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Alice sits drowsily by a riverbank, bored by the book
her older sister reads to her. Out of nowhere, a White Rabbit runs
past her, fretting that he will be late. The Rabbit pulls a watch
out of his waistcoat pocket and runs across the field and down a
hole. Alice impulsively follows the Rabbit and tumbles down the
deep hole that resembles a well, falling slowly for a long time.
As she floats down, she notices that the sides of the well are covered
with cupboards and shelves. She plucks a marmalade jar from one
of the shelves. The jar is empty, so Alice sets it down on another
shelf. With nothing else to do, she speaks aloud to herself, wondering
how far she has fallen and if she might fall right through to the
other side of the earth. She continues to speak aloud, daydreaming
about her cat Dinah. In the midst of imagining a conversation the
two of them might have, she abruptly lands. Unhurt, Alice gets up
and catches sight of the White Rabbit as he vanishes around a corner.
Alice approaches a long corridor lined by doors. The doors
are all locked, so Alice tests them with a key that she finds on
a glass table. After searching around, Alice discovers a small door
behind a curtain. She tests the key again and finds that it opens
up to a passage and a garden. Since the door is much too small for
Alice to squeeze through, she ventures back to the table with the
hope that she might find something there that would help her. A
bottle marked “DRINK ME” sits on the table. Alice drinks the contents
of the bottle after inspecting it to be sure it does not contain
poison. Alice immediately shrinks, and though she can now fit through
the door, she realizes she has left the key on the tabletop high
above her. She alternately cries and scolds herself for crying before
catching sight of a small cake with the words “EAT ME” underneath
the table. Alice eats the cake with the hope that it will change
her size, but becomes disappointed when nothing happens.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland begins
with Alice dozing off as her sister reads to her, anticipating the
strange and nonsensical events that occur throughout the book. As
her sister reads, Alice nods off into a dream-like state in which
she seems to catch sight of a fully dressed white rabbit capable
of speaking English. Even before she enters Wonderland, she experiences
phenomena that depart from the conventional rules of the real world.
The plunge into the rabbit hole represents a plunge into deep sleep.
Her dreams create a fully formed world that constantly shifts and
transforms with its own unique logic. The slow fall imitates the
shift from dozing off to deep sleep, beginning with Alice’s idle
daydreaming and ending with her firmly placed in her dream world.
Alice slowly acclimates to the dream world but does not let go of
the established logic of the waking world. She marvels that after
this fall, she would think nothing of falling off of the top of
her house, much less down the stairs, even though the narrator reminds
us that both falls would still likely kill her.
Alice runs away from the Victorian world of her sister
because she feels unfulfilled, but she quickly discovers that Wonderland
will not fulfill any of her desires. Wonderland thwarts her expectations at
every turn. The Rabbit represents this motif of frustrated desire. His
antics inspire Alice to follow him down the hole and into Wonderland,
but he constantly stays one step ahead of her. Led on by curiosity,
Alice follows the elusive rabbit even though she does not know what
she will do once she catches him. She pursues him out of pure curiosity
but believes that catching him will give her some new knowledge
or satisfaction. Even when the outcome is unknown, the act of chasing
implies that a desired goal exists.
Alice cannot enter the garden even though she wants to,
and her desire to enter the garden represents the feelings of nostalgia
that accompany growing up. Carroll dramatizes the frustrations that occur
with growing older as Alice finds herself either too small or too
large to fit through the passageway into the garden. After drinking
the potion, Alice shrinks and cannot reach the key on the table. The
helplessness that comes with her exaggeratedly small size represents
the feelings of insignificance of childhood. The growth spurt caused
by the cake in Chapter 2 represents the awkward bodily transformations
that come with puberty. Alice’s growth allows her the means to fulfill
her destiny but literally reminds her that she is growing away from
the pleasures of childhood. The idealized garden is now off limits
to Alice, who can no more fit through the passageway than an infant
could travel back to the safety and security of the womb.