Alice in Wonderland
Lewis Carroll
Contributed by Sharon Fleming
Motifs are devices or structures that are used by artists or authors to help in the development of a theme.

A dream is the conduit through which Alice experiences her adventures in Wonderland. In her dream state, Alice encounters a distorted reality upheld by nonsensical characters. Yet, since she remains unaware that she is, in fact, dreaming, Alice responds to dreamlike circumstances in the context of her real life. She struggles to confront the disconnect between real life and dream life. Wonderland — a world of nonsense — makes sense within the context of a dream. Should Alice have known she was dreaming, it stands to reason that she would have been more accepting of its incomprehensibility. After all, most people expect their dreams to be disjointed and nonsensical.


Throughout her journey in Wonderland, Alice confronts challenges ranging from complicated interactions with other characters to physical difficulties. These circumstances push Alice to adjust her thinking and perceptions of the world around her. Naturally, Alice struggles to adapt to her changing circumstances because they exist beyond her comfort zone. Wonderland takes everything Alice knows to be true and turns it on its head. Yet, Alice often remains obstinate, and her reluctance to adapt damages her relationships with other characters. Alice’s misadventures in Wonderland, despite being bizarre, reveal an important element of reality: In life, there are often forces at play beyond human comprehension or control. The best people can do to confront them is to adapt to them.

Puns and Bizarre Language

Upon entering Wonderland, Alice encounters characters who speak in puns, riddles, and bizarre language. In many cases, one word’s multiple meanings create conflict. The varied modes of expression often confuse Alice. Moreover, they underscore a clear shift away from the ordinary. Just as Alice encounters strange characters and events in Wonderland, language reflects this odd environment.

Curiosity, Nonsense, and Confusion

Alice describes her circumstances in Wonderland with variations of the words “curiosity,” “confusion,” and “nonsense.” These words constitute a sliding scale of Alice’s tolerance of Wonderland. In circumstances she can tolerate, Alice describes her situation as “curious” or “confusing.” Moreover, these circumstances contain a mood of hope that Alice can achieve contentment and even decipher the meaning of her situation. In Chapter 12, though, Alice uses the word “nonsense” to describe difficult circumstances wherein she feels no hope for improving her situation.

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