Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

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Childhood and Adulthood Theme Analysis

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LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Childhood and Adulthood Theme Icon

Alice’s experiences in Wonderland can be taken as a kind of exaggerated metaphor for the experience of growing up, both in terms of physically growing up and coming to understand the world of adults and how that world differs from a child's expectation of it. Alice’s anxiety about growing up and about the wide world beyond her familiar comforts can be seen in her constant evaluation of her own size and worth. She physically grows and shrinks again and again in the story, at times not even able to see her whole shape. Her preoccupation with growing and shrinking, and finding the right size for what she needs to do, evokes how disorienting the idea of growing up can be. The physical changes can be both frightening and exhilarating.

Alice’s sense of how life should be, how she, as a child, has been taught about life, can be seen in the stories she tells, which are full of goodness, love and affection. Whenever she meets a character that challenges her or appears rude, she recites the lessons and proverbial phrases that she has overheard in the classroom and from her parents. “`You should learn not to make personal remarks,'” says Alice to the Hatter. In this way, Alice’s Wonderland allows her to be both child and adult at the same time – she tests out her authority and expertise in just the way her parents and teachers must tell her what to do, but at the same time she is forced to confront the fact that people, adults, do make personal remarks (along with other things she has been taught are bad.)

The adults in Alice in Wonderland order Alice around and give her advice and act like they are wise, but their orders are ridiculous and often cruel (like the Queen shouting at Alice about her impertinence when Alice is only being logical, their lectures are dry and boring, and sometimes their stories are both tragic and completely irrational, such as that of the Mock-Turtle). The “adults” of Wonderland show themselves to be less trustworthy, less good, than adults should be from the point of view of an innocent child. Further, the adults can be violent. In the Duchess’ house, Alice hears the Duchess say “Off with her head” and thinks nothing of it, amid the absurd cooking rituals of the cook and the howling of the pig-baby. But as the dream goes on, this threat of beheading, of killing, becomes more real as it is spouted and over and over within the context of the ridiculous trial of the Queen of Hearts. The contradictions and inconsistencies of the adult world with how adults have told Alice she should behave is hereby revealed to not just be something that’s funny and ridiculous (though it is that), it is also frightening and dangerous. The context of Wonderland allows Carrol to explore these ideas in a safe space of a “dream,” but by creating such a space it allows him to explore those ideas more fully than he could in a realistic novel.

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Childhood and Adulthood ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Childhood and Adulthood appears in each chapter of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Childhood and Adulthood Quotes in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

Below you will find the important quotes in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland related to the theme of Childhood and Adulthood.
Chapter 1 Quotes

Alice opened the door and found that it led into a small passage, not much larger than a rat-hole: she knelt down and looked along the passage into the loveliest garden you ever saw. How she longed to get out of that dark hall, and wander about among those beds of bright flowers and those cool fountains, but she could not even get her head though the doorway.

Related Characters: Alice
Related Symbols: The Garden
Page Number: 5
Explanation and Analysis:

At this point in the text, Alice has just followed the White Rabbit down the rabbit hole and has met her first Wonderland obstacle: she is too big to fit through the “rat-hole” doorway.

This moment is crucial because it establishes the absurd world of Wonderland, in which normal physical and spatial logic does not apply. Further, the portrayal of Alice as desperate, but unable, to get outside captures profound aspects of childhood: the desire to play and the restraint placed on that desire by society, whether parental rules in the “real” world or a too-small door here. (It’s also worth noting that these images are reminiscent of the romantic gardens of which Carroll’s contemporaries wrote, as well as the environments he may have been accustomed to seeing around Oxford College, where he taught—gardens where children often weren’t allowed to play.)

The fact that Alice can’t even get her head through the doorway also indicates that she tries to get through the doorway, implying a child’s wishful belief that wanting something enough can make the impossible become possible. While the tiny door is itself an absurd and illogical thing to find in a big dark hall, Alice’s inability to get through it here creates a sense that there is some logic to this world that makes sense: big things can’t pass through small openings. But moments later Alice will shrink. Thus this image of Alice beside the small door creates a sense of logical stability that the novel then immediately subverts—Alice is able to get through, and so her childish effort to get through an absurdly small door is rewarded rather than proved to be silly, as it would in the “real” world. Wonderland is a world where rules can get broken precisely in the way that a child might wish real world rules could be broken.


