The animals assemble on the bank and wonder how they will ever get dry. The Mouse makes a dry speech about William the Conqueror, but they all remain as wet as ever. So the Dodo suggests they have a Caucus-race. Alice, recognizing that the Dodo expects someone to say something in response, asks what a Caucus-race is, but apparently the best way to learn is to do, so the Dodo marks out an almost-circular race track. On the count of three, everybody starts running, however they like, for however long. The Dodo stops the race after about half an hour and considers who has won.
The animals have conflated the two meanings of the word “dry,” and the mouse tries to physically dry them by giving a boring, or “dry,” speech. The Dodo and the caucus-race are parodies of politics, as Carroll seems to suggest that the Dodo resembles a proud and ceremonious politician but the actual race is a jumble of animals running without direction and purpose and without any real effect, that is then treated as if it did have a purpose or “winner.”
After a great deal of thought, the Dodo announces that everybody has won and that Alice must give the prizes. Alice looks in her pocket and luckily finds a box of sweets and hands them around. The animals insist that she must also have a prize but all she has left is a thimble. The Dodo takes it and presents it ceremoniously to Alice. Alice bows in return, trying not to laugh at the Dodo’s solemnity. The animals attempt to eat their sweets with great difficulty.
Yet the winners turn out to be all of them because there is not criteria for judging anything, and the prizes are meager. And yet all of this ridiculousness is treated by the animals as being of great importance. They seem unable to understand the substance of things, focusing solely on the importance of surface actions (which isn’t a bad description of a lot of adult life, frankly). Alice has become the authority – she is like the adult in a room of children, and she is given a great deal of solemn respect by them all – they approach her humble candies as if they are delicacies. Alice is in her own category of person, neither child nor adult.
Then, Alice urges the Mouse to tell her his story. It is a sad tale, says the Mouse, which confuses Alice, thinking he is talking about his tail. The Mouse ignores her and goes on with the story, a rhyming tale about a judge-like feline character called Fury who puts a Mouse on trial. Part-way through, the Mouse stops to shout at Alice for not listening. The pair argues, and the Mouse, thinking Alice is talking nonsense, storms off. Alice and the animals call him back but he is too upset.
The Mouse’s story foreshadows later events at the Queen’s court of law, as a court of law in which a mouse is put on trial by a cat certainly isn’t going to provide true, fair justice. Issues of language continue to arise, making it difficult for Alice and the animals to communicate. Yet the Mouse’s anger at not being listened indicates just how important it is to people (or talking mice) to feel listened to.
They all wish the Mouse would come back. Alice misses Dinah the cat again – she thinks Dinah could easily bring the Mouse back to finish its story. One of the birds in the group wonders who Dinah is, and Alice excitedly describes the talented, bird-catching cat, which causes the birds in the group to make excuses and hurry off until Alice is left quite alone, thinking sadly of her beloved pet. She hears little feet approaching and hopes it is the Mouse.
Alice continues to see the entire world through her own feelings—which is typical of a child. She believes that because she loves her cat, everyone will love her cat. It doesn’t occur to her that Dinah certainly would bring back the Mouse—probably in her mouth—or that a bunch of birds might be made uncomfortable by her friendship with a bird-catching cat. It’s worth noting, too, that Dinah certainly doesn’t just catch birds—she kills them. There is a specter of death here that doesn’t occur to Alice, but certainly does to the animals.