Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is a famous novel written by Lewis Carroll.
Alice sits on a riverbank on a warm summer day, drowsily reading over her sister's shoulder, when she catches sight of a White Rabbit in a waistcoat running by her. The White Rabbit pulls out a pocket watch, exclaims that he is late, and pops down a rabbit hole. Alice follows the White Rabbit down the hole and comes upon a great hallway lined with doors. She finds a small door that she opens using a key she discovers on a nearby table. Through the door, she sees a beautiful garden, and Alice begins to cry when she realizes she cannot fit through the door. She finds a bottle marked “DRINK ME” and downs the contents. She shrinks down to the right size to enter the door but cannot enter since she has left the key on the tabletop above her head. Alice discovers a cake marked “EAT ME” which causes her to grow to an inordinately large height. Still unable to enter the garden, Alice begins to cry again, and her giant tears form a pool at her feet. As she cries, Alice shrinks and falls into the pool of tears. The pool of tears becomes a sea, and as she treads water she meets a Mouse. The Mouse accompanies Alice to shore, where a number of animals stand gathered on a bank. After a “Caucus Race,” Alice scares the animals away with tales of her cat, Dinah, and finds herself alone again. Alice meets the White Rabbit again, who mistakes her for a servant and sends her off to fetch his things. While in the White Rabbit's house, Alice drinks an unmarked bottle of liquid and grows to the size of the room. The White Rabbit returns to his house, fuming at the now-giant Alice, but she swats him and his servants away with her giant hand. The animals outside try to get her out of the house by throwing rocks at her, which inexplicably transform into cakes when they land in the house. Alice eats one of the cakes, which causes her to shrink to a small size. She wanders off into the forest, where she meets a Caterpillar sitting on a mushroom and smoking a hookah (i.e., a water pipe). The Caterpillar and Alice get into an argument, but before the Caterpillar crawls away in disgust, he tells Alice that different parts of the mushroom will make her grow or shrink. Alice tastes a part of the mushroom, and her neck stretches above the trees. A pigeon sees her and attacks, deeming her a serpent hungry for pigeon eggs. Alice eats another part of the mushroom and shrinks down to a normal height. She wanders until she comes across the house of the Duchess. She enters and finds the Duchess, who is nursing a squealing baby, as well as a grinning Cheshire Cat, and a Cook who tosses massive amounts of pepper into a cauldron of soup. The Duchess behaves rudely to Alice and then departs to prepare for a croquet game with the Queen. As she leaves, the Duchess hands Alice the baby, which Alice discovers is a pig. Alice lets the pig go and reenters the forest, where she meets the Cheshire Cat again. The Cheshire Cat explains to Alice that everyone in Wonderland is mad, including Alice herself. The Cheshire Cat gives directions to the March Hare's house and fades away to nothing but a floating grin. Alice travels to the March Hare's house to find the March Hare, the Mad Hatter, and the Dormouse having tea together. Treated rudely by all three, Alice stands by the tea party, uninvited. She learns that they have wronged Time and are trapped in perpetual tea-time. After a final discourtesy, Alice leaves and journeys through the forest. She finds a tree with a door in its side, and travels through it to find herself back in the great hall. She takes the key and uses the mushroom to shrink down and enter the garden. After saving several gardeners from the temper of the Queen of Hearts, Alice joins the Queen in a strange game of croquet. The croquet ground is hilly, the mallets and balls are live flamingos and hedgehogs, and the Queen tears about, frantically calling for the other player's executions. Amidst this madness, Alice bumps into the Cheshire Cat again, who asks her how she is doing. The King of Hearts interrupts their conversation and attempts to bully the Cheshire Cat, who impudently dismisses the King. The King takes offense and arranges for the Cheshire Cat's execution, but since the Cheshire Cat is now only a head floating in midair, no one can agree on how to behead it. The Duchess approaches Alice and attempts to befriend her, but the Duchess makes Alice feel uneasy. The Queen of Hearts chases the Duchess off and tells Alice that she must visit the Mock Turtle to hear his story. The Queen of Hearts sends Alice with the Gryphon as her escort to meet the Mock Turtle. Alice shares her strange experiences with the Mock Turtle and the Gryphon, who listen sympathetically and comment on the strangeness of her adventures. After listening to the Mock Turtle's story, they hear an announcement that a trial is about to begin, and the Gryphon brings Alice back to the croquet ground. The Knave of Hearts stands trial for stealing the Queen's tarts. The King of Hearts leads the proceedings, and various witnesses approach the stand to give evidence. The Mad Hatter and the Cook both give their testimony, but none of it makes any sense. The White Rabbit, acting as a herald, calls Alice to the witness stand. The King goes nowhere with his line of questioning, but takes encouragement when the White Rabbit provides new evidence in the form of a letter written by the Knave. The letter turns out to be a poem, which the King interprets as an admission of guilt on the part of the Knave. Alice believes the note to be nonsense and protests the King's interpretation. The Queen becomes furious with Alice and orders her beheading, but Alice grows to a huge size and knocks over the Queen's army of playing cards. All of a sudden, Alice finds herself awake on her sister's lap, back at the riverbank. She tells her sister about her dream and goes inside for tea as her sister ponders Alice's adventures.
