Alice's Adventures in Wonderland


Lewis Carroll

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Words, Meaning and Meaninglessness Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
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
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.
Words, Meaning and Meaninglessness Theme Icon

Wordplay makes Wonderland what it is. The moment Alice descends into the rabbit hole world, she starts questioning everything the world above takes for granted, including and especially language. Sentences and phrases are twisted and turned around so that they mean several things at once and cause misunderstandings and humorous clashes between the characters. “`Do bats eat cats?'” Alice asks as she falls down the rabbit hole, trying to think of life above and life in the rabbit hole at once. “for, you see, as she couldn't answer either question, it didn't much matter which way she put it.” The order of the phrases doesn't matter because the meaning behind the phrases is unclear. And Wonderland is a place where Alice is struggling to find the meaning of the changes that are happening to her.

When the Mouse in the Caucus-race scene misunderstands Alice and leaves her, offended, Alice is left alone and disoriented – this happens a lot with the characters in Wonderland. Alice’s journey is fraught with misunderstandings and offences due to language. Her inability to recite rhymes that she used to know by heart warn her that adulthood might be a less musical, comfortable place—or that she has ceased to be herself, as she no longer knows what she once did. And so words and meaning becomes tied up with the idea of the self, of who a person is.

The entire narrative has a verse-like quality because it is so packed with rhymes and recognizable phrases that should be set to tunes. But while in a traditional children’s song or rhyme, the moral or message is clear, in Wonderland, nonsense rules and it is difficult to attach meaning, consequence, or moral to almost anything. The Mad Hatter is especially affected by this condition of meaninglessness and he is also one of the most wordy of the characters, constantly assessing his own and others’ grammar and syntax to challenge the received meanings of language.

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Words, Meaning and Meaninglessness ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Words, Meaning and Meaninglessness 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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Words, Meaning and Meaninglessness 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 Words, Meaning and Meaninglessness.
Chapter 5 Quotes

'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:
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:

'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:
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:

'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:
Chapter 9 Quotes

'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:
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:
Chapter 11 Quotes

'Give your evidence,' said the King; 'and don't be nervous, or I'll have you executed on the spot.'

Related Characters: The King of Hearts (speaker)
Related Literary Devices:
Page Number: 92
Explanation and Analysis:

Here one of the guinea-pigs cheered, and was immediately suppressed by the officers of the court. (As that is rather a hard word, I will just explain to you how it was done. They had a large canvas bag, which tied up at the mouth with strings: into this they slipped the guinea-pig, head first, and then sat upon it.)

Page Number: 94
Explanation and Analysis: