In the Alice books, language continually fails to provide an adequate means of communication. In fact, the complex and confusing nature of language frequently leads to miscommunication. Often this miscommunication is due to rival interpretations of the same words or sounds, such as mixing up words that sound the same but have different meanings (homophones), taking metaphors literally, or mixing different languages. In the most extreme cases, communication is impossible because one party to the conversation has a completely different idea of what is being said than the other. However, these miscommunications are the source of comedy and amusement rather than actual harm. The narrator and the reader take a special joy in the multiple meanings that can be found in language.
Questions About Language and Communication
In the Alice books, does language help or hinder communication?
Several of the funnier moments in the Alice books come from homophone confusion – mixing up words that sound the same but mean completely different things. Choose two or three of the following homophone pairs and describe the scene(s) in which they are confused in the text: tale and tail, knot and not, porpoise and purpose, lesson and lessen, addressing and a-dressing, flower and flour, ground (verb) and ground (n.). What does each person think is being said? What is actually being said?
Which characters does Alice find it most difficult to communicate with? Which characters does she find it easy to communicate with? What do the examples you find imply about the relationship between language and communication?
Why is there so much recitation of poetry in the Alice books? What does Alice communicate to the people she meets by trying to recite poems?
Chew on This
In the Alice books, the fact that words can be interpreted in so many different ways makes communication difficult.
Although communication is complicated in the Alice books, Humpty Dumpty's example shows that there is nothing inherently wrong with language, as long as both people in a conversation understand their words in the same way.