“Who in the world am I?” Ah, that’s the great puzzle.

Alice asks this question of herself in Chapter 2 of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, just after she has grown to a giant size and frightened the White Rabbit away. Alice realizes that she is not just trying to figure out Wonderland, but also attempting to determine who she is and what constitutes her identity in a world that actively challenges her perspective and sense of self. Wonderland has already begun to affect Alice, and she rightly understands that her self perception cannot remain fixed in a world that has drastically different rules from her own. In Wonderland, Alice has a slippery grasp of her identity. Since Wonderland is a byproduct of her own imagination, it becomes clear that it is Alice’s identity and not Wonderland itself that is being called into question. The nonsensical features and characters that make up Wonderland extend from Alice’s own psyche, so her quest to understand Wonderland becomes a quest to understand the forces and feelings that comprise her identity. The idea of the great puzzle also supports Carroll’s notion that life is an unduly complicated mystery that human beings must use rational thought and intelligence to understand.

Lastly, she pictured to herself how this same little sister of hers would, in the after‑time, be herself a grown woman; and how she would keep, through all her riper years, the simple and loving heart of her childhood; and how she would gather about her other little children, and make their eyes bright and eager with many a strange tale, perhaps even with the dream of Wonderland of long ago; and how she would feel with all their simple sorrows, and find a pleasure in all their simple joys, remembering her own child‑life, and the happy summer days.


This quote is the very final sentence of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Alice has gone inside for tea, leaving her sister by the riverbank to muse over Alice’s wondrous dream. This passage has a tone of long winded, golden nostalgia and differs dramatically from the rest of the story, which is generally economical in words and nightmarish for Alice. This tonal shift results from the shift in perspective from Alice to her sister, which in turn alters the reader’s perception of Alice’s adventures. While she experiences her adventures, Alice finds her journey to be confounding and nightmarish. On the other hand, Alice’s sister sees her story as a strange tale from a simple heart. She trivializes Alice’s identity-shattering journey, distancing the trauma Alice experienced in her dream with her own aboveground faith in an orderly universe. In a story studded with subversion, Alice’s sister becomes the ultimate subversion who undermines Alice’s search for meaning and identity as she imagines Alice growing up and mystifying other simple‑hearted children with her stories.

This quote also serves as Carroll’s commentary on the character of Alice, the fictionalized version of his muse Alice Liddell. Carroll became deeply preoccupied with the dissolution of his friendship with Liddell as she reached maturity and grew apart from him. This final line has a nostalgic, wistful longing for “the happy summer days” in which he would visit with the Liddell sisters and delight them “with many a strange tale.” Ultimately, Carroll realizes that these happy summer days cannot last, and like Alice’s dream or even Alice’s sister’s dream, the simple-hearted love of a child will fade, leaving him only with memories of “child‑life.”

Why is a raven like a writing-desk?

When the Mad Hatter asks Alice why a raven is like a writing desk, Alice assumes that he’s presenting her with a solvable riddle. Unfortunately for Alice, he’s doing no such thing. Rather, he’s asking her a simple question to which he himself has never thought of an answer. The raven and writing desk question encapsulates the Mad Hatter’s madness: he’s curious, almost philosophical, and yet his curiosity extends not to concrete, factual things but rather to strange, nonsensical, or whimsical concepts. He’s got an entirely unordered approach to time, and believes it can be manipulated at his bequest. He takes the Dormouse’s silly treacle story entirely seriously. He’s content existing in a state of insanity, wondering at things that have no real meaning. For the Mad Hatter, it is not the prospect of finding an answer that is most important to him. Rather, simply the act of pondering a question is worthwhile, regardless of the outcome. So, while the raven and the writing desk question exemplifies the Hatter’s madness, as well as the eccentric nature of Wonderland in general, there’s something freeing and expansive about the Hatter’s chaotic, imaginative, and unpredictable worldview. While Alice, who has a fairly rigid understanding of the world, is annoyed by the Hatter and his unsolvable riddles during the tea party, the Mad Hatter, and her entire stint in Wonderland, prompts her to ponder the limitations of her own perspective on life. 
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland also explores the theme of our world’s absurdity, with the bizarre people and traditions of Wonderland helping the reader to question the behaviors and systems we see in our own lives. Wonderland is undoubtedly absurd – its monarchy is out of control and its people, like the Mad Hatter and March Hare, enjoy strange social events and are entirely unsurprised by things that really should be surprising, like Alice’s fluctuating size and a baby that’s actually a pig. However, much of the same could be said of our own world. There’s an existential thread running through the novel, and the raven and writing desk question can also be viewed in such a light. The question seeks to make a seemingly impossible connection between two entirely different things, and the tea party-goers have a vested interest in discussing it. And yet, no one has yet discovered the answer. When the Mad Hatter asks why a raven is like a writing desk, he may as well be asking: Why is the universe the way it is? Why am I here? What is the meaning of all of this? All of these existential questions have no conclusive or provable answer, and pondering them seriously can cause someone to go a little mad.

