Alice's Adventures in Wonderland Questions and Answers
by Lewis Carroll

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What was the first question that the son asked Father William in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland?

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The caterpillar asks Alice to recite the poem "You are old, Father William" to test her memory, which Alice tells him is slipping. Alice dutifully recites the poem. The first question the son asks Father William is if he should be standing on his head:

"You are old, Father William," the young man said,/ "And your hair has become very white; /And yet you incessantly stand on your head—/ Do you think, at your age, it is right?"

This poem is a parody of a 1799 poem by Robert Southey called "The Old Man's Comforts and How he Gained," another poem that is a question and answer dialogue between an old man and young lad. In Southey's poem, the first stanza goes:

You are old, father William, the young man cried
The few locks that are left you are grey,
You are hale, Father William, a hearty old man,
Now tell me the reason I pray.

Alice's rendition is a zany version of Southey's poem fit for the upside-down world of Wonderland. The caterpillar tells her she has the words wrong. While the caterpillar manages to annoy her, he also does her the good deed of telling her she can grow taller again—she is currently shrunk to three inches—if she eats the correct side of a mushroom.

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The first thing the son wants to know is why Father William has the habit of standing on his head; he questions whether it is appropriate for his father to do such a thing at his advanced age.

Father William replies that, in the past, he had reservations about standing on his head; then, he had feared that such a practice would injure his brain. However, at present, he has concluded that he will indulge in the practice since he is without the necessary organ after all.

The son continues to ask three more questions (four in all); however, his father tells him that he has already answered three and insists that those should suffice. This poem, Father William, is found in Chapter V: Advice From A Caterpillar in Alice's Adventures In Wonderland. In the story, Alice tells the caterpillar that she cannot seem to remember things as well as she used to. The caterpillar then tells her to recite the poem Father William. After she has done so, the caterpillar proceeds to tell Alice that she has gotten the whole poem wrong from beginning to end. This is telling because the poem itself is Lewis Carroll's parody of Robert Southey's poem The Old Man's Comforts And How He Gained Them.

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