Tools of Characterization
Type of Being
The Alice books mingle human and animal characters with nursery rhyme figures and game pieces come to life. Alice, of course, is an ordinary little girl from Victorian England. At first her encounters with the other characters in Wonderland are with animals – the nervous White Rabbit, the sluggish Caterpillar, the grinning Cheshire Cat, the mad March Hare, and the sleepy Dormouse. These personified animals, each of which seems to derive its main characteristics from our stereotypes about the animal, are then mixed with seemingly human characters like the Hatter and the Duchess. These "human" characters are even more caricatured and strange than their animal peers.
Of course, at the end of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, we discover that many of the characters were actually playing cards come to life. Neither animal nor exactly human, they remind us that the ultimate basis of the story is nothing more than a game. Through the Looking-Glass also mingles human beings like Alice with animals (the Lion and the Unicorn) and game pieces (the various chess pieces, especially the kings and queens) and other seemingly human figures (such as Tweedledum and Tweedledee).
Perhaps more important than the connotations of the specific types of beings is the fact that all of them are intermingled and jumbled together in the stories. The Alice books are not strict allegories – they don't set out a one-to-one correspondence between the human world and the animal world, or the human world and a game of cards or chess. Instead, they take a cafeteria approach, including a little bit from several different patterns. The result is a delightful hodgepodge, always interesting, but never with a definite or didactic meaning.
The White Rabbit with his pocket watch, the Caterpillar with his hookah, and the Cheshire Cat with its strangely detachable grin – many of the Alice characters have a special item they carry with them that seems to define them more than anything they say. The Rabbit's watch shows us his anxiety about the time, for example. In contrast, Alice doesn't carry any specific items with her consistently. In fact, she has a lot of trouble holding on to anything for very long. From the little golden key to the melting sweet rushes, everything Alice picks up seems to slip through her fingers. Perhaps this reminds us that Alice's identity tends to be in question in the books, while the characters around her are defined more clearly – if more simply.
Thoughts and Opinions
From the Mad Hatter's rudeness to the Duchess' morals and the White Knight's dreamy inventions, characters in the Alice books tend to be strongly opinionated and to share their thoughts with the protagonist – and the reader – at the drop of, well, a hat. Alice herself tends to be taken aback by their willingness to share their opinions on everything from polite behavior to how to stay young. In fact, the characters in Wonderland and Looking-Glass World tend to be frank to the point of brusqueness. Perhaps more than characters in any other type of story, they share their thoughts very readily. This also reminds us that these characters aren't deep – they don't really have any "interiority" or private thoughts. Everything about them is on the surface, including their opinions.
Alice herself is proud of her education and often tries to show it off – rarely to her own advantage, since she tends to muddle ideas together. Her schoolhouse snobbery rubs off on some of the characters around her, especially the Gryphon and the Mock Turtle, who regale her with tales of their own classroom exploits, and Humpty Dumpty, who is proud of his abilities as a wordsmith. It's not that important whether characters are educated are not in these books, but their attitude toward education – respectful, scornful, or otherwise – is often telling.
The most famous habit in the Alice books is probably the Queen of Hearts's constant cry of "Off with her head!" But many of the characters have little patterns of behavior that define who they are, from the White Knight's daydreaming to the constant squabbling between twin brothers Tweedledum and Tweedledee. Except for Alice, most of the characters are locked into perpetual patterns of behavior that they can't break. The Mad Tea Party goes on and on with out end, the Lion keeps fighting the Unicorn, and Humpty Dumpty will always fall off his wall, even if you warn him. This reminds us that these characters may be two-dimensional – they can't learn, grow, develop, or change – but they are still complicated.