Alice in Wonderland
Lewis Carroll
Contributed by Sharon Fleming

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Chapter 3
Summary

Upon arriving at the shore, Alice and the animals get out of the water with the goal of drying off. Alice engages in a heated argument with the Lory before the Mouse intercedes and orders everyone to listen to a story. The Mouse explains that its “dry” story about William the Conqueror will help everyone dry off. However, by the story’s end, the animals are still wet.

Then the Dodo suggests the animals participate in Caucus race to dry themselves. Without asking their consent, the Dodo marks out the race course and organizes the animals before shouting, “Go!” to start the race. Half an hour later, the race finishes, and the Dodo announces that all its participants have won. The Dodo selects Alice to present them with celebratory mints. As she does so, Alice realizes that there is not enough for everyone, including herself. Alice gives the Dodo a thimble as a gift, and the Dodo returns it to her as her gift. Although Alice finds the Dodo’s gesture absurd, she accepts it.

When the animals finish their mints, the Mouse announces it will tell another tale. However, Alice confuses “tale” with “tail” and concentrates on the Mouse’s tail instead of its story. The Mouse notices Alice’s misplaced focus, and they argue over it. Their disagreement causes the Mouse to leave, and the other animals lament his absence. Then Alice expresses her wish for her cat — Dinah — to bring the Mouse back, describing how Dinah loves eating birds. Alice’s talk of Dinah disturbs the animals, and they scamper away, leaving Alice alone once again. Alice cries out of loneliness until she hears pattering footsteps nearby.

Analysis

Many literary scholars argue that the Caucus race satirizes politics or the uselessness of life in general. The Dodo forces the animals to participate in a race that has neither rules nor a finishing line. At its end, there is no indication of progress in the animals’ condition. The Caucus race suggests inefficacy among political institutions and leaders therein. Instead, people submit to directionless leadership that does not lay out or accomplish any plans or goals. Likewise, in life, many individuals and societies experience a lack of direction and confusion. As a result, they gravitate toward leaders who show them a way to exist.

Aside from its political undertones, language becomes distorted in this chapter. First, the Mouse demonstrates a misunderstanding of the word “dry” by thinking a boring story will help the animals stop being wet. Later, Alice confuses the word “tail” for “tale,” a mistake that impairs her ability to listen to the Mouse’s story. Moreover, Alice and the Mouse get into an argument over the confusion. Although puns typically inject light-hearted fun into a text, the double meanings in Wonderland do more to confuse the characters than lighten the mood. Alice’s misunderstanding underscores just how odd Wonderland appears to her. To adapt to her new setting, Alice must realize that nothing — even the language she speaks — resembles her life outside of Wonderland.

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