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The Cheshire Cat has Spoken: Analysis of Chapter Six (2 of 2)

November 8, 2009

The Cheshire Cat.

This grinning character turns out to be one of the more helpful inhabitants of Wonderland, so long as one asks it the right questions.

“-so long as I get somewhere,” Alice added as an explanation.

As the conversation plays out, it is easy to see that the cat has a good deal of knowledge. Alice inquires which way she should go and the cat eventually informs her of a Hatter in one direction and a March Hare in the other. The first portion of the dialogue has been the most quoted passage of all the Alice books, says the notations in Annotated Alice, so I feel somewhat compelled to do so as well.

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
“I don’t much care where-” said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.

If there were any part of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland that meant anything more than what was in plain black and white, then this would be it. It wouldn’t matter if Carroll meant the overall story to be strictly a children’s book, because it is clear there is more here. The message is simple. Now, drawing back to how the Cheshire Cat has a good bit of knowledge, he is also up in a tree on a high limb. This may suggest the Cat’s notable power over Alice or anyone else, if you analyze that much into it. With that in mind, read what he goes on to say in these lines, which offer up a lot of questions.

-“we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”

Is their world really considered mad by its own inhabitants? This would say that their world is being compared to Alice’s “real world.” How would he even know to compare? Even more, why would he consider the “real world” the sane one, for really it can go either way? He even elaborates after Alice replies to his stunning comment.

“How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.
“You must be,” said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.”

Alice understandably finds this to prove nothing at all. She’s not even convinced that the Cat is mad, himself. Maybe nobody’s mad. Maybe everyone’s mad. There really is no way to tell, but these remarks open up to the possibility that the Wonderland dwellers are aware of the “real world.” This connects to the question of why the Rabbit was even in the “real world” to begin with, which I inquired in another of my entries. However, it is clear the two worlds differ in every way. Take this part of the conversation, for instance.

“By-the-bye, what became of the baby?” said the Cat. “I’d nearly forgotten to ask.”
“It turned into a pig,” Alice answered very quietly, just as if the Cat come back in a natural way.
“I thought it would,” said the Cat, and vanished again.

To start off, Carroll mentions the word “natural” as if it were applicable. The only way for this to be so is if there was a standard, therefore the “real world.” The Cheshire Cat had come back by simply appearing from thin air after disappearing in the same nature. Obviously not “natural” by the standards, as Carroll wrote.

“-you grant that?”
“I suppose so,” said Alice.

With that said, the Cat goes on to say that he expected the baby to turn into a pig, as if it were normal in that world, and vanished quickly after. It is clear from this conversation that Carroll himself does not see Wonderland as a sane place, nor does it proclaim itself so. The madness of that world is a thing to be obtained, not accepted. On a side note, clearly a baby turning into a pig in the first place is preposterous, considering the “real world.”

The next part of the conversation is a clever bit of satire. Alice asks the Cat to stop disappearing so suddenly, and as a result the Cat disappears slowly, going from the tail until the very wide grin. What does this mean? Maybe nothing. Alice now knows who is where and decides a direction. The thing is, this path leads her to a March Hare, proclaimed mad… although so would have the other option, to a Mad Hatter. Wonderland is clearly mad, and Lewis Carroll would concur.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Connor M. permalink
    November 16, 2009 5:18 am

    Yes, that is a very possible explanation, the pig always being a pig. It’s very interesting to look at it that way. However there is still that small technicality of what the cat says, how he refers to it as a ‘baby’ and acknowledges it turning into a pig.

    And to refer to this as a ‘dream’ and its insanity, I think you’d be in the right on that. There really has been no logical event thus far and to me Wonderland looks like a sort of dream-scape, along with its characters.

    About the Cat’s words on where Alice is going, I think that for the most part Carroll is trying to get across a message. Aside from that, I see that pretty much all of the characters have tried to point out fault in Alice’s thinking, no matter how small the detail. Maybe they are trying to show her that she is in fact mad after all.. or maybe they’re merely trying to driver her mad.

  2. Meighan A. permalink
    November 15, 2009 4:48 pm

    I really enjoyed reading this. Your analysis of the Cheshire Cat was admirable. The comparison with out world was very nicely done.

    My one question is this: was the pig ever really a child? I don’t believe it ever was. They pretended it was. But the more Alice looked at it the more she saw it as a pig, because first her vision was clouded by the expectation of it being a child and then when that faded she was able to recognize it as a pig.

  3. November 12, 2009 4:17 pm

    This blog wa very interesting. I liked the part when you compared Wonderland to our own world. When the Chesire cat made the point that everyone in wonderland is mad, what point was he trying to make? He must have been comparing Wonderland to our world because of the difference between the two worlds. Plus if everyone was mad then nobody would really be ‘mad’. It made me wonder what Carroll was trying to say here. In my opinion, he is strictly talking about the insanity of our dreams.

  4. Darcy S. permalink
    November 11, 2009 8:37 pm

    Very well thought-out blog post. The Cheshire Cat is definitely among the most interesting characters in the entire story. I wish there was an entire story written for the Cat and Alice. His backwards way of thinking is stunning to Alice – she has never had to convert herself to such a ludicrous way of thinking before. Her transition from a formula mindset to an irrational mindset is where my personal interest lies.

    If she would like anywhere she went, then she can go anyway she likes. Why can’t she figure this out for herself? We certainly can’t say that she is dumb or thick. The idea that any destination would be of interest to her so the direction she goes is doesn’t matter would be tacit to most, but why does a loony cat need to tell Alice that? Does this say anything about Alice’s character? Or rather, about the character that Carroll needs Alice to be in order to reach a point?

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