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'What a curious feeling!' said Alice; 'I must be shutting up like a telescope .'

Related Characters: Alice (speaker)
Related Symbols: Eating and Drinking, Growing and Shrinking
Page Number: 6
Explanation and Analysis:

Alice says this line immediately after drinking the “DRINK ME” vial that causes her to shrink down to a small enough size to pass through the rat-hole sized passage. The shrinking and growing Alice experiences in this scene (and throughout the book) bring up Carroll's themes of growing up and moving from childhood to adulthood—a disorienting change of size and even identity.

The choice of the telescope image is also interesting for several reasons. Carroll could have chosen a more traditional sentence about shrinking, but instead we have a reference to a specific scientific device. The mechanical telescope can collapse to become larger or smaller, and its main use as an instrument is to change visual scale. It takes an object far away and hardly visible and expands it so the viewer can see more clearly. So while Alice may shut up like a telescope, the telescope itself actually expands things: another experiment with scale in the illogical rules of Wonderland.

This is actually the second time the telescope image is used in this scene. When Alice is looking around for a way to enter the door, she imagines a “book of rules for shutting people up like telescopes,” Her wish then directly leads to this moment in which she actually is shutting up like a telescope—further emphasizing the dream-like reality of Wonderland, in which some wishes or desires manifest themselves in fantastical ways.

Chapter 2 Quotes

'But if I'm not the same, the next question is, Who in the world am I? Ah, THAT'S the great puzzle!' And she began thinking over all the children she knew that were of the same age as herself, to see if she could have been changed for any of them.

Related Characters: Alice (speaker)
Page Number: 10
Explanation and Analysis:

Alice is moved to this existential question after she has grown very large from eating the “EAT ME” cake. She is confused about how the same self can be both so small and so large in quick succession, as well as how her current adventures are compatible with her normal life the day before. She wonders if she has perhaps taken on someone else’s identity and tries to reassure herself by listing why she has not become a different young girl. She then tries (and fails) to do arithmetic and to list geographic capitols.

This quote gets to the heart of one of the book’s preoccupations: how do we define identity? Here, Alice asks herself whether she can reasonably consider herself the same person if she has undergone such a dramatic physical change. That Alice would ask herself these questions suggests the instability of childhood identity (though one could also argue that she only grows and shrinks as she does, or is in Wonderland at all, because her unformed childhood identity makes it possible for her to do so). Yet Alice also attempts to use logic to answer the question for herself, eliminating possibilities and trying to assert her selfhood by showing that her mind remains unchanged through the display of knowledge. That she fails to display any such knowledge is humorous and another indicator of being a child, but her instinct to even attempt such methods suggests the adult she will inevitably grow up to become. 

Alice's childish question is also, on deeper reflection, a profound one: Is the idea of a stable, continuous identity even a realistic one? Is there a point of change at which a person becomes someone else? A person who changes his behavior might refer to himself as becoming a "new man," after all. Alice's question, spurred by her physical change, can be seen as a penetrating question about the human condition in the face of other sorts of change: intellectual, emotional, or any kind of maturation.

Chapter 3 Quotes

'But who is to give the prizes?' quite a chorus of voices asked.
'Why, SHE, of course,' said the Dodo, pointing to Alice with one finger; and the whole party at once crowded round her, calling out in a confused way, 'Prizes! Prizes!'

Related Characters: The Dodo (speaker)
Page Number: 19
Explanation and Analysis:

These lines come just after the Dodo has led the other animals in a “Caucus-Race”: a nonsensical competition in which the group runs aimlessly and without rules until they are suddenly instructed to stop. After ruminating for a while, the Dodo decides that all the animals have won and that they will all receive prizes from Alice.

The passage underscores the illogical nature of Wonderland, offers a political parody, and shows increased maturation in Alice’s character. Carroll implies that politicians, like these animals, race in caucuses without sensible rules and without logical reward systems. The political stand-ins here receive prizes based not on aptitude or success, but on the whims of a Dodo and a child. It is notable that a Dodo decides who has won the race, as Dodo birds are considered symbols of stupidity and irrelevance, due to their rapid seventeenth-century extinction. Thus the leader and arbiter of the pack would seem the least qualified to make any decisions on who had won the race.

