“How to dry off” is the central concern at the beginning of this chapter. Alice finds herself embroiled in a heated discussion with the Lory (the parrot) over who knows best how to dry off. The Lory cuts off the argument with the declaration that he is wiser than Alice because he is older than she is. In this dispute Alice becomes a child again — therefore sort of an underdog — but her self-centered emotions indicate a mental maturity well beyond her chronological age. Still, in relation to the other animals, Alice seems altogether like the dependent child that she really is; but clearly the Lory’s rude position reflects that although he may be more mature, we don’t know that he is necessarily older than Alice. In any case, Alice will not let the Lory’s response go unchallenged, and the scene turns hilarious when the Lory absolutely refuses to reveal his true age.
All along, the Mouse has seemed to assume himself to be the natural “authority figure” of this motley group, so he offers “to dry” the creatures by telling them a dry history. The Mouse states that “. . . the Patriotic Archbishop of Canterbury found it advisable . . .” but before he finishes, the Duck interrupts: “Found what?”
“Found it,” the Mouse replies rather crossly adding, “Of course you know what it means.”
Wonderland certainly demands a strange “consistency” (one can’t say ‘logic’) of its own — especially concerning language, for like the Eaglet’s “Speak English!” the language of ordinary discourse is ambiguous. The Mouse’s “it” could, of course, mean absolutely anything. At any rate, the dull, dry history of England does not help “dry” anyone. So the Dodo (an extinct bird) proposes a Caucus-race. Alice asks the Dodo to explain the Caucus-race, and he replies that “the best way to explain it is to do it.” The Eaglet challenges him to “Speak English!” Thus, the Dodo explains that he is proposing that the creatures dry themselves in a race in which everyone starts and stops running when and where they please, and all win the race. For an extinct creature, the Dodo has a curious sport: Natural selection, the cause of his extinction, is a race in which only the best win.
Alice thinks that the Caucus-race is absurd, but she participates in the running anyway. As an indication that the other animals recognize her superiority, she is selected to bestow the prizes (comfits, or candy, from her pockets). After the candy is distributed, however, she remains without a prize. The Dodo then suggests that she be rewarded with the only thing left in her pocket, an elegant thimble, which he gives to her as her prize.
The Caucus-race, of course, satirizes all political caucuses and the wheeling and dealing of politics in which, to win an election, a politician often has to ensure that even his opponents feel that they all have won something with the victor’s win. Certainly a prize to everyone does lessen the rise of jealousies and rivalries, but Alice wants to laugh, and the gravity of the other creatures intimidates her. Her amusement reflects a Victorian Tory of the nineteenth century; political progress at that time was essentially random and circular, a sentiment best summarized in the French saying: Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose (or in English: the more things change, the more they stay the same).
Having discovered that the Mouse has bitter memories of his enemies, Alice asks him to tell the history he promised. But rather than a personal autobiography, however, the Mouse’s story is a genetic-racial memory. On the printed page, his “tale” resembles a sprawling, elongated (and the print becomes tinier and tinier) mouse’s tail. It is a brutal story of an encounter between a mouse and a dog (“Fury”) in a house. The story ends with the dog executing the mouse after a trial. The Mouse’s sad tale prefigures the entire plot of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, for Alice will finally dispose of all of Wonderland because of her anger at the injustice of the Knave of Hearts’ trial.
The calligrammatic tale/tail teaches Alice nothing about the Mouse’s past experiences, so after the Mouse departs in a rage, Alice goofs again. This time, she offends the Canary and the Magpie by describing Dinah’s appetite for birds. Leaving her judgment about “what is safe to talk about” in limbo, she abandons her basic sensitivity; it simply can’t be trusted here in this strange world of Wonderland. Her existence here is certainly becoming “curiouser and curiouser” because she cannot identify with the other creatures and their natures. On the other hand, her subversive (so the creatures think) attempt at communication is collapsing into mad, slapstick kinds of verbal play. Not only does Wonderland’s language have a false logic, but the very definition of terms rests upon inconsistencies. In fact, so consistent are the illogicalities that nonsense appears to be the “norm” and the basis of Wonderland.