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Advice from a Student: Analysis of Chapter Five (1 of 2)

November 8, 2009
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At this point in the story, Alice had just gotten away from the giant puppy that seemed out of place in Wonderland. (It was a bit too out of place for Wonderland’s standards.) Alice asked herself how she could grow big enough to play with the dog, when at that moment she spotted a hookah smoking caterpillar, sitting on a mushroom.
Alice Encounters the Hookah Caterpllar

In the picture above, one can see the caterpillar drawn with a face, or is it part of his feet? The flower drawn behind Alice appears in other Tenniel pictures as well, and could be a tobacco plant.

The caterpillar didn’t show much caring for Alice, and it took a little while before he showed any curiosity toward her. His first words, “Who are You” made Alice question who indeed she really was. The readers see how the story has progressed, but the caterpillar had no idea as to what Alice was talking about. He continued asking questions like why or how, and in return giving short answers to Alice. It seemed as though he didn’t care at all about Alice’s situation. So far, Alice has changed her size five times, which being odd to us, must have been insane for Alice. Her experiences in Wonderland has made her uncertain about who she is and what she will later become. This is an interesting concept coming from a caterpillar, an insect destined to change and eventually become a butterfly. Eventually, Alice tires of the caterpillar’s bleak conversation, and walks away. When he calls her back, Alice became excited and interested in what he had to say, but once again, she was met with disappointment. Alice seeks help and compassion from the caterpillar, but all she gets is inquiry from it.
What also confused me was how Alice immediately responded to the caterpillar’s order to repeat “You are Old, Father William.” Here I thought of the earlier chapter when Alice ran off to get the White Rabbit’s gloves when he mistook her as his servant. The poem was common in British teachings as part of a way to teach memorization to the children, so how did the caterpillar know it? The way Alice horribly recited the poem proved that Wonderland has had it’s effect on her mind. If you really open your mind, and I mean rip it open, maybe a reader can compare the hookah caterpillar to Yoda. I’m not much of a Star Wars fan, but they both speak with a lot of wisdom, and have this “air of knowledge” around them. In Wonderland, Alice constantly struggles with the art of transforming, but the caterpillar, who will one day transform into a butterfly, is a master of that art.
At the end of the chapter, when the caterpillar has grown bored with Alice, he puts up his pipe and crawls away, not before answering Alice’s question on how to change size. He exclaims that one side will make her shrink, the other grow. Before she asks what he is talking about, the caterpillar remarks he is talking about the mushroom. In the annotatations, Gardner says that the caterpillar has read Alice’s mind. I’m thinking this may be because her mind has changed so much since she fell into Wonderland, that her thoughts are no longer her own. Is Alice just being influenced by the world around her, because her mind has become so weak?
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