By asking Alice to apportion the gifts, the Dodo further inverts the authority structure one might expect from the scene. Alice plays, here, the role of the more mature adult, responding to the “confused” crowd. As she gives away sweets to the other animals, she is left only with a thimble, which the Dodo ceremoniously presents to her. Not only does this underscore the illogical nature of Wonderland and its allegorical political system, but it also points to Alice’s development into a more empathetic and adult figure, in which she sacrifices of herself to provide for the animals around her.

Chapter 4 Quotes

“It was much pleasanter at home,' thought poor Alice, 'when one wasn't always growing larger and smaller, and being ordered about by mice and rabbits. I almost wish I hadn't gone down that rabbit-hole--and yet--and yet--it's rather curious, you know, this sort of life!”

Related Characters: Alice (speaker)
Related Symbols: Eating and Drinking, Growing and Shrinking
Page Number: 26
Explanation and Analysis:

After finding another growth-inducing liquid in the White Rabbit’s house, Alice becomes trapped in the building. And, as often happens in the tale, a negative experience in Wonderland makes her yearn for her previous, simpler life.

The aspects of Wonderland that frustrate Alice are notable here: The first is “growing larger and smaller,” a process that continues to undermine her sense of identity and which brings into question her relative age and maturity level. Simply changing her physical shape does not allow her to escape the rabbit-hole or to become any mentally older or younger, reiterating that physical shifts do not correlate to mental ones. The second is “being ordered around by mice and rabbits,” an experience that inverts the authority structure of humans over animals to which she is accustomed in her “pleasanter” life. Yet even as Alice yearns for that more idyllic, more stable home, she recognizes how interesting and exciting this “rather curious” life in Wonderland can be.

These lines clarify some of the challenging but valuable lessons Alice must take from Wonderland. She must learn to interact with the animals, to be empathetic but also firm, and she must accept the uncertainty of the world and rapid changes in identity, particularly those associated with life beyond childhood.

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.

'I HAVE tasted eggs, certainly,' said Alice, who was a very truthful child; 'but little girls eat eggs quite as much as serpents do, you know.'
'I don't believe it,' said the Pigeon; 'but if they do, why then they're a kind of serpent, that's all I can say.'

Related Characters: Alice (speaker)
Page Number: 41
Explanation and Analysis:

Alice’s conversation with the Pigeon comes just after the one with the Caterpillar, and the bird challenges Alice's identity even more assertively. Whereas the insect was simply blasé, the pigeon interrogates Alice about her very humanity. He claims that because Alice eats eggs and has a long neck, she must be a serpent—because serpents have long necks and eat eggs. That is to say, because she has certain characteristics that resemble a serpent, she must be a serpent.

This quote builds on two main themes developing in Wonderland: the wish and failure to define identity through logical statements, and Alice’s quest to empathize with the perspectives of others. In the first theme, we see how two observations—eating eggs and having a long neck—cannot equate to having a fixed identity, for they alone do not guarantee that Alice is a serpent. Existence, Carroll, implies, cannot simply be built up from a series of behaviors, for those behaviors may be shared by two very different beings.

Second, Alice must reckon with the fact that another being would receive the same information as her and arrive at a completely different conclusion. For the pigeon, egg-eating and long-necked creatures are equivalent to being a serpent, whereas for Alice these same qualities are simply markers of being human. This interaction, then, teaches Alice that different beings experience reality from different perspectives: a key lesson she takes away from her adventures in the text.

Chapter 6 Quotes

'If everybody minded their own business,' the Duchess said in a hoarse growl, 'the world would go round a deal faster than it does.'

Related Characters: The Duchess (speaker)
Page Number: 46
Explanation and Analysis:

The Duchess delivers this piece of nonsensical advice amidst a chaotic scene. Plates fly around her kitchen, hitting the Duchess and her pig-baby, and an overly-peppery soup causes all the inhabitants to sneeze excessively.

It’s worth looking at the logic of the sentence, for Carroll, as we know by now, pays a lot of attention to differences between effective and ineffective language. First, the world can neither “go round” faster nor slower, for it maintains a constant speed despite what people do; second, everyone dealing with their own affairs is precisely and ironically what has caused the scene of mayhem; third, what the characters require at this moment is not increased speed, but a slower, less chaotic pace.

The meaningless of the Duchess’ statement here conflicts with her presentation as an adult figure of authority. She gives Alice a great deal of advice and herself has a child, yet here she shows herself to be an entirely inept maternal figure. Thus Carroll further undermines the authority of Wonderland’s adult figures, presenting them as obscuring the world’s insanity with meaningless adages instead of pragmatically confronting situations.

'Oh, you can't help that,' said the Cat: 'we're all mad here. I'm mad. You're mad.'
'How do you know I'm mad?' said Alice.
'You must be,' said the Cat, 'or you wouldn't have come here.'

Related Characters: Alice (speaker), The Cheshire Cat (speaker)
Page Number: 50
Explanation and Analysis:

This passage, one of the most quoted from Carroll’s work, comes during Alice’s interaction with Wonderland’s perplexing Cheshire Cat: a character who seems wise, yet who never conveys any real knowledge to Alice or to the reader. He functions, then, almost as a parody of the truth-teller figure we might expect at this point in a childhood adventure tale. The Cat is prompted to make his comment on universal insanity when Alice asks advice on where to go and the Cat observes that both of her options—one leads to a Hatter, one to a March Hare—will bring her into contact with mad characters.

Once again, Carroll makes a mockery of supposedly logical statements: The Cheshire Cat constructs a quick proof of Alice’s madness based on 1) All inhabitants of Wonderland are mad 2) Alice is in Wonderland 3) Therefore Alice is mad. This type of thinking recalls Alice’s own failed attempts to define identity, but here the Cheshire Cat does not cite details concerning her personal characteristics. Instead he focuses on the environment in which Alice has found herself, implying that identity is more a factor of who and what surrounds Alice, not something internal to her character.

Furthermore, the claim of universal insanity makes a broader statement on Wonderland—and on the adult world that a maturing Alice is learning how to navigate. Though she might expect it to be firmly grounded in rules and ordered systems, it is in fact highly chaotic and fundamentally unhinged. Accepting this lesson becomes another component of her emotional growth as she progresses in Wonderland.

Chapter 7 Quotes

'Your hair wants cutting,' said the Hatter. He had been looking at Alice for some time with great curiosity, and this was his first speech.
'You should learn not to make personal remarks,' Alice said with some severity; 'it's very rude.'

Related Characters: Alice (speaker), The Mad Hatter (speaker)
Page Number: 53
Explanation and Analysis:

This conversation comes just as Alice arrives at the Hare’s house and sits down with him, the Hatter, and the Dormouse. Their rude behavior toward Alice causes her to first question and then challenge their personal etiquette.

Carroll stresses their rudeness even before Alice articulates it by noting that the comment on Alice’s hair is the Hatter’s “first speech.” The Hatter, then, does not pay attention to the social norms of introducing oneself or behaving cordially, but rather jumps directly into criticism. His next comment will be to challenge Alice with a riddle, once more eschewing proper conduct for an overly aggressive statement.

Alice’s response is a striking example of her growing confidence in Wonderland. Instead of accepting the Hatter’s criticism or finding herself intimidated by him, she ripostes with her own “personal remark.” (This is a bit ironic since she is guilty of precisely what she accuses the Hatter of doing.) Consider the difference between the Hatter’s verb “want” and Alice’s “should”: both carry a normative weight, but Alice’s choice is far stronger. She does not simply hope for a consistent ethical framework but actually believes that she knows one. Though she presents herself to be less mad than the others around her—and thus more of an adult figure—the irony of Alice’s statement also slightly undermines her authority. Carroll leaves it open whether we should pay heed to Alice’s rigid rules or to the madness around her: both perhaps have some merit for the reader.

'If you knew Time as well as I do,' said the Hatter, 'you wouldn't talk about wasting IT. It's HIM.'

Related Characters: The Mad Hatter (speaker)
Page Number: 56
Explanation and Analysis:

The conversation here strays into even more existentially murky territory as the Hatter and Hare dispute Alice’s belief in one of the most basic elements of existence: time.

More specifically, the Hatter complicates the notion of time by giving it a gender and personal identity: it is possible for him to “know” Time and to claim that Time’s gender is masculine. When himself challenged by Alice, the Hatter justifies his outlandish claim by recounting how the Queen of Hearts accused him of “murdering time.” If the phrase is taken literally rather than figuratively—as phrases often are in Wonderland—this accusation would imply that for the Hatter, Time had to be a person. As a result it can be murdered, deceived, and warped, such as is the case at the tea party, where the time is always six o’clock.