“Really, now you ask me,” said Alice, very much confused, “I don’t think——” “Then you shouldn’t talk,” said the Hatter.

Although Alice has many excellent and intelligent qualities, she is not always an entirely likable character. She’s a precocious child, but quite set in her ways, often unwilling to think beyond her own opinions, feelings, and logical conclusions. At the beginning of her time in Wonderland, she immediately offends and frightens the Mouse by unthinkingly praising her cat Dinah, who is a remarkably efficient mouse catcher – and, likely, a mouse killer as well. Despite understanding the Mouse’s fear, Alice simply cannot stop herself from going on about her cat. She consistently makes unthinking or offensive comments to other creatures as the novel progresses, often getting into little arguments over every unique or unfamiliar detail she encounters in a creature’s story or behavior. Alice cannot experience the world of Wonderland without extensively questioning it. Her curiosity toward and scrutiny of practically everything and everyone she encounters is both admirable and annoying.

While most of the creatures in Wonderland have no problem bickering with Alice, the Mad Hatter makes a particularly strong impression on her when, as she attempts to talk some sense into him, the March Hare, and the dormouse, he tells her that people who don’t think, shouldn’t talk. Of course, Alice didn’t mean to say that she literally doesn’t think, but the Mad Hatter cutting her off and responding to her with such a blunt insult is both humorous and the sort of intellectual challenge that Alice needs in order to grow. Sometimes, the creativity, imagination, and strangeness of Wonderland’s creatures go beyond Alice’s capacity to understand. She is still a child, and a child that is used to the strict societal standards of her Victorian world. While Wonderland is in some ways the fantasy of a child, it’s also a far weirder and menacing place than the sorts of magical worlds a child might usually think of. In many ways, Wonderland is too complex for Alice and her simplistic, childlike perception of life, and naturally, she challenges the behavior and logic of its people and systems. While her questions and arguments are sometimes useful and perceptive, at other times, as the Mad Hatter so eloquently pronounces, it’s best for one not to speak on things they don’t understand. Alice would have had a much different experience had she simply observed and even participated in the madness and marvelousness of Wonderland, rather than fighting and questioning it at every step.

"I’m sure those are not the right words," said poor Alice, and her eyes filled with tears again as she went on, "I must be Mabel after all, and I shall have to go and live in that poky little house, and have next to no toys to play with, and oh! ever so many lessons to learn!"

When Alice first arrives in Wonderland and begins to experience a number of bodily changes and strange interactions, she’s so confused by her new reality that she wonders if she’s no longer herself. Not yet possessing the expansive imagination required to exist in the insanity of Wonderland, Alice can only imagine that she’s turned into another child that she knows from school. After considering a few possibilities, she becomes increasingly worried that she has turned into Mabel, a girl marked by her poor performance in school. Alice’s newfound inability to recite timetables or remember national capitals indicates to her that she may have become Mabel. Alice is horrified at the prospect of having to relearn her lessons, but another point of concern is that, if she were Mabel, she would need to live like Mabel. Mabel’s house is small, and she possesses very few toys. It can be inferred that Alice is of a higher class than Mabel – whereas Mabel’s house is “poky” and the girl herself lacking in book smarts, Alice lives on a large and beautiful farm and spends her free time reading and exploring. There is a clear class difference between the two, further explaining Alice’s alarm over the possibility of having exchanged her life for Mabel’s. It’s worth noting that, at this point in the novel, the greatest and most life-altering change that Alice can imagine is descending to a lower class.

As the story progresses, Alice’s wealthy, well-mannered Victorian upbringing is repeatedly challenged, albeit indirectly. While the novel features no transparent critique of England’s class system, Wonderland upends Alice’s sense of the inherent rightness of her own beliefs and logic – very little that Alice has learned in her brief life applies in the world of Wonderland. By the end of Alice’s time in Wonderland, she has seen countless social rules broken and societal traditions shirked. While Wonderland does contain a vaguely similar hierarchy to Victorian England, the way that it functions is far less predictable. Those in the highest positions of wealth and privilege, such as the King, Queen, and Duchess, are ridiculous, dangerous, and pathetic, while mavericks like the Cheshire Cat who have no true societal power are shown to be competent and observant. Although some of Wonderland’s creatures seem to have positions that mirror those of Victorian England – from royals to butlers to hatters – their lives are not as shaped by their stations as they might be in the real world. Additionally, no one seems to care where Alice herself falls on the hierarchy, and she’s certainly taken aback by not being treated with the manners and decorum that a girl of her status might expect.

The eccentric, childish fantasy world of Wonderland is a place in which Alice is freed – not always entirely to her liking – from the strict conventions that make up her real, daily existence. However, since Wonderland in some ways symbolizes the fleeting freedom and openness of youth, it stands to reason that once Alice – or any child – reaches adulthood, she must forget the madness of societies like Wonderland and fall in line with the principles, hierarchies, and rules of the adult world. When Alice returns home, the class system that separates her and Mabel – and will likely deeply affect their life paths – will once again reign supreme.