Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Alice is quietly reading over her sister’s shoulder when she sees a White Rabbit dash across the lawn and disappear into its hole. She jumps up to rush after him and finds herself falling down the rabbit hole. At the bottom, she sees the White Rabbit hurrying along a corridor ahead of her and murmuring that he will be late. He disappears around a corner, leaving Alice standing in front of several locked doors.
On a glass table, she finds a tiny golden key that unlocks a little door hidden behind a curtain. The door opens upon a lovely miniature garden, but Alice cannot get through the doorway because it is too small. She sadly replaces the key on the table. A little bottle mysteriously appears. Alice drinks the contents and immediately begins to grow smaller, so much so that she can no longer reach the key on the table. Next, she eats a piece of cake she finds nearby, and soon she begins to grow to such an enormous size that she can only squint through the door. In despair, she begins to weep tears as big as raindrops. As she sits crying, the White Rabbit appears, moaning that the Duchess will be angry if he keeps her waiting. He drops his fan and gloves, and when Alice picks them up, she begins to grow smaller. Again she rushes to the garden door, but she finds it shut and the golden key once more on the table out of reach.
Then she falls into a pool of her own tears. Splashing along, she encounters a mouse who stumbled into the pool. Alice...
(The entire section is 1189 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland Summary. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!
Summary (Censorship (Ready Reference series))
Certain critics—including psychoanalyst Paul Schilder and author Katherine Anne Porter—have argued that Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland should be kept away from children because it is riddled with material that causes anxiety. For example, Schilder has cited the book’s frequent references to devouring small animals as evidence of the work’s “preponderant oral sadistic trends.”
The government of China banned the book in 1931, charging that its talking animals were offensive because their use of language placed them inappropriately on the same level with humans. In 1966, after the book was read over the radio in Britain, the British Broadcasting Corporation was inundated by phone calls from listeners outraged over the book’s description of using hedgehogs as croquet balls.
The Disney Company released an animated film adaptation of Alice in Wonderland in 1951. Although this film was somewhat sanitized, it later merited a warning to parents in psychologist Harold Schecter’s 1986 guide to children’s video for its threats of violence and its scenes of baby oysters being eaten. Meanwhile, Disney withdrew the film from 16 mm rental distribution during the late 1960’s, although it had won some fans on the college circuit. At that time the company’s animated feature Fantasia (1940) was drawing fire because of its association with the drug culture, so Disney may have acted to protect its wholesome...
(The entire section is 223 words.)
Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Although Carroll wrote Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland explicitly to entertain children, it has become a treasure to philosophers, literary critics, biographers, clergy, psychoanalysts, and linguists, not to mention mathematicians, theologians, and logicians. There appears to be something in this work for everyone, and there are almost as many interpretations of it as there are commentators.
Alice’s dream becomes her nightmare. A novelty at first, Wonderland becomes increasingly oppressive to Alice as she is faced with its fundamental disorder. Everything there, including her own body size, is in a state of flux. She is treated rudely, is bullied, is asked questions with no answers, and is denied answers to asked questions. Her recitations of poems turn into parodies, a baby turns into a pig, and a cat turns into a grin. The essence of time and space is called into question, and her romantic notion of an idyllic garden of life becomes a paper wasteland. Whether Alice, as some critics argue, is an alien who invades and contaminates Wonderland or is an innocent contaminated by it, one important fact remains the same: She has a vision that shows the world to be chaotic, meaningless, and a terrifying void. In order to escape that oppressive and disorienting vision, she denies it with her outcry that “You’re nothing but a pack of cards!” and happily regains the morally intelligible and emotionally comfortable world of her sister, who sits...
(The entire section is 607 words.)
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is a masterpiece of children's literature and a major contribution to "nonsense" writing, which uses language according to the rules of play rather than the rules of poetry or prose. Such writing disconnects words from their usual meanings and calls attention to language as an artificial system of communication. In Alice's Adventures in Wonderland the reader is entertained by the ridiculous creatures Alice meets and challenged by them to understand words in new and unusual ways.
The questioning of the meaning and impact of language in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland has led to considerable appreciation of the book by thinkers in a variety of disciplines. Philosophers, psychoanalysis, linguists, and logicians have all examined Carroll's story for its insight into how words create their own meanings and, more importantly, how they create human identities. The influence of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland on other literary works is exemplified by James Joyce's incorporation of features of it in his masterpiece, Finnegans Wake. The famous children's author, Maurice Sendak, too, owes a debt to Carroll in both the text of his Outside Over There (1981) and in the illustrations to several of his works, reminiscent of the famous John Tenniel illustrations for the 1866 edition of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.