Like the earlier questions posed on identity, this discussion takes a common term and renders it far more complex than Alice’s previously fixed world view had considered it to be. Again, Carroll archives this end by relying on the deep philosophy inherent in simple adages, demanding that both Alice and the reader to think more critically about just what the concept of time means.

Chapter 9 Quotes

'Tut, tut, child!' said the Duchess. 'Everything's got a moral, if only you can find it.' And she squeezed herself up closer to Alice's side as she spoke.

Related Characters: The Duchess (speaker), Alice
Page Number: 72
Explanation and Analysis:

The Duchess speaks to Alice after being fetched to offer the King and Queen counsel on the state of the Cheshire Cat. As the two walk together, the Duchess grows fond of Alice, but also chastises her and offers gratuitous advice when she does not pay attention.

Carroll here presents the Duchess as a parody of the moralizing adult, a character with which children like Alice would certainly be familiar. Yet by this point in the tale, Alice and the reader have both grown skeptical of the Duchess’ character—as well as with any Wonderland figure who tends to deal in adages and empty platitudes. More often than not, the "morals" presented thus far have been devoid of real meaning, even if they can be extracted from any situation, as the Duchess has implied. That anyone can “find” a “moral” in anything implies, after all, that morals are haphazardly discovered by individuals. They can be uncovered in or forced out from a given situation, but they do not emerge naturally.

Here, Alice continues to grow distant from the empty words of the adult figures in Wonderland. She recognizes that the Duchess is only interested in moralizing, rather than listening to any input from Alice’s end. The Duchess only wants to find her own conclusions instead of actually communicating, and she even physically invades Alice’s space, drawing ever closer like an over-protective mother. Nineteenth-century English children’s literature was known to take a similar sermonizing tone, so Carroll uses this scene to show both character development in Alice and to parody a literary tradition.

'Why did you call him Tortoise, if he wasn't one?' Alice asked.
'We called him Tortoise because he taught us,' said the Mock Turtle angrily: 'really you are very dull!'

Related Characters: Alice (speaker), The Mock-Turtle (speaker)
Page Number: 78
Explanation and Analysis:

The Mock Turtle chastises Alice, here, for interrupting his story and for not understanding his pun on “Tortoise.” The interruption is caused by the Mock Turtle noting that that his teacher was a Turtle but was called Tortoise—i.e. “taught us” when spoken aloud (with an English accent).

Despite her improved ability to navigate Wonderland, Alice struggles here to stay up-to-speed on the language games played by the other characters. And as before, her earnest questions induce a sharp reprimand: “dull” for having halted the Turtle’s explanation to clarify how a turtle could also be a tortoise. Throughout this chapter and the next, the Mock Turtle and the Gryphon continue to make a dizzying number of similar puns. Some like “porpoise” and “purpose” Alice can grasp and clarify, while many others flit by without time for her to interrupt.

Carroll had actually used this pun once before, in a piece of philosophy called “What the Tortoise said to Achilles.” This may seem like a small connection, but it also reiterates the deep thought that Carroll placed in the Wonderland world. Though Alice may experience her life through bizarre puns and confusing interrogations, each of these moments is built upon the philosophical and logical rigor Carroll was pursuing elsewhere in his studies.

Chapter 10 Quotes

'It all came different!' the Mock Turtle repeated thoughtfully. 'I should like to hear her try and repeat something now. Tell her to begin.' He looked at the Gryphon as if he thought it had some kind of authority over Alice.

Related Characters: The Mock-Turtle (speaker), Alice, The Gryphon
Page Number: 86
Explanation and Analysis:

In these lines, the Mock Turtle confronts Alice on the quality of her storytelling, specifically on the form in which she recounts her previous Wonderland adventures. It is notable that the text does not give any of the direct speech from Alice, so the reader has no access to whether her words were actually inaccurate or badly composed.

The Mock Turtle’s interjection is almost identical to Alice’s own interruption of his story just one chapter earlier. We could very well charge him with the same “dullness” Alice was accused of earlier, in particular because the Turtle wants Alice to “repeat” instead of produce new information. That repetition causes Alice to compare this experience with her lessons in school, a further irony since the Mock Turtle had before said he wanted to move from lessons into games. And when Alice does try to repeat what she said, the game-song of the Lobster Quadrille instead fills her mind, causing her to recite a bizarre poem.

