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Alice and the group of animals land on the bank and focus
on getting dry. Alice begins arguing with the Lory, but the Mouse
interjects and commands everyone to sit down and listen to a history
lesson. The Mouse reasons that the story of William the Conqueror
would be best since this story is the driest thing it knows. After
completing the story, Alice and the other animals are still wet,
prompting the Dodo to suggest a Caucus race. The Dodo marks out
a course, sets everyone in place, and yells “go.” The animals run
around haphazardly until the Dodo declares half an hour later that
the race is over. The Dodo says that all of them have won the Caucus
race and elects Alice to confer prizes. Alice passes mints to all
the animals, leaving herself without a prize. Finding a thimble,
she hands it to the Dodo, who in turn presents it back to her as
her prize. Alice solemnly accepts the thimble but cannot help feeling
that the gesture is absurd.
After eating their mints, the Mouse declares that it will
tell its tale. Alice confuses “tale” and “tail,” and focuses on
the Mouse’s appendage as it talks about Fury prosecuting a mouse
in court. The Mouse chides Alice for not paying attention, and though
Alice apologizes, the two misunderstand each other and the Mouse
leaves in a huff. The other animals lament the Mouse’s absence,
and Alice mentions that she wishes her cat Dinah were there to bring
the Mouse back. Alice continues to tell the animals that Dinah eats
birds, which causes all of the animals to scatter in fear. Alone
again, Alice begins to cry until she hears the distant pattering
The Caucus race provides a thinly veiled critique of the
absurdity of English politics at the turn of the century while making
a larger comment about the general meaninglessness of life. The
animals run randomly in circles, progress nowhere, and arbitrarily
adjourn without any clear conclusion. Carroll implies that politicians
do the same, behaving with a great deal of pomp and circumstance
without actually accomplishing anything. On a broader scale, the
caucus race seems to imply that there may not be a clear purpose
and meaning to life itself. Though the race accomplishes the intended
purpose of getting everyone dry, they do not follow a clear path
or understand what they are doing as they do it. This may be a broader
commentary on the fact that life takes unexpected and sometimes arbitrary
twists and turns but ultimately ends up in the right place even
though there may not be a clear purpose.
There is a great deal of confusion about words and their
meanings in this chapter, showing the ways that Wonderland distorts
language. When Alice mistakes the Mouse’s “tale” for its “tail,” visualizing
the former in the shape of the latter, her inability to understand
the inhabitants of Wonderland emerges. The purpose of language is
to convey meaning, which requires words to have fixed definitions
in order to consistently convey meaning. In Wonderland, language,
as well as characters, events, and terrains, change meaning and
significance from moment to moment. Each aspect of Wonderland has
no lasting impact outside of the scene and the context in which
it operates. As a result, there are no consistent patterns of meaning
that would create a system of logic in Wonderland that might allow
a visitor such as Alice to make sense of her surroundings. Alice’s
verbal miscues with the Mouse are one example of her inability to
understand patterns of behavior and thus establish any kind of expectation
of what to anticipate in Wonderland.