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After finishing the cake that says “EAT ME,” Alice grows
to nine feet tall and finds that she can barely get an eye down
to the doorway. She begins to cry, and her massive tears form a
sizable pool at her feet. The White Rabbit reappears and mutters
to himself about keeping a Duchess waiting. Alice attempts to speak
to him, but he scuttles away, leaving behind his gloves and fan.
Alice picks up the fan and begins fanning herself. She muses on
the possibility that she may not be Alice but someone else entirely.
To determine if she knows all that Alice is supposed to know, she
starts to recite her lessons. She finds that she gets the recitations
wrong and considers the idea that she may not be Alice, but possibly
a girl she knows named Mabel. Since Mabel knows very little, it
makes sense to Alice that her confusion over the lessons must indicate
that she has somehow become Mabel. If she is Mabel, there is no
reason for her to find her way out of the well to rejoin society.
Even though she’s confused about her identity, she knows that she
must find a way out of the well and back to the world aboveground.
Alice realizes that the fanning motion causes her to shrink,
so she fans herself down to a size that will allow her to fit through
the door. Once again, Alice has forgotten the key, but before she
can become upset, she tumbles into a pool of salt water. She thinks
she has fallen into the sea, but quickly realizes that she is swimming
in her own giant tears. As she swims, she comes across a Mouse,
whom she asks for help. The Mouse doesn’t understand Alice, so she
tries to speak French to him. She recites a line from her French
lessons, inquiring after a cat. At the mention of the cat, the Mouse
leaps with fright. Alice apologizes but then absentmindedly chatters
about her cat Dinah. The Mouse becomes offended, so she changes
the subject to dogs. The talk of dogs only frightens the Mouse more,
and he begins to swim away. Alice promises to stop talking about
cats and dogs if the Mouse will come back. The Mouse swims back
to Alice, telling her to follow it to shore, where he will tell
his history to explain his hatred for cats and dogs. Now accompanied
by several other animals that have fallen into the pool, including
a Duck, a Dodo, a Lory, and an Eaglet, Alice and the Mouse swim
Alice becomes confused about her identity as her size
changes, mirroring the confusion that occurs during the transition
from childhood to adulthood. The reality that she is too large to
fit into the garden produces confusion over who she is, which Alice
responds to with bouts of crying and self-reproach. Unable to accept
the changes she is experiencing, she questions her own identity.
Since she cannot remember her own lessons, she believes that she
must not be Alice anymore. At first, Alice assumes that she may
in fact be someone she knows. The comparisons she draws between
herself and Mabel show her class-consciousness, as well as her ties
to the material trappings of the Victorian world. Though she tries
to use chains of reasoning suited to the aboveground world, the
paradox of Wonderland is that she must accept the logic of nonsense
or she will go mad with contradiction.
Alice tries to deal with her predicament reasonably, but
the episode in the pool of tears illustrates how easily Wonderland
distracts her from reason and causes her to react emotionally. The
sea of tears is like a punishment for Alice’s giving in to her own
emotions. Alice vacillates between crying and scolding herself,
going back and forth between emotion and reason. However, as she
swims, she doesn’t notice that the landscape has transformed around
her. The great hall has become an ocean, while the floor has become
a dry “shore.” Instead of reacting to her predicament by rationalizing
the problem or starting to cry, she distracts herself by trying
to figure out how to address the Mouse. Alice has started to react
with total detachment to the absurd situations in which she finds
herself. As she proceeds throughout her journeys, she will continue
to encounter problems that cause her to react with extremes of emotion
or reason. However, in this scene, she has begun to take the absurdities
of Wonderland at face value, allowing herself to become distracted
so that she ignores the real problem at hand.