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Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Lewis Carroll

Chapter 11: Who Stole the Tarts?

Chapter 10: The Lobster Quadrille

Chapter 12: Alice’s Evidence

Summary

Alice arrives in the courtroom and finds the King and Queen of Hearts on their thrones, surrounded by a large crowd of animals and the whole deck of cards. The Knave lies chained before them. Alice surveys the room and takes great pleasure in identifying the various features of a court of law that she has read about. Alice notices that all of the jurors are writing down their own names, which the Gryphon explains that they all must do lest they forget their names before the trial’s end. Alice calls the jurors “stupid things,” and the jurors immediately write this down. She snatches a squeaking pencil out of the hand of the juror Bill, last seen as the servant of the White Rabbit, and he promptly begins writing with his finger.

The White Rabbit, serving the court as a herald, reads the accusation that the Knave of Hearts has stolen the Queen’s tarts. The Mad Hatter comes forth as the first witness, bearing a teacup and a piece of bread and butter. The King bids the Hatter remove his hat, but the Hatter refuses, explaining that he does not own the hats, he merely sells them. As Alice watches, she finds that she has started to grow again. The Dormouse becomes upset by Alice’s growth and storms off to the other side of the court to avoid being crushed by Alice. The Hatter delivers a bungled testimony, nervously suggesting that the March Hare said something. Before he can relate what the March Hare said, the Hare denies that he said something. The Hatter tries to explain that the Dormouse said something, but the Dormouse doesn’t reply because he has fallen fast asleep.

A juror asks the Hatter what it was the Dormouse said, but the Hatter cannot remember. The King insults the Hatter’s stupidity, which prompts a guinea pig to start cheering. The guinea pig is immediately “suppressed” by being tied up in a bag and sat on. Once the guinea pig has been suppressed, the King commands the Hatter to stand down. The Hatter replies that he can stand no lower, so the King bids him sit down. Another guinea pig begins cheering and is similarly suppressed. Finally, the King permits the Hatter to leave, and he sneaks off before the Queen has time to order one of the officers to chop off his head.

The King calls the Cook as the next witness. The King asks her what the tarts are made of, and the Cook replies “Pepper.” The Dormouse sleepily calls out the word “treacle,” and the courtroom flies into chaos. Amidst the frenzy, the Cook disappears. The King demands that the next witness be called, and the White Rabbit calls Alice to the stand.

Analysis

Alice has failed to find meaning in Wonderland but hopes that she will find logic and order in the trial. She sees the Wonderland court as a true court of justice, viewing the institution of law as a refuge of sanity in which an objective and undeniable truth will prevail. She excitedly identifies the various components of a court of law, such as the jury box and the jurors. The similarities of the Wonderland court to an aboveground court reinforce Alice’s faith in the sanctity of law. Alice takes great pleasure in recognizing the elements of a courtroom given the degree to which her expectations and perceptions have been confounded throughout her travels. Alice desires meaning and order and the trial becomes to the last opportunity to realize her need for coherence and sanity.

Alice quickly realizes that in a world without meaning, the search for truth and order can only be a sham. The King repeatedly demands a verdict but one never materializes. The trial mocks the legal process. The importance of trivial points supersedes core issues of right and wrong, innocence and guilt. The absurdity of the legal trial recalls the ridiculous Caucus Race, in which pointless activity serves as a means to arrive at conclusions that have nothing to do with the intended purposes of the institutions. Just as the Caucus Race has no clear winner, the trial fails to determine the culpability of the Knave. Several critics have pointed out that the concept of law itself, rather than the Knave, is on trial in this scene. As with the Caucus Race, Carroll indicts the legal system in Wonderland as a way of critiquing the legal system in our own world.

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