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Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Lewis Carroll

Study Questions & Essay Topics

Key Facts

Quiz

Study Questions

1. Discuss the significance of the Queen of Hearts in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

As the ruler of Wonderland, the Queen of Hearts functions as Alice’s primary antagonist, controlling the realm that thwarts Alice at every turn. As the suit of hearts suggests, she is the heart of Alice’s conflict with Wonderland. When Alice exposes the Queen as a fraud who is nothing more than a playing card, the dream of Wonderland ends abruptly and Alice regains the world of sense and order she has known since birth. Though Alice guesses the Queen of Heart’s secret midway through the book, she hesitates to call her out, demonstrating the power that the Queen of Heats has over the characters in Wonderland. Though the Queen’s threats are, like Wonderland itself, devoid of substance, she still instills fear in her subjects and Alice alike.

The Queen of Hearts poses an additional threat to Alice in her journey toward womanhood. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland recounts Alice’s metaphorical journey to adulthood. Over the course of her adventures, she faces several threatening situations with sexual overtones, but the Queen of Hearts’s threat is both the most direct and the most subtle. In screaming “Off with her head!” to Alice, the Queen of Hearts threatens her life but also her sexuality, since the word refers both to Alice’s literal head and her maidenhead, or maidenhood (virginity). The Queen of Hearts violently attempts to force Alice’s sexual awakening against her will, and only with Alice’s growing power and sense of self can she stand up to the Queen and “call her hand” by revealing her to be a mere playing card.

2. What role does the garden play in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland?

The garden in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland exists as an Edenic object of desire for Alice. The sight of the garden draws Alice in with its “beds of bright flowers” and “cool fountains,” and her inability to enter sets the tone for the exasperating detours that follow one after the other. When viewed in terms of the metaphorical onset of Alice’s puberty, the garden initially symbolizes the Biblical Garden of Eden, a place of childlike grace and innocence that precedes the knowledge of good and evil. Alice’s desire to enter the garden corresponds to her desire to remain a child indefinitely.

When she finally enters the garden, Alice discovers that it is not a picturesque childhood paradise, but a flimsy sham where the roses are painted and the inhabitants are dangerous and ill tempered. The garden falls short of Alice’s expectations largely because of the experiences that have preceded her arrival there. By the time she reaches the garden, she has grown up metaphorically and gained control over her fluctuating size. Her growing wariness of Wonderland allows her to perceive the garden with a critical, observant eye. The garden initially exists as a manifestation of Alice’s desire to remain a child, but she realizes it is a poor mimicry of adulthood, in which two-dimensional adults follow arbitrary manners and conventions that parody the conventions of the aboveground world.

Suggested Essay Topics

1. Contrast the role of dreams in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass.

2. Discuss Alice’s treatment by the different characters she encounters in the books. Why do you think they act they way they do, and what does their behavior say about Alice?

3. Discuss the role of poetry in both books. What are the differences between the poems in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass?

4. What is the significance of Alice’s fluctuations in size and shape in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland?

5. Throughout both stories, there are occasional oblique references to death. What purpose do these references serve in the stories, and why might Carroll include them?

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