Study Guide

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass Madness

By Lewis Carroll

Madness

Wonderland, Chapter 6
Alice

Alice waited a little, half expecting to see it again, but it did not appear, and after a minute or two she walked on in the direction in which the March Hare was said to live. "I've seen hatters before," she said to herself: "the March Hare will be much the most interesting, and perhaps, as this is May, it won't be raving mad – at least not so mad as it was in March." (Wonderland 6.69)

Alice distinguishes several degrees of madness. Apparently madness is something that can wax and wane, that ranges across a broad spectrum.

Alice didn't think that proved it at all; however, she went on: "And how do you know that you're mad?"

"To begin with," said the Cat, "a dog's not mad. You grant that?"

"I suppose so," said Alice.

"Well, then," the Cat went on, "you see, a dog growls when it's angry, and wags its tail when it's pleased. Now I growl when I'm pleased, and wag my tail when I'm angry. Therefore I'm mad."

"I call it purring, not growling," said Alice.

"Call it what you like," said the Cat. (Wonderland 6.57-62)

The Cheshire Cat reminds us that we often come up with complicated explanations for the crazy things we do to try and make them sound normal. But no matter how we try to excuse it, much of what we do is, well, mad.

"But I don't want to go among mad people," Alice remarked.

"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." (Wonderland 6.53-56)

It's Alice's own streak of madness that makes it possible for her to get to Wonderland in the first place. Perhaps we as readers feel implicated, too – we wouldn't be able to follow her adventures if we didn't share her madness to some degree.

The Cheshire Cat

"In that direction," the Cat said, waving its right paw round, "lives a Hatter: and in that direction," waving the other paw, "lives a March Hare. Visit either you like: they're both mad." (Wonderland 6.52)

Madness is a fact of life in Wonderland. No matter where you go, everyone there is crazy. This ubiquitous madness seems to make everyone equivalent in some way – the Hatter is exchangeable with the Hare because they're both mad.

Wonderland, Chapter 7
The March Hare, the Mad Hatter, and the Dormouse

"They were learning to draw," the Dormouse went on, yawning and rubbing its eyes, for it was getting very sleepy; "and they drew all manner of things – everything that begins with an M—"

"Why with an M?" said Alice.

"Why not?" said the March Hare.

Alice was silent.

The Dormouse had closed its eyes by this time, and was going off into a doze; but, on being pinched by the Hatter, it woke up again with a little shriek, and went on: " – that begins with an M, such as mouse-traps, and the moon, and memory, and muchness – you know you say things are "much of a muchness" – did you ever see such a thing as a drawing of a muchness?" (Wonderland 7.91-95)

While the Dormouse lists things that can be drawn with varying success, Lewis Carroll makes his own "sketch" of something beginning with an "m" – madness.

Wonderland, Chapter 8

A large rose-tree stood near the entrance of the garden: the roses growing on it were white, but there were three gardeners at it, busily painting them red. (Wonderland 8.1)

The height of madness is to pretend to be what you aren't. Instead of enjoying the white roses, or pulling out the tree and planting red roses, the gardeners simply try to paint over their mistake.

Looking-Glass, Chapter 5
Alice

"I can't believe that!" said Alice.

"Can't you?" the Queen said in a pitying tone. "Try again: draw a long breath, and shut your eyes."

Alice laughed. "There's no use trying," she said: "one can't believe impossible things."

"I daresay you haven't had much practice," said the Queen. "When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast." (Looking-Glass 5.53-56)

While the White Queen's advice may sound mad at first, believing "six impossible things before breakfast" has become a common phrase to describe exercising one's imagination. The imagination is just another skill that can be sharpened with practice.

Looking-Glass, Chapter 7
The Red King

"I only wish I had such eyes," the King remarked in a fretful tone. "To be able to see Nobody! And at that distance too! Why, it's as much as I can do to see real people, by this light!" (Looking-Glass 7.8)

Interpreting turns of phrase literally is one of the ways that Lewis Carroll creates the impression of a mad, wacky fantasy world.

Looking-Glass, Chapter 8
Alice

"Have you invented a plan for keeping the hair from being blown off?" Alice enquired.

"Not yet," said the Knight. "But I've got a plan for keeping it from falling off."

"I should like to hear it, very much."

"First you take an upright stick," said the Knight. "Then you make your hair creep up it, like a fruit-tree. Now the reason hair falls off is because it hangs down – things never fall upwards, you know. It's a plan of my own invention. You may try it if you like." (Looking-Glass 8.36-39)

The Knight's plan is crazy, but not because it wouldn't work. If you could get your hair to grow upwards, then it wouldn't fall off. It's just that making it grow upwards is impossible. Madness and impossibility are two different things in this fantasyland.

"So I wasn't dreaming, after all," she said to herself, "unless – unless we're all part of the same dream. Only I do hope it's my dream, and not the Red King's! I don't like belonging to another person's dream," she went on in a rather complaining tone: "I've a great mind to go and wake him, and see what happens!" (Looking-Glass 8.1)

At first, the question of who dreams the adventure in Looking-Glass World, Alice or the Red King, seems to have some kind of deep philosophical significance. Is she generating her own adventure, or just a character in somebody else's? But at second glance, we realize how crazy this sounds. Of course Alice is the dreamer, and of course she's in no danger if the Red King wakes up.