Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
Chapter 4: The Rabbit Sends in a Little Bill
The White Rabbit approaches Alice, looking for his gloves and fan. Alice searches dutifully but cannot find them. The White Rabbit mistakes Alice for his housemaid, Mary Ann, and commands her to go to his house and fetch his things. Startled by the Rabbit’s demands, Alice obeys and soon finds his house. As she walks, she thinks about how strange it is to take orders from animals and imagines that her cat Dinah might start ordering her around when she gets back home. Inside of the house, she finds the gloves and fan, as well as a little bottle labeled “DRINK ME.” Curious to find out what the contents of the bottle will do, Alice drinks the liquid. Before she can finish, she begins growing rapidly and can barely fit in the room. Her arm dangles from a window and her foot becomes wedged in the chimney.
Alice decides that her adventures are like a fairy tale and imagines writing her own stories once she grows up. Given her new size, she reasons that perhaps she has in fact grown up and will never age. The White Rabbit interrupts her train of thought by calling for his fan and gloves. He tries to storm into the house, but Alice’s giant arm prevents the door from opening. The Rabbit tries to climb through the window, but Alice bats him away with her giant hand. The Rabbit calls out for his servant, Pat, and the two begin to plot a way to deal with Alice when she swats them away again. The Rabbit and Pat recruit another servant, a lizard named Bill, to climb down the chimney, but Alice launches him into the air with her foot. A crowd gathered outside calls to burn down the house. Alice threatens to send Dinah to get them and they begin hurling pebbles through the window at her face. The pebbles transform into cakes, and reasoning that the cakes might cause her to become smaller, Alice eats one and shrinks. She leaves the house and encounters a mob of animals ready to rush her.
Alice flees and heads into a wood where she thinks about how she might return to her normal size and find the garden. A sharp bark causes her to look up at an enormous puppy standing over her. Afraid it might be hungry, Alice tires it out by teasing it with a stick. She then sets off, wondering what she might eat or drink to return to her original height. She comes across a giant mushroom and climbs to the top, discovering a blue caterpillar smoking a hookah with an air of indifference.
The White Rabbit’s status as an authority figure forces Alice to adjust her perception that humans sit at the top of the animal hierarchy. Alice wonders if her experiences in Wonderland will affect the way she conducts herself when she gets back home, since she imagines that she will have to start taking orders from her cat Dinah. Alice accepts the inversion of the natural order with the same faith that she might accept new information in her normal day-to-day life. Wonderland breaks down Alice’s beliefs about her identity and replaces those learned beliefs and understandings of the world with Wonderland’s nonsensical rules. Alice understands this identity displacement in terms of a fairy tale. She states, “When I used to read fairy tales, I fancied that kind of thing never happened, and now here I am in the middle of one!” Fiction has intruded on her own sense of reality, and she finds herself unable to keep the two separate. Alice is no longer the Alice she knew at home and is not altogether sure of who she is anymore.
Alice continues to have problems with her size, which exacerbates her confusion over her identity and once again alludes to the painful transition from childhood to adulthood. In Chapter 1, her changing size became a source of anxiety for Alice, revealing her desire to remain a child and avoid the pressures of adulthood. In this chapter, she identifies as a growing girl too large to be shut in by forces that seek to constrict and repress her. The focus on physical space in Chapter 4 emphasizes a child’s emerging feelings of claustrophobia as he or she grows and changes. The house represents domestic repression, an idea underscored by the fact that Alice enters it as a servant girl. When Alice literally outgrows the house, her body manifests her desire to transcend the boundaries of her confined existence.
When Alice meets the puppy, she finally discovers a Wonderland creature that behaves in a way that she expects. Unlike the other creatures Alice encounters in Wonderland, the puppy behaves the way a puppy would in the real world. Alice isn’t the only one who recognizes this aberration in the logic of Wonderland. In a later chapter, the Cheshire Cat tries to prove to Alice that it is “mad” by comparing itself to a dog, which it views as being quite normal. The fact that the dog is the only thing in Wonderland that resembles Alice’s reality at home may be a function of the fact that Carroll hated dogs. Carroll reveals his disdain for canines by giving the dog none of the magical qualities of the other animals in Wonderland.