Alice’s major problem with Wonderland continues to be her inability to completely penetrate what she thinks exists — that is, its “logic.”
The Queen has a soldier fetch the Duchess at the close of the last chapter, and Alice finds the Duchess in a surprisingly good mood. Alice attributes, logically, her previous ill-temper to the Cook’s pepper. “Maybe it’s always pepper that makes people hot-tempered,” she thinks, very much pleased at having believed that she has discovered a “new kind of rule,” a rule of logic that exists in this strange world of Wonderland.
The Duchess, very much in the mold of a proper Victorian, finds a rule in everything, but they are rules and precepts which are nothing more than improvised absurdities: “. . . flamingoes and mustard both bite. And the moral of that is — ‘Birds of a feather flock together.'” As this conversation takes place, the Duchess has seductively dug her hideous chin into Alice’s shoulder, but their silly dialogue underlines the fun — and the entire world of nonsense — in Wonderland’s satire on the nature of all “rules.”
The mad Queen appears, and her presence — just her presence — is intimidating. The Duchess cowers and flies away from the garden. This form of bullying is a humorous evocation of the world of power relations. The Duchess flees from the Queen — and at that moment, all the croquet players and hoops have been placed under custody and sentenced to death! Only Alice, the King and the Queen are left to play the insane croquet game. Presumably, the Duchess could challenge the Queen’s power at this point. But the Duchess is like Alice; each of them respects rank. So the “more humane” Duchess yields to the Queen of Hearts.
Next, Alice meets two of the most incredible creatures in Wonderland; the Gryphon (Griffin) and the Mock Turtle (whose name comes from veal soup). The two creatures listen sympathetically to Alice’s story of her adventures in Wonderland. The Gryphon finds her story merely curious, but the Mock Turtle thinks that her verse is “uncommon nonsense.” Alice quickly finds out the false nature of their initial sympathy. The Gryphon’s intense, selfish sorrow is revealed finally as being just a fancy, and the Mock Turtle’s sensitivity is a reflection of his fearful name — a reminder of his eventual fate as something’s or someone’s meal.
Carroll’s satire in Wonderland is once again brought into play in the Mock Turtle’s education. As a “real tortoise,” he studied such things as: “Reeling and Writhing . . . and the different branches of Arithmetic — Ambition, Distraction, Uglification and Derision . . . and Mystery . . . Seaography; then Drawling — the Drawling-master was an old conger-eel, that used to come once a week: he taught us drawling, stretching and fainting in Coils.” A classical teacher taught the Mock Turtle “Laughing and Grief.” And finally lessons were called lessons “because they lessen from day to day.”
Chapters IX and X, thus, break with the pattern of Wonderland. At last, Alice finds one character who displays an absence of hostility. The Gryphon, for instance, is often tart but his intentions are at least outwardly sympathetic. The Mock Turtle and the Gryphon seem to confirm Alice’s sense of Wonderland’s peculiar disorder, and in Chapter X, “The ‘Lobster-Quadrille,'” we have another sad account of a meal and a dance, told in mock heroic couplets.
Chapter XI (“Who Stole the Tarts?”) and Chapter XII (“Alice’s Evidence”) reduce the above-ground facsimile of justice to a travesty. The one constant factor in the “enchanted garden” — the Queen’s furious demand for executions — turns out to have always been ignored, as Alice learns from the Gryphon. In Chapter XI, the Knave of Hearts is brought to trial and accused of stealing tarts. Eating again becomes the method of someone’s downfall.
The Knave of Hearts’ trial becomes a pointless formality as soon as we hear the Queen’s directive: “Sentence first — verdict afterward.” The White Rabbit serves as Herald of the Court, thus fulfilling the symbolic role which he plays in introducing the story. The members of the Mad Tea-Party and the Duchess’ cook are all brought in to give evidence. But the trial is completely lacking — in rules, evidence, and justice. The trial becomes yet another humorous illustration of Wonderland’s assault on real-world semantics and linguistic principles.
“Take off your hat,” the King tells the Hatter.
“It isn’t mine,” the Hatter says.
“If that’s all you know about it, you may step down,” the King tells him.
“I can’t go no lower,” says the Mad Hatter, “I’m on the floor, as it is.”
All during this time, Alice is beginning to grow to her original size. When she reveals this to the Dormouse, he replies: “You’ve no right to grow here.” Part of the fun at this point is that Alice seems to know all about court proceedings and the names of things, although she has never been in a court of justice. The purpose of the narrator in letting us know this fact is that it prepares us for her discomfort at the absurdity and insanity of the court proceedings.
In the final chapter, ironically entitled “Alice’s Evidence,” it is Alice who gets all the evidence she needs to rebel against the cruelty of Wonderland’s trial. After observing the jurymen scribble nonsense as they take testimony, she decides that the nonsense has gone far enough. (In one funny scene, she takes juryman Bill the Lizard’s pencil away from him, but he continues to write with his finger.)
Alice dramatically demonstrates her new subversive attitude. The Queen asserts without any evidence that the Knave has been proven guilty by the “evidence.” “It doesn’t prove anything of the sort,” replies Alice. The only thing offered in evidence for the prosecution is the White Rabbit’s vague poem, which (as Alice observes) no one understands. The Queen makes her usual command: “Sentence first — verdict afterward.” Alice retorts: “Stuff and Nonsense!” The Queen sentences Alice, but by then Alice has grown to her full height. “Who cares for you?” Alice says. “You’re nothing but a pack of cards!”
This loud proclamation signals her flight from Wonderland’s anarchy to the sanity of above-ground. Alice emerges finally from her confused doubts about this mixed-up world of Wonderland. She rebels, and she leaves the world underneath the ground for the world of common sense and consciousness. Her “lesson,” if it can be called that, is that she learns what she has already known. That is, she imposes her order on chaos, and, in consequence, her world of wonderful but unreal and strange and fanciful, glorious things is destroyed. After all, one cannot live long in a dream world. Such things as identity, sanity, laws, logic, and self-preservation have a price. To sustain them, Alice had to reject endless, timeless “possibilities.” Her dream, in effect, ends just before a nightmare begins.
The narrator concludes the Wonderland dream: “So Alice got up and ran off, thinking while she ran, as well she might, what a wonderful dream it had been.”
Alice wakes up on the lap of her sister filled with the images of Wonderland from her “curious dream.” Thus, fantasy is transformed into memory; and any memory can seem real, and it will seem real, in its own way, to Alice, always.