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The Circle of Life Isn’t Always Round: Analysis of Chapter Three (1 of 2)

November 7, 2009
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To get you up to speed at this point in the story, Alice and the assortment of critters had just reached the bank of the Pool of Tears, which was also analyzed in another entry. They all followed the mouse wanting to hear the story of why he hates Cats and Dogs, but first things first. The group needed to get dry in order to avoid catching a cold. At that moment, a Dodo steps in with a plan to get them all dry. He proposes what he calls a Caucus-Race. In the margin notes of The Annotated Alice, a caucus is said to be a reference to a meeting of leaders to “decide on a candidate or policy.” That was the American usage, but the English version, which is more likely the one Carroll thought of while writing, meant a “highly disciplined party” organization within a committee. The Caucus-Race that took place in this chapter was none of the above…

The Dodo suggested that the group begin running along a course, except there was no designated course or a designated start. The animals simply started running around in a haphazard manner, with no rhyme or reason to go with it. All that was definite was that the Dodo shouted that the race was over thirty minutes after it had begun, so all the moving around had gotten the group dry by this point. Still pumped from the random “race,” the critters asked who had won, at which point the Dodo bird proclaims that they are all the winners, but that Alice must give the prizes (Sweets) to all the participants. But Alice herself had not gotten a prize, so the Dodo asked for something of Alice, only to present it to her as said prize. There are countless, I repeat, countless references the Caucus-Race could be made to, but I’ll stay with the big-picture ideas here.

First of all, notice that the animal with the idea for the race was a Dodo bird. The Dodo has been extinct for hundreds of years, so why did Lewis Carroll chose this animal to suggest the race? He may have been pointing out that this crazy method of living, (simply attempting anything to achieve a goal) doesn’t always turn out well. In this case, he shows the results with the bird that had gone extinct by living with this mentality.

Within the side-notes in The Annotated Alice, I found an idea from Alfreda Blanchhard that Carroll may have used this race to show how politicians go about their day and attempt to “run” things.

He makes them out to be a group of individuals with no plan, running around and not accomplishing anything significant. I’m talking about the politicians here.

If you look at this from a view of Alice as the “common person,” one might be able to link the prizes she hands out as taxes to the government. Alice herself isn’t helped from giving away her comfits (treats), and all she gets in return is something she already had.

Now is the point where one would take one further step back and look at this thing in a very big picture view. The random and uncertain race could be thought of as life itself, which many question the meaning, too. Here Carroll is saying that life has no meaning or set path; nature will do as it wishes. Like the race, who knows when it will end? One could also see that the race has accomplished the goal necessary, but it’s not for sure how… Life in general can be thought of a person getting somewhere, accomplishing a goal, achieving something – but with no explanation of how you got there. Maybe sometimes fate decides things for the individual, and all they can do is sit back and watch. Life may take a few uncertain paths, but it is certain that the path will lead you somewhere.

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