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Analyzing the Madness: Part II

November 12, 2009
This is Part II to my analysis of “A Mad Tea-Party.” Part I can be found here.
On page 70 of The Annotated Alice (TAA), the Hatter says a riddle and Alice replies, “I believe I can guess that.” The March Hare corrects her by saying “Do you mean that you think you can find out the answer to it?” While this is unusual in itself, what struck me as odd is just a bit later, on page 72, the Hatter asks Alice if she has “guessed the riddle yet.” Under normal circumstances, interchanging ‘guess’ and ‘find out the answer’ would not be something noteworthy. However, due to the fact that the March Hare dismissed a ‘guess’ only moments before, it seems odd to me that the Hatter would then casually use the word.
The word play on ‘Time’ is cleverly executed. But what could be the significance of personifying time?
It appears that Carroll may be issuing a warning through the word play. He could be trying to say that we should value time. He likely had a particular attachment to time, since his time and Alice Liddell’s were so delicately intertwined. He probably wanted to stop time when he was with her. However, his impression of stopped time is not a pleasant one: rotating around a table, always drinking from your neighbor’s cup, a never-ending tea party. Did he realize, then, that time must go on even if he wished to spend more of it with young Alice Liddell? Additionally, it is likely that Carroll wished time would speed up and Alice Liddell would grow up faster so he could marry her. Perhaps the stopped time in the tea party scene was presented as unfavorable because Carroll felt that Alice Liddell was growing so slowly as if time were stopped.
After the puns regarding time, the Dormouse is woken to tell a story about three girls that live in a treacle well. When Alice questions the absurdity of three girls living in a treacle well, the March Hare “very earnestly” asks Alice to “take some more tea.” (p. 75) This makes me believe that perhaps the tea is the source of the madness. Perhaps, if Alice were to drink the tea, she would think in abstract like both the Hatter and the Hare and would not think anything is impossible.
If this is true, it seems plausible that everything Alice has drunk or eaten could have been laced with a bit of absurdity, with a dash of impossibility. Perhaps that is the reason why Alice “had got so much into the way of expecting nothing but out-of-the-way things to happen,” (p. 19) so early in her journey through Wonderland.
After the March Hare urges her to drink, Alice helps herself to some bread and butter. Once she eats it, she agrees that “there may be one,” treacle well somewhere in existence. This again supports the theory that the food in Wonderland is perhaps touched with a bit of magic. Why else would Alice change her mind so quickly after clinging so stubbornly to her beliefs?
Near the conclusion of the Dormouse story, Alice again is skeptical and says “I don’t think–” but is quickly cut off by the Hatter who replies, “Then you shouldn’t talk.” (p. 77) I found this remark particularly humorous as well as insightful. This is surely one of Carroll’s lessons, to think before you speak.
This concludes the tea party. While at first glance it appears nonsensical and utterly mad, it truly contains a valuable bit of mystery coupled with life lessons.
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