Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, or literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland takes place in Alice’s dream, so that the characters and phenomena of the real world mix with elements of Alice’s unconscious state. The dream motif explains the abundance of nonsensical and disparate events in the story. As in a dream, the narrative follows the dreamer as she encounters various episodes in which she attempts to interpret her experiences in relationship to herself and her world. Though Alice’s experiences lend themselves to meaningful observations, they resist a singular and coherent interpretation.
Alice quickly discovers during her travels that the only reliable aspect of Wonderland that she can count on is that it will frustrate her expectations and challenge her understanding of the natural order of the world. In Wonderland, Alice finds that her lessons no longer mean what she thought, as she botches her multiplication tables and incorrectly recites poems she had memorized while in Wonderland. Even Alice’s physical dimensions become warped as she grows and shrinks erratically throughout the story. Wonderland frustrates Alice’s desires to fit her experiences in a logical framework where she can make sense of the relationship between cause and effect.
Carroll plays with linguistic conventions in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, making use of puns and playing on multiple meanings of words throughout the text. Carroll invents words and expressions and develops new meanings for words. Alice’s exclamation “Curious and curiouser!” suggests that both her surroundings and the language she uses to describe them expand beyond expectation and convention. Anything is possible in Wonderland, and Carroll’s manipulation of language reflects this sense of unlimited possibility.
Alice uses these words throughout her journey to describe phenomena she has trouble explaining. Though the words are generally interchangeable, she usually assigns curious and confusing to experiences or encounters that she tolerates. She endures is the experiences that are curious or confusing, hoping to gain a clearer picture of how that individual or experience functions in the world. When Alice declares something to be nonsense, as she does with the trial in Chapter 12, she rejects or criticizes the experience or encounter.