The Mock Turtle is all choked up from sobbing, and the Gryphon shows Alice how he beats the Turtle’s back to help him clear his throat. The Turtle recovers, and tells Alice, since she has never lived in the sea, about a dance called a Lobster Quadrille. He explains that the first thing to do is line up along the shore. Two lines, one for sea creatures and one for Lobsters and then the partners must step towards each other. It begins just like a square dance but quickly becomes very elaborate, with the lobsters being flung into the sea.
The Mock Turtle's constant crying about his past experiences indicates his profound sentimental side. The Lobster Quadrille is another example of a "civilized" activity—a dance—that ends in a strange kind of violence.
At this point the Gryphon and the Mock-Turtle get very excited and propose to show Alice the dance. The Gryphon nominates the Turtle to sing. They begin dancing around Alice, occasionally treading on her toes, and the Turtle sings mournfully about a whiting and a snail dancing the Lobster Quadrille. When it is over, Alice politely compliments them on the song. The Turtle asks if she knows about whitings. She narrowly avoids telling him that she has eaten whiting before. The Gryphon explains that they always have their tails in their mouths, because they insist on flying out to sea with the lobsters.
Alice is very polite to her new friends. She knows just what to say, that it was a very interesting dance, even though she is relieved it’s over. Also compare her realization to avoid saying she has eaten whiting to her earlier insensitivity in talking about Dinah to the mouse and birds. She is beginning to be able to navigate social situation, to read between the lines and understand what will and won't make others unhappy or uncomfortable.
The Gryphon has lots more to say about the whiting. It tells Alice that it is called a Whiting because it “does the boots and shoes”. She figures her own shoes must have been done by blacking. Shoes under the sea are different, says the Gryphon, they are made of soles and eels. Alice goes back to the song, in which a porpoise is always treading on the whiting’s tail. The Mock-Turtle tells her wisely that no whiting ever travels without a porpoise. Alice thinks this is dubious and the Gryphon changes the subject, asking Alice about her adventures.
The Gryphon speaks with absolute conviction, so much so that Alice is taken in by his bizarre explanations for the names of things. Meanwhile, all of his explanations are puns : "eels" instead of "heels", "porpoise" instead of "purpose". Note that all of the other characters have wanted to tell Alice about them, but never were much interested in Alice. This is the first such instance, and seems to imply that the Gryphon and Mock Turtle might be more authentic friends for Alice.
Alice says she can describe her adventures from this morning, but that yesterday she was a different person entirely. The Gryphon wishes only to hear the adventures – explanations bore him – so Alice tells them both the story 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. Alice is getting quite fed up of animals ordering her about but she tries it. It comes out all mixed up. “Uncommon nonsense”, the Turtle calls it.
Alice seems to be implying here that her adventure in Wonderland has changed her, made her a new person. The Gryphon and Mock Turtle pay close attention, again giving the impression of truly caring, but what becomes evident is that they are interested in the story, not in Alice. They are interested that she can't remember rhymes, not how she feels about that fact. They treat her as an object of interest, not as a person. Meanwhile, Alice is getting fed up with all of these animals telling her what to do.
Alice feels miserable again. She wishes things could be as before. But the Gryphon and the Turtle keep interrogating her about the rhyme and ask her for the next verse. She goes on though she really doesn’t want to. It comes out awfully and the Gryphon and Turtle are very confused, so they tell her to stop and decide to sing again instead.
The focus on what she can't do, on what she's getting wrong, on how she's changed has made Alice sad. Alice's sense of self really rests on her memory and familiar things.
The Turtle sighs and begins, in a mournful tone, singing a song about soup. They enjoy themselves immensely but before the Mock Turtle can begin a repeat of the chorus, the Queen’s voice is heard in the distance, announcing the beginning of “the trial”, and the Gryphon pulls Alice after him, leaving the Turtle singing plaintively on the rock.
Like several other characters in Wonderland, the Mock-Turtle mixes the trivial with the serious as he dedicates his mournful song to soup. As the strains of “Beautiful soooup” get longer and more ridiculously mournful, suddenly the Queen once again comes center stage. The connection of the bloodthirsty and capricious Queen to a trial, a thing of fairness and justice, seems immediately laughable.