Alice in Wonderland
Lewis Carroll
Contributed by Sharon Fleming
Chapter 6
Summary

From a distance, Alice sees a fish wearing a footman’s livery approach the four-foot-tall house. A similarly dressed Frog-Footman opens the door and receives from the fish an invitation to join the Queen of Hearts for a croquet game. Once the fish leaves, Alice approaches the Frog-Footman, who sits on the ground, looks confused, and stares blankly at the sky. When Alice knocks on the door, the Frog-Footman tells her no one will answer it because those inside the house are making too much noise to hear her. The Frog-Footman goes on to tell Alice he will remain sitting outside.

Suddenly, the door opens just wide enough for a plate to fly out of it, grazing the Frog-Footman’s nose. Despite this, the Frog-Footman remains unfazed. Alice gathers enough courage to open the door and enter the house, where she finds four occupants: the Duchess, a baby, the Cook, and a cat. As the Duchess nurses the baby, the Cook prepares soup with so much pepper it makes the Duchess and the baby sneeze. The cat, oblivious to these events, grins while sitting on the hearth.

Upon inquiry, the Duchess tells Alice that the grinning cat is a Cheshire Cat. Alice asks why the Cheshire Cat grins for so long, but the Duchess chastises her for not knowing. During this conversation, the Cook hurls various objects at the Duchess and the baby. To change the subject, Alice starts talking about Earth’s axis. When she hears the word “axis,” the Duchess mishears it as “axes” and randomly yells, “Chop off her head!” To lure the baby to sleep, the Duchess sings a lullaby and roughly tussles it from side to side. When she remembers the Queen’s croquet game, the Duchess leaves to prepare for it, throwing the baby at Alice.

Alice exits the house with the baby in her arms, only to realize it is a piglet, which she lets run away. At the same time, the Cheshire Cat appears, sitting on the bough of a tree. Alice asks the Cheshire Cat where she should go, and the Cheshire Cat responds that she will end up somewhere regardless of the direction she takes. Then the Cheshire Cat suggests Alice visit the Hatter and March Hare before warning her that they are mad. When Alice replies that she does not want to meet mad people, the Cheshire Cat tells her all animals in Wonderland are mad, and since she is in Wonderland, she must be mad, too. After a brief push and pull between the two, the Cheshire Cat tells Alice they will meet again at the Queen’s croquet game. Then the Cheshire Cat disappears and reappears as a disembodied grin. Alice travels to the March Hare's house. Upon arrival, she realizes that the house is much bigger than her, so she eats a piece of mushroom and grows two feet.

Analysis

This chapter reveals how Wonderland’s native inhabitants interact with their environment. For these animals, the absurd is normal. For example, the Frog-Footman narrowly misses getting hit with a plate but keeps talking as usual. Later, the Cheshire Cat explains to Alice that everyone — including her — is mad in Wonderland. It appears that chaos and insanity is Wonderland’s modus operandi, and anything contrary to it would be intolerable.

Despite Wonderland’s chaos and disorder, the Duchess and Frog-Footman display some sense of social structure. Alice remembers her society’s organization and hierarchy, but she does not understand how these institutions exist in Wonderland. Moreover, the haphazard and cruel manner with which the Duchess treats the baby runs counter to Victorian-era principles. When she speaks, the Duchess alludes to a Victorian poem by David Bates that advocates for the gentle treatment of babies. Yet the Duchess literally discards such social conventions by tossing the baby to Alice. The baby’s transformation into a pig further subverts Victorian values. At this point, Alice accepts that the social order she knows has been obliterated in Wonderland. From then on, Alice becomes more accepting of Wonderland’s counterintuitive norms.

Madness is Wonderland’s defining feature. As the Cheshire Cat explains to Alice, to be mad is to survive in Wonderland. Alice must come to terms with its incoherent and even stupid, meaningless events. Moreover, the Cheshire Cat considers Alice mad because of her desire to be normal when facing such madness. Since Wonderland exists entirely within Alice’s imagination, the word “mad” seems a pun of the word “made.” Everything in Wonderland is a figment of Alice’s subconscious imagination. It is all just as mad as it is made.

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