It is also worth examining what line of Alice’s story causes the Turtle so much irritation: the moment when the Caterpillar corrects her citation of “You are old, Father William”—which is the first part of Robert Southey’s 1799 poem “The Old Man’s Comforts and How He Gained Them.” The poem is an example of the more traditional moralizing literature Carroll pokes fun at throughout the text. As with the Caterpillar, the Mock Turtle explicitly denies the line in favor of the more playful and nonsensical Lobster Quadrille. But at the same time he also corrects Alice and looks to the Gryphon for authority, so he simultaneously plays both the adult figure and the silly disruptor of tradition.

Chapter 12 Quotes

'Who cares for you?' said Alice, (she had grown to her full size by this time.) 'You're nothing but a pack of cards!'

Related Characters: Alice (speaker)
Related Symbols: Eating and Drinking, Growing and Shrinking
Page Number: 102
Explanation and Analysis:

Alice responds, here, to the Queen's favorite exclamation of “Off with her head!” and her comment causes the cards to rise up and fly at her. The fight is provoked by Alice’s increased confidence about the irrational proceedings of the trial, in which she continues to reject the false evidence and malpractice, in particular the Queen’s wish for the sentence to come before the verdict.

Alice’s maturation comes to a conclusion in these lines in several ways. She has been growing physically larger throughout the court proceedings (not based on eating anything, but rather of her own accord), and this physical enlargement is mirrored by her increased confidence. That confidence comes across in her flat-out rejection of the Queen as “nothing but a pack of cards.” Whereas before Alice took issue with specific thoughts or speeches of the Queen, here she simply rejects her as an inanimate object. This is possible because of Alice’s new size, for whereas before the cards were equally large as Alice, here they have been restored to their proper dimensions. Thus they can be seen not as threats or characters, but simply as objects.

Carroll completes this idea by making the lines serve as the transition from Alice’s dreamworld back into her reality. As the cards fly at her, Alice awakens, indicating that, having learnt all she can from Wonderland, she can now depart. These details present the dream as a space for character and personal development, in which Alice must develop the maturation and self-confidence necessary to reject mad authoritarian figures like the Queen and acquire her own moral compass.

'Oh, I've had such a curious dream!' said Alice, and she told her sister, as well as she could remember them, all these strange Adventures of hers that you have just been reading about; and when she had finished, her sister kissed her, and said, 'It WAS a curious dream, dear, certainly: but now run in to your tea; it's getting late.'

Related Characters: Alice (speaker), Alice’s Sister (speaker)
Page Number: 102
Explanation and Analysis:

Alice and her sister converse just after Alice has awoken from her Wonderland experience. After recounting the dream, Alice will depart and her sister will enter a strange reverie where she too lives in the world of Wonderland images for a time—as if Alice’s storytelling gives her access to the world and its lessons.

It is notable that Alice has explained her adventures already once before to the Mock Turtle, who listened but rejected the way in which she told the story. Though Alice’s sister is more receptive, affirming the curiosity of the dream, she also quickly moves on from the tale, returning Alice to the normal rituals of waking life. This ritual, however, is “tea,” an experience that Alice has now come to see not as an ordinary, simple process, but rather one filled with the madness of Wonderland. Furthermore, Alice’s sister justices the ritual with an allusion to time—“it’s getting late”—which is the exact theme called into question by Alice’s tea with the Hatter, Hare, and Dormouse. (Remember, it was the Hatter who called time a "him," and the three had a broken timepiece stuck at six o’clock.)

Carroll’s text, then, ends on an ambiguous note. On the one hand, Alice seems to have been restored to the normal rituals of her childhood life, in which Wonderland would simply be a magical outing. The sister’s emphasis on the past tense of “WAS” highlights that interpretation. But on the other hand, the references to specific symbols in the dream imply that these symbols may have taken on new, more complicated meanings in Alice’s life. Considering Alice’s interest in how past identity defines the present self, perhaps the “WAS” should not be written off so quickly. That her sister can access Wonderland through Alice’s storytelling also implies that the tales hold the power to affect others and to apply to "real" life. Furthermore, we have the notable reintroduction of the narrative voice, here enacted through the “you” that explicitly addresses the reader. Whereas before the “I” explained the term “suppressed” to both Alice within the text and to the reader, here he refers directly to us.