(The entire section is 208 words.)
Chapters 1-3: Down the Rabbit Hole
After a short verse prologue, in which he commemorates the day on which he first told his tale, Lewis Carroll begins Alice's Adventures in Wonderland with a familiar episode: Alice is sitting by the bank of a stream, bored, when she notices the White Rabbit dressed in a waistcoat scurrying along. The rabbit stops to pull a pocket watch out of its waistcoat pocket, mutters to itself that it will be late for something, then scurries off and disappears down a hole. Alice follows the rabbit down the hole, and suddenly finds herself falling, though not so fast that she is in any danger of being injured when she lands.
She catches sight of the rabbit after she lands, but soon loses it again, and finds herself in a dark hallway. All of the doors in the hallway, she discovers, are locked; she then comes upon a small table with a tiny key on it, which enables her to open a small door she hadn't seen before, which leads into a garden. She goes back to the table, and this time finds there a bottle labeled "DRINK ME." She does just that, and shrinks to a size where she can fit through the small door. However, she has left the key on the table, and is now too short to reach it. Reduced to tears, she soon collects herself, then sees a small box under the table with a small cake in it labeled "EAT ME." Again, she follows instructions, and is soon nine feet tall. She begins crying again, filling the hallway with a pool of tears several inches deep. The White...
(The entire section is 406 words.)
Chapters 4-7: Learning the Ropes in Wonderland
The White Rabbit then appears again, and mistaking Alice for his servant, orders her to go fetch him another fan and pair of gloves. Alice obeys, soon finds the rabbit's house, enters it, and going upstairs finds what she is looking for. She also finds a small bottle, drinks half of its contents, and grows until she fills the room. The rabbit returns, and eventually a lizard named Bill is sent down the chimney of the house, presumably to drive Alice out. Alice manages to thrust her foot into the fireplace and kick Bill back up the chimney. The rabbit then determines that the house must be burned down. Alice finds some cakes on the floor of the room, eats enough to shrink herself to the point that she can get out of the house, and then escapes from the White Rabbit and the other animals into a forest.
After an encounter with a giant puppy (Alice again being far smaller than her "normal" size), she comes upon the Caterpillar sitting on a large mushroom smoking a hookah (water pipe). The Caterpillar asks her several questions about her identity that reduce her to confusion; then, as it is leaving, it tells her that by eating opposite sides of the mushroom it was sitting on, she will either grow or shrink. She experiments with pieces from both sides, and soon has more or less mastered the process.
Determined to find the garden again, she instead comes upon a small house. After a confusing conversation with a frog-footman, she enters the house and...
(The entire section is 468 words.)
Chapters 8-10: Alice in the Garden
Alice first encounters a curious spectacle: some playing cards are painting some white roses red. They are doing so, she learns, because red roses were supposed to have been planted there, and if the Queen of Hearts were to discover the mistake, they would have their heads cut off. Just then the Queen and King of Hearts come by, and the Queen does indeed sentence them to be beheaded, though Alice hides them, so that the sentence is never carried out.
The Queen then invites Alice to play croquet. The match is played with flamingos for mallets and hedgehogs for balls, and is predictably chaotic. The Cheshire Cat appears and creates some further confusion. Alice has a brief conversation with the Duchess whose baby she had watched turn into a pig earlier, then after some more croquet, the Queen recommends to Alice that she meet the Mock Turtle. Alice goes off to meet him in the company of a Gryphon. They talk first about education, then Alice hears the "Lobster Quadrille," and is asked to repeat certain poems she knows, which come out quite differently from the way she expects them to. Soon they hear the cry, "The trial's beginning!" and the Gryphon hurries Alice away.
(The entire section is 206 words.)
Chapters 11-12: The Trial and the Return
When they arrive at the courtroom, the trial of the Knave (i.e., Jack) of Hearts, accused of having stolen some tarts made by the Queen, is just beginning. (The episode is based on a familiar nursery rhyme.) The participants in the trial include many of the creatures Alice has already encountered. As with the croquet match, it progresses in a chaotic, absurd fashion. Over the course of the trial, Alice begins to grow again, and with her increased size she grows increasingly bold, and points out more and more frequently the absurdity of the proceedings. Eventually the Queen of Hearts orders that her head be cut off, to which Alice replies that as they are nothing but playing cards, she is not afraid of them. At that point, all the cards fly at her, and she wakes up—her adventures in Wonderland have been a dream.
Alice tells her older sister about her dream, and her sister reflects on how Alice herself will soon grow up. She expresses to herself the wish that Alice might "keep, through all her riper years, the simple and loving heart of her childhood."
(The entire section is 190 words.)