Study Guide

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

By Lewis Carroll

Violence

Wonderland, Chapter 3
Alice

Alice replied eagerly, for she was always ready to talk about her pet: "Dinah's our cat. And she's such a capital one for catching mice, you can't think! And oh, I wish you could see her after the birds! Why, she'll eat a little bird as soon as look at it!"

This speech caused a remarkable sensation among the party. […] On various pretexts they all moved off, and Alice was soon left alone.

"I wish I hadn't mentioned Dinah!" she said to herself in a melancholy tone. "Nobody seems to like her, down here, and I'm sure she's the best cat in the world!" (Wonderland 3.45-47)

Alice's faux pas is funny at first – oops, mentioning a cat's hunting prowess to birds and a mouse! But then we realize that, since these animals can think and talk, we're really talking about murder.

Wonderland, Chapter 4
Tweedledum and Tweedledee

"We must have a bit of a fight, but I don't care about going on long," said Tweedledum. "What's the time now?"

Tweedledee looked at his watch, and said "Half-past four."

"Let's fight till six, and then have dinner," said Tweedledum. (Looking-Glass 4.74-76)

Fighting, both verbal and physical, are assumed to be inextricable parts of life. Ridiculously, Tweedledum and Tweedledee schedule their fight so that they can fit it in before a meal. It doesn't seem to occur to them that they could not fight.

The White Rabbit

"We must burn the house down!" said the Rabbit's voice. And Alice called out, as loud as she could, "If you do, I'll set Dinah at you!" (Wonderland 4.29)

Both the Rabbit and Alice respond with radical violence to a situation that just needs some clever engineering. A few chapters ago, Alice was sad that none of the creatures she met liked the idea of her cat Dinah, but as soon as she feels threatened she's only too ready to threaten them back.

Wonderland, Chapter 6
Alice

Alice did not at all like the tone of this remark, and thought it would be as well to introduce some other subject of conversation. While she was trying to fix on one, the cook took the cauldron of soup off the fire, and at once set to work throwing everything within her reach at the Duchess and the baby – the fire-irons came first; then followed a shower of saucepans, plates, and dishes. The Duchess took no notice of them even when they hit her; and the baby was howling so much already, that it was quite impossible to say whether the blows hurt it or not. (Wonderland 6.29)

The treatment of the baby at the Duchess's house is probably the most disturbing element of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. The narrator seems to think that, as readers, we'll be amused by the baby's wailing and the abuse it receives. All we can say is that we're quite relieved when Alice rescues it and it turns into a pig, but we still can't forget this scene – the crying baby being shaken and hit really crosses the line.

Wonderland, Chapter 8
Alice

Alice began to feel very uneasy: to be sure, she had not as yet had any dispute with the Queen, but she knew that it might happen any minute, "and then," thought she, "what would become of me? They're dreadfully fond of beheading people here: the great wonder is, that there's any one left alive!" (Wonderland 8.45)

The same could probably be said of the world at large. People are so fond of hurting each another, of war and murder and general unpleasantness, that it's amazing our species is still around. This is definitely one of Lewis Carroll's darker moments, where faith in the human race is in short supply.

The Queen of Hearts

The Queen turned crimson with fury, and, after glaring at her for a moment like a wild beast, began screaming "Off with her head! Off with – "

"Nonsense!" said Alice, very loudly and decidedly, and the Queen was silent. (Wonderland 8.18-19)

The Queen of Hearts is bloodthirsty, and execution is the only response she has to any situation or problem that presents itself. Strangely, a single word from Alice is enough to put her in her place.

Looking-Glass, Chapter 4
Alice

"I like the Walrus best," said Alice: "because he was a little sorry for the poor oysters."

"He ate more than the Carpenter, though," said Tweedledee. "You see he held his handkerchief in front, so that the Carpenter couldn't count how many he took: contrariwise."

"That was mean!" Alice said indignantly. "Then I like the Carpenter best – if he didn't eat so many as the Walrus."

"But he ate as many as he could get," said Tweedledum.

This was a puzzler. After a pause, Alice began, "Well! They were both very unpleasant characters – " (Looking-Glass 4.27-31)

Alice tries to find a way to interpret one of the two friends as innocent and the other as guilty. Tweedledum and Tweedledee, however, remind her that the Walrus and Carpenter are both complicit in the murder of the Oysters. Their violence can't be pinned on one bad person; the blame is shared.

Looking-Glass, Chapter 7
Alice

"Who are at it again?" she ventured to ask.

"Why, the Lion and the Unicorn, of course," said the King.

"Fighting for the crown?"

"Yes, to be sure," said the King: "and the best of the joke is, that it's my crown all the while! Let's run and see them." (Looking-Glass 7.34-37)

The battle between the Lion and the Unicorn is entirely pointless, since neither of them can have the thing he's fighting for. How many real-world battles suffer from the same illogic?

Looking-Glass, Chapter 8
Alice

"I wonder, now, what the Rules of Battle are," she said to herself, as she watched the fight, timidly peeping out from her hiding-place. "One Rule seems to be, that if one Knight hits the other, he knocks him off his horse; and, if he misses, he tumbles off himself – and another Rule seems to be that they hold their clubs with their arms, as if they were Punch and Judy – What a noise they make when they tumble! Just like a whole set of fire-irons falling into the fender! And how quiet the horses are! They let them get on and off them just as if they were tables!"

Another Rule of Battle, that Alice had not noticed, seemed to be that they always fell on their heads; and the battle ended with their both falling off in this way, side by side. When they got up again, they shook hands, and then the Red Knight mounted and galloped off.

"It was a glorious victory, wasn't it?" said the White Knight, as he came up panting. (Looking-Glass 8.10-12)

Alice can't tell the difference between victory and defeat, and neither can the reader. Claiming victory is just as arbitrary as the foolish "rules" that the Knights follow.

"Well, we must fight for her, then," said the Red Knight, as he took up his helmet (which hung from the saddle, and was something the shape of a horse's head) and put it on.

"You will observe the Rules of Battle, of course?" the White Knight remarked, putting on his helmet too.

"I always do," said the Red Knight, and they began banging away at each other with such fury that Alice got behind a tree to be out of the way of the blows. (Looking-Glass 8.7-9)

No matter how many rules there are, battle and warfare are never truly civilized as long as people are trying to kill each other. At least, that seems to be the upshot of this passage – what do you think?

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