Alice in Wonderland
Lewis Carroll
Contributed by Sharon Fleming

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Chapter 11
Summary

Alice arrives to a full courtroom. The King and Queen of Hearts have already taken their seats, and a variety of animals have come to witness the trial. The Knave — the alleged criminal — has been chained and laid before the jurors. Alice looks around the courtroom, comparing it to what she has read about trials in the past. She notices that the jurors spend time writing their names, something she finds unusual. The Gryphon clarifies that this is a routine of the proceedings because sometimes jurors forget their names near the end of trials. In response, Alice calls the jurors “stupid things.” The jurors hear her say this and note it in the court record. When Alice takes a pencil from Bill, one of the jurors, he immediately uses his finger to write.

The trial begins with the White Rabbit, serving as the court’s herald, reading the charges against the Knave. He is accused of stealing the Queen's tarts. The first witness called to the stand is the Mad Hatter. Continuing his tea-party punishment, Hatter comes in carrying tea, bread, and butter. The King beckons him to remove his hat, but he declines, saying he sells — but does not own — his hats. As Alice watches the proceedings, she notices that she has been growing again, but few others notice. To avoid being crushed by Alice’s expanding body, the Dormouse finds shelter in the other side of the courtroom. Meanwhile, the Mad Hatter botches his testimony. He suggests the March Hare had said something, but the March Hare disagrees. Then the Mad Hatter says that the Dormouse said something, but the Dormouse is asleep.

When a juror asks the Mad Hatter what the Dormouse said, he cannot recall. Then the King insults the Mad Hatter, causing a guinea pig to laugh. To punish the guinea pig for misbehaving in court, it is captured, tied up, and placed in a bag as a warning to the other animals. With the guinea pig imprisoned, the King commands the Mad Hatter to “stand down.” The Mad Hatter replies that he is already standing down, and it may be impossible for him to stand lower than the current position. The King responds by ordering him to sit and, later, to leave the courtroom. The Mad Hatter exits before the Queen calls for his execution.

The court summons the Cook, asking her for the ingredients of the Queen’s tarts, and the Cook replies that the tarts were made of pepper. Then the Dormouse wakes up, mentions the word “treacle,” and the court descends into chaos. Taking advantage of the melee, the Cook flees from the court. When the King orders for the next witness, the White Rabbit calls for Alice to take the stand.

Analysis

Despite the presence of a court, Wonderland has neither order nor meaning. Alice clings to the court as her last hope of finding logic and reason. She feels that the court members should behave as they do outside of Wonderland. Moreover, Alice identifies some features of the court that resemble those outside of Wonderland. Alice’s concern over jurisprudence underscores her passion for justice. However, since Wonderland does not promote justice, Alice’s experience in court falls short of her expectations.

In fact, it is not long before Alice realizes the court is a sham and a mockery of the legal process. It conforms to no clear proceedings and falls into chaos. Although the King asks for a verdict on the Knave, the court delivers nothing. Like the Dodo’s Caucus race, the court does nothing to resolve problems or create civility. Instead, both the Caucus race and trial are bizarre and ultimately useless activities. Some scholars argue that Carroll intended Wonderland’s judicial system to mirror that of England during the Victorian era. This interpretation of the chapter presents a critical assessment of England’s judicial process of the 19th century, suggesting it was chaotic and ineffective in serving the community.

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