclusion that she “must have been changed.” The verb “must” is important here, as it shows that Alice demands that her conclusions be based on rigorous logic, not only on observation or emotion.

From this conversation, we see how Wonderland teaches Alice to find new depths in simple actions and words—and how she has begin to search for ways, both logical and illogical, to make sense of those depths.

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The Caterpillar Character Timeline in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

The timeline below shows where the character The Caterpillar appears in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 4 - The Rabbit Sends in a Little Bill
Childhood and Adulthood Theme Icon
Dreams and Reality Theme Icon
...gets on tip-toes to see the top of it. Sitting on the mushroom is a Caterpillar, smoking a hookah pipe. (full context)
Chapter 5 - Advice from a Caterpillar
Childhood and Adulthood Theme Icon
Words, Meaning and Meaninglessness Theme Icon
The Nature of Being and Not Being Theme Icon
The Caterpillar lazily addresses Alice, by saying “Who are YOU?” Alice explains that she doesn’t know how... (full context)
Childhood and Adulthood Theme Icon
Words, Meaning and Meaninglessness Theme Icon
The Nature of Being and Not Being Theme Icon
Alice turns away, but the Caterpillar calls her back and tells her he has something important to say. He tells her... (full context)
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
After another long pause, the Caterpillar wants to know what size Alice would like to be. Alice says she doesn’t have... (full context)
Chapter 10 - The Lobster Quadrille
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
...from the beginning. They listen intently. They are very interested in the part about the Caterpillar, and they tell her to recite another rhyme to see if she has forgotten it.... (full context)