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Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

by Lewis Carroll

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Does the poem "They told me you had been to her" in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland contain persuasive techniques and discourse markers?

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The White Rabbit, presenting evidence in court before the King, recites this poem. Even during the lead-in dialogue to the poem, it’s clear that Lewis Carroll is about to embark on a head-spinning festival of randomness. Several things about this moment are funnily contradictory. One would think that statements in court, normally spoken for purposes of persuasion, would make more (or any) sense. Carroll, in life, as a mathematician and logician, was clearly aware of this. However, taken in context with the rest of Alice in Wonderland—virtually all of which takes place in a Victorian, bizarre planet—its texts and verse refuse to adhere to any agenda beyond its own.

Discourse markers are the ‘connective tissue’ of language; Firstly, Secondly, And So, etc., are examples. The closest thing I can find in terms of these is the word “But,” as in “But said I could not swim.” This would seem to be the equivalent of On the one hand / On the other hand, which are formally official markers. However, again in context, this only adds to the (intentional) confusion, rather than providing transitional clarity.

As for persuasion, it’s absent—as one might expect from a parody of dramatic court proceedings, as opposed to the setting of a nonsense poem, which in itself is a statement of the absurdity of the justice system.

Carroll biographer Derek Hudson writes that the author would consider that we were prone to “making too much of him,” and his word games and puzzles. It’s an accident of sorts that the output that he used to escape the adult world of education are often used to instructional purpose.

As an “accomplished versifier,” Lewis Carroll:

returns to the world of musical nonsense (in 19th Century English Literature). It was Lewis Carroll, with his logician’s equipment and his rare understanding of the mind of childhood, that won us our freedom of the world of nonsense.

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