Nearly every object in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland functions as a symbol, but nothing clearly represents one particular thing. The symbolic resonances of Wonderland objects are generally contained to the individual episode in which they appear. Often the symbols work together to convey a particular meaning. The garden may symbolize the Garden of Eden, an idyllic space desire, in that Alice focuses her energy and emotion on trying to attain it. The two symbolic meanings work together to underscore Alice's desire to hold onto her feelings of childlike innocence that she must relinquish as she matures.
The Caterpillar's Mushroom
Like the garden, the Caterpillar's mushroom also has multiple symbolic meanings. Some readers and critics view the Caterpillar as a sexual threat, its phallic shape a symbol of sexual virility. The Caterpillar's mushroom connects to this symbolic meaning. Alice must master the properties of the mushroom to gain control over her fluctuating size, which represents the bodily frustrations that accompany puberty. Others view the mushroom as a psychedelic hallucinogen that compounds Alice's surreal and distorted perception of Wonderland. It could also mean that Alice has mastered Wonderland.
The Caterpillar is also a mathematical symbolism where Charles Dodgson was a teacher of mathematics at Christ Church in Oxford, England.
Early in the story, for instance, Alice’s exchange with the Caterpillar parodies the first purely symbolic system of algebra, proposed in the mid-19th century by Augustus De Morgan, a London math professor. De Morgan had proposed a more modern approach to algebra, which held that any procedure was valid as long as it followed an internal logic. This allowed for results like the square root of a negative number, which even De Morgan himself called “unintelligible” and “absurd” (because all numbers when squared give positive results).
The word “algebra,” De Morgan said in one of his footnotes, comes from an Arabic phrase he transliterated as “al jebr e al mokabala,” meaning restoration and reduction. He explained that even though algebra had been reduced to a seemingly absurd but logical set of operations, eventually some sort of meaning would be restored.
Such loose mathematical reasoning would have riled a punctilious logician like Dodgson. And so, the Caterpillar is sitting on a mushroom and smoking a hookah — suggesting that something has mushroomed up from nowhere, and is dulling the thoughts of its followers — and Alice is subjected to a monstrous form of “al jebr e al mokabala.” She first tries to “restore” herself to her original (larger) size, but ends up “reducing” so rapidly that her chin hits her foot.
Alice has slid down from a world governed by the logic of universal arithmetic to one where her size can vary from nine feet to three inches. She thinks this is the root of her problem: “Being so many different sizes in a day is very confusing.” No, it isn’t, replies the Caterpillar, who comes from the mad world of symbolic algebra. He advises Alice to “Keep your temper.”
In Dodgson’s day, intellectuals still understood “temper” to mean the proportions in which qualities were mixed — as in “tempered steel” — so the Caterpillar is telling Alice not to avoid getting angry but to stay in proportion, even if she can’t “keep the same size for 10 minutes together!” Proportion, rather than absolute length, was what mattered in Alice’s above-ground world of Euclidean geometry.
In an algebraic world, of course, this isn’t easy. Alice eats a bit of mushroom and her neck elongates like a serpent, annoying a nesting pigeon. Eventually, though, she finds a way to nibble herself down to nine inches, and enters a little house where she finds the Duchess, her baby, the Cook and the Cheshire Cat.
The Mad Hatter & Time
The mad hatter is a strong symbolic for passion in one's life. When he was caged in the movie, it was like Alice is caging her passion for life. Passion is always mad and thus the name mad hatter. Also, the Mad Hatter represents the concept of time, which is yet another symbol. The concept of time is a prominent motif throughout the entire novel, as the Mad Hatter explains, "For instance, suppose it were nine o'clock in the morning, just time to begin lessons: you'd only have to whisper a hint to Time, and round goes the clock in a twinkling! Half-past one, time for dinner" (71). The personification of time leads to the implication that it is just as easily manipulated as the other living creatures in Wonderland.