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Friday, February 11, 2011

Alice in Wonderland VI -- chapter 3: DODO IN CHARGE

"The Caucus Race" has never been my favorite chapter.  As much as I hate to admit it, this and "The Lobster Quadrille" (not my favorite either) drag a bit for me.  Both emphasize the very episodic nature of the book as they both digress from the general plot and from Alice.  This doesn't mean there isn't lots of great stuff here anyway.
  1. Expanding on the list of complimentary characters from chapter 2, it's quite possible that the Mouse is meant to represent the Liddell children's governess, Miss Prickett.
  2. "Found what?" // "Fount it."  I've paid increasing attention lately to this little grammatical tidbit in my own writing lately--the "[subject][transitive verb] it that ______" construction.  A wasteful way to speak, really.  This particularly "it" also shows up a lot at the head of a sentence, as in: "It seems to me that...."  I expect it is something that Carroll noticed too, and I'm interested to see as we keep reading if it's something that he eschewed and is here mocking, or if he were just making an observation of one of the many curios of "lofty" or "stuffy" English--or in my case "lazy."
  3. It's quite possible that the caucus race was catalyst to those aforementioned political or Marxist readings of Alice.  Most of the discussion around this scene builds on common political mockery from the time.  Any more discussion on caucuses (cauci?) I defer to my esteemed colleague, Mr. James Smith of unmoderatedcaucus.blogspot.com, below.
  4. Apart from the event of the race, I love the moment when the Dodo (Dodgson/Carroll) pauses so didactically after the word "Caucus-race," "as if it thought that somebody ought to speak...," and Alice dutifully obliges him.  Contrast this much more favorable moment to those that allude to Alice's "sisters," the Lori and the Eaglet.
  5. The personality of the Dodo is very telling of Carroll, especially in his admission that "Everybody has won, and all must have prizes."  My favorite moment though is the parenthetical self-comparison to Shakespeare.  
  6. The setup with the thimble is interesting.  It begins with the Dodo unjustly calling on Alice to distribute prizes.  I'm undecided as to whether this is a degradation or an elevation regarding her social position here.  Fortune favors her (or Carroll does), and she has just enough comfits to go around.  However, the crowd claims she deserves a prize as well, but all she has left is the pathetic thimble.  Of course, the thimble's exchange is entirely perfunctory, yet notice how it makes Alice feel in the aftermath.  While the others are both appeased and oblivious to the utter ridiculousness of it all, and rather than attain some elevation by default (and a socially dominant elevation at that), Alice knows that she is now higher than the others, for she's the only one who recognizes the event for what it is.  In the end, Carroll compliments Alice again.
  7. Funny the affect of euphemism: the Mouse was nearly mortally affected by the use of the words "cat" and "dog" in the last chapter, yet the letters C and D, obviously referring to "cat" and "dog," have no effect whatsoever.
  8. "Art chirography" or the "visual analogue of poetic onomatopoeia" is an interesting and surprisingly rich branch of poetry.  (This coming "Sunday Poetry" post will feature it.)
  9. This chapter is a pun-lover's dream.
  10. The first moment of Alice's unintentional nonsense shows up in this chapter, as she mistakes "not" for "knot."  This becomes a problem for her, however, as she proceeds through the story.
  11. I expect that if Alice, in life, were to be the exclusive friend of Carroll as he would have liked, then she would have been very lonely indeed.  He understood this, and I believe he shows this sympathy here at the end of the chapter.
On "caucus," by James Smith:

Today, a caucus has a couple meanings.  One can be a name for a sect within a larger body.  For example, the Democrats in the House of Representatives are commonly referred to as the "Democratic Caucus" and the same with the Republicans.  Then there is "caucus" in the sense of discussion or debate, from which my blog derives its name.  Finally, and this is the sense in which it seems likely that Carroll is using the word, there is the party gathering for debate, sort of a hybrid of the two.  The word has been around since 1763 and became quite common in the 19th century, so Carroll's readers would have been quite familiar with it.  Probably the most important thing about the caucus for the purposes of this book is that it has pretty negative connotations, which Carroll satirically (and hilariously I might add) critiques.  At the time, caucuses were generally smoke-filled rooms of old "esteemed" white males, who discussed their political interests and nominated candidates for elections or key positions (which is why Carroll uses the term "caucus race", another characteristic pun).  By just about any measure, these were fairly useless to the public at large.  Everyone pursued his (and as I said, it was always his) own interests.  If the party ever worked as a team, it would have beenafter a caucus, which was a sort of struggle for control of the party.  I think that this is where Carroll gets the idea of having the characters run around aimlessly.  The reader will also notice that a dodo is the one ostensibly "in charge" of the proceedings.  This is a not-so-subtle shot at the party bosses who organized the farces.  In addition, they are politicians, so they must have a sense of self-importance, which is why there is the scene in which the dodo is accused of using words that he doesn't understand.  In general, Carroll is saying that these caucuses were gigantic, chaotic wastes of time, and I am inclined to agree. 


  1. 4. I love this moment, too. Again, more on the farcical pomposity of caucuses.
    5. I found more Shakespeare in this. I want to know what you think. The mouse's tale keeps emphasizing fury, and of course, it's very explicitly a tale. It reminded me of MacBeth: "a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." What part of this could not apply to the mouse's tale? Maybe, "sound," but I think that something may be up here.
    6. Could this be more political satire here? A political caucus making decisions to reward themselves by despoiling the people--Alice?
    7. Yeah, I noticed that, too. Do you think it's the intent? In most instances, Alice speaks of Dinah with callous indifference. In this one, she's at least polite enough to be careful, perhaps allowing the mouse (sort of) to brace himself.

    Anyway, I really enjoyed this chapter. I wouldn't say that I've enjoyed it more than the others, but I didn't really think that it dragged.

  2. I enjoyed it more this time than others, but.... I think what it comes down to is I'm really excited about getting to events later in the story and especially Looking Glass. More likely, I didn't get it as a kid and an old prejudice persists by habit.

    5. That's a GREAT observation on the Shakespeare, and I've never seen it in other analyses either. There are other places where he hides little things like this and plants a clue somewhere within the chapter. I really like this one. Thanks! I'll post the original poem (this one was a replacement), which speaks a little more of the reason the Mouse hates cats so much. I'll have to look at it again, but I wonder if it will strengthen the Shakespeare/Macbeth connection.

    6. Some believe (and I've never looked as deeply into it as politics have just never been my thing) that this represents a little of government taking money from the people and returning it in the form of worthless programs or incentives.

    7. Yeah, it could be the intent. I think she's making an effort to fit in, which tends to give her trouble, and is a major theme for Carroll's life in general and for Alice within the book. You can see how she either slips or gives up in the end once the Mouse is gone.

  3. Haha, I know exactly what you mean. Just like the episode of "Thomas the Tank Engine" that I will never be able to watch because it's terrifying.

    6. That makes perfect sense to me. Thanks!


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