A Mad Tea Party

“‘Then say what you mean,’ the March Hare went on.

‘I do,’ Alice hastily replied; ‘at least–at least I mean what I say–that’s the same thing you know.’

‘Not the same thing a bit!’ said the Hatter. ‘Why, you might just as well say that ‘I see what I eat’ is the same thing as ‘I eat what I see’!'” (Carroll 53).

I was once told that Alice in Wonderland is based on logic problems and other concepts of mathematics by my Pre-Calculus teacher in high school, and I recall wanting to pursue that topic for my final project but my teacher told me it would have been too complex for me. But look at me now, I’m doing just that.

But I digress. Honestly, Dodgson being a mathematician is not surprising to me since I learned that is what he taught at Christ Church and published several math books. So soon as I read over this part I told myself, “Yes, this is logic. Somehow. I don’t know what the concept is called, but it has to be since the phrases seem absurd but they actually completely make sense.” And the reason they made sense to me is because not all categories can fit into one, but one could possibly be all. Whenever I tried explaining this to someone, I always used the crocodile and alligator example I learned at the Albuquerque Zoo in 2012. Basically, it means that “all alligators are crocodiles but not all crocodiles are alligators.” I know it’s completely bizarre that when I read that portion all those thoughts traveled in my mind.

In any case, I was still curious as to what this concept was called so I googled this quote up and voila! I found that it was indeed abstract mathematical concept. Although I do not know much about abstract mathematics, Keith Devlin, the Executive Director of the Human-Sciences and Technologies Advanced Research Institute at Stanford University, explained it as “Alice’s ensuing attempt to solve the riddle pokes fun at another aspect of quaternions that Dodgson would have found absurd: their multiplication is non-commutative. Alice’s answers are equally non-commutative” (The Hidden Math Behind Alice and Wonderland).



“‘Perhaps not,’ Alice cautiosly replied; ‘but I know I have to beat time when I learn music.’

‘Ah! That accounts for it,’ said the Hatter. ‘He wo’n’t stand beating…'” (Carroll 54).

This play on words is something that would have gone over my head as a child, which is why I was so confused even when I watched the English version. I thought it was all nonsense but that that was the point of this story. However, looking back after well over a decade, that was imply not the case. It never occurred to me how prevalent Alice had been in my life until now. It seems that taking this class made my inner memories surface.


“‘I’ve had nothing yet,’ Alice replied in a offended tone: ‘so I ca’n’t take more.’

‘You mean you ca’n’t take less,’ said the Hatter: ‘it’s very easy to take more than nothing.’ (Carroll 57).

Although this passage was not commented on upon the Stanford professor I quoted earlier, I do feel this is another instance of logic or just a mathematical abstraction. If one has nothing (nothing = 0) then you can’t have more because there was nothing present in the first place because the number zero is neither a negative nor a positive number. However, logically it is easier to take more tea because you cannot take less than what one does have. You cannot have -5 teas, but you can have +3 teas, even if your starting point was zero.  (I think I just ended up confusing myself, but you get the idea right?? I am no mathematical expert but this is how I interpreted this).


“‘Then you shouldn’t talk,’ said the Hatter. This piece of rudeness was more than Alice could bear: she got up in great disgust, and walked off” (Carroll 58).

I just love how defiant Alice is. I think this is one of the many instances that we can comment upon her gender fluidity. As a young lady in this time frame, she would have to been taught the basic etiquette of tea time and guest policy. Therefore, she should have known that she, as a lady, could not be offended and simply walk away from the situation. Women were usually expected to take the hit and smile, or if the insult was very piercing, they would excuse themselves politely before leaving. However, our Alice just walks up and leaves, defying a contextual gender norm. I love this because it shows her pride and defiance, something that characterizes her greatly. Although a mere child, she has a lot of self respect.


The Queen’s Croquet-Ground

“‘Nonsense!’ said Alice, very loudly and decidedly, and the Queen was silent” (Carroll 62).

I just wanted to point out another instance her defiance and gender fluidity. This time it comes in the form of authority defiance, something unfit for a young lady (or anyone in general) which makes her even braver for standing up for what she believes. The more I read about her, the less I am surprised that she was able to defeat the Jabberwocky.


“The moment Alice appeared, she was appealed to by all three to settle the question, and they repeated her arguments to her though, as they all spoke at once, she found it very hard to make out exactly what they said” (Carroll 66).

I am amazed by how much authority Alice is given by these monarchs and everyone in general. She is a complete stranger and a child, bit she is given such power for some reason. I really do think that this is worth following in Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There because it’s simply fascinating to see why everyone gives her such power.

“The executioners argument was, that you couldn’t cut off the head unless there was a body to cut it off from: but he had never had to do such a thing before and he wasn’t going to begin at his time of life.

The King’s argument was that anything that had a head could be beheaded…” (Carroll 66).

Ah, another food for thought moment. Although the arguments are petty, the absurdity behind them makes sense. I never thought that I would be using an oxymoron to explain a scene, but it seems that this book is based on absurdities with sense.


The Mock Turtle’s Story

“‘We called him Tortoise because he taught us,’ said the Mock Turtle angrily. ‘Really you are very dull!'” (Carroll 73).

However, in addition to having power and making important decisions, Alice is also patronized often because she refused to see the absurdity of may things as sense. Everything in this world seems to function well with absurdity and Alice is learning that despite all the comments made by the animals surrounding her.

“‘Ten hours the first day,’ said the Mock Turtle: ‘nine the next, and so on.’

‘What a curious plan!’ exclaimed Alice.

‘That’s the reason they are called lessons,’ the Griffin remarked: ‘because they lesson from day to day'” (Carroll 75).

I was laughing as I read all the puns in this section. They were incredibly crafty and well thought out. I am so amazed by Carroll’s ability to play with words like this, it’s a true craft.

On another note, the picture below is a picture of a Disney commercial that featured the Mock Turtle. The Mock Turtle was originally supposed to be in the movie but was removed due to pacing, but he was featured in this commercial for some reason.



Disney PDF

“While the films share common elements, many drawn from Carroll’s text, they are notably different in theme, tone, and other aesthetic aspects. In particular, they differ in their presentation of Alice’s character in the manner in which her journey through Wonderland (“Underland” in Burton’s film) relates to Alice’s life above ground” (Disney 51).

I am so glad someone finally pointed this out. When I first viewed the 2010 film with my friends in theatres, I became obsessed with the aesthetic of the film and compared it to my childhood staple. They became two separate interpretations of the same medium and I found that fascinating because I loved both. I felt more in tune with the 1951 when I was younger because I saw myself as the child I was. But after watching an older Alice go through fleeing her betrothal and more mature aspects, I felt closer to that version because I was also getting older; as if we had grown up together.

“With this paragraph, Carroll underlines his respect for the beneficial powers of the imagination, a point omitted from Disney’s animated Alice” (Disney PDF 54).

I really felt this resonant in the text, and the sister even reflected on how powerful and more relevant that would serve in the future rather than reading books without “pictures or conversations.” That being said, I do feel that this was omitted from the Disney movie. I recall the sister dismissing her and her imagination, not appreciating, which I think made it lose its value.


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