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3.1 Literary Snapshot: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass

We are becoming acquainted more and more with our young hero Alice, who has had some literary theory adventures in Chapter 1 "Introduction: What Is Literary Theory and Why Should I Care?" and Chapter 2 "Writing about Form: Developing the Foundations of Close Reading". Let’s continue our journey with Alice in this chapter as we explore psychoanalytic literary criticism. We’ll provide the links to Carroll’s text again, just in case:

When Alice tumbles down the rabbit-hole in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865), she enters a fantasy realm that is quite different from her world of the here-and-now:

Down, down, down. There was nothing else to do, so Alice soon began talking again. “Dinah’ll miss me very much to-night, I should think!” (Dinah was the cat.) “I hope they’ll remember her saucer of milk at tea-time. Dinah, my dear, I wish you were down here with me! There are no mice in the air, I’m afraid, but you might catch a bat, and that’s very like a mouse, you know. But do cats eat bats, I wonder?” And here Alice began to get rather sleepy, and went on saying to herself, in a dreamy sort of way, “Do cats eat bats? Do cats eat bats?” and sometimes, “Do bats eat cats?” for, you see, as she couldn’t answer either question, it didn’t much matter which way she put it. She felt that she was dozing off, and had just begun to dream that she was walking hand in hand with Dinah, and saying to her very earnestly, “Now, Dinah, tell me the truth: did you ever eat a bat?” when suddenly, thump! thump! down she came upon a heap of dry leaves, and the fall was over.Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. With Forty-Two Illustrations by John Tenniel (New York: D. Appleton, 1927; University of Virginia Library Electronic Text Center, 1998), chap. 1,

Her adventures are described as a dream, and she exclaims after the fall that it was all “Curiouser and curiouser!”

In Through the Looking-Glass (1872), Alice, after entering Looking-Glass Land via a magic mirror, encounters two odd brothers, Tweedledee and Tweedledum. Alice and the brothers come upon the Red King, who is snoring:

“It’s only the Red King snoring,” said Tweedledee.

“Come and look at him!” the brothers cried, and they each took one of Alice’s hands, and led her up to where the King was sleeping.

“Isn’t he a lovely sight?” said Tweedledum. Alice couldn’t say honestly that he was. He had a tall red night-cap on, with a tassel, and he was lying crumpled up into a sort of untidy heap, and snoring loud—“fit to snore his head off!” as Tweedledum remarked.

“I’m afraid he’ll catch cold with lying on the damp grass,” said Alice, who was a very thoughtful little girl.

“He’s dreaming now,” said Tweedledee: “and what do you think he’s dreaming about?”

Alice said, “Nobody can guess that.”

“Why, about you!” Tweedledee exclaimed, clapping his hands triumphantly. “And if he left off dreaming about you, where do you suppose you’d be?”

“Where I am now, of course,” said Alice.

“Not you!” Tweedledee retorted contemptuously. “You’d be nowhere. Why, you’re only a sort of thing in his dream!”

“If that there King was to wake,” added Tweedledum, “you’d go out—bang!—just like a candle!”

“I shouldn’t!” Alice exclaimed indignantly. “Besides, if I’m only a sort of thing in his dream, what are you, I should like to know?”

“Ditto,” said Tweedledum.

“Ditto, ditto!” cried Tweedledee.

He shouted this so loud that Alice couldn’t help saying, “Hush! You’ll be waking him, I’m afraid, if you make so much noise.”

“Well, it’s no use your talking about waking him,” said Tweedledum, “when you’re only one of the things in his dream. You know very well you’re not real.”

“I am real!” said Alice, and began to cry.

“You won’t make yourself a bit realer by crying,” Tweedledee remarked: “there’s nothing to cry about.”Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There (New York: Macmillan, 1899; University of Virginia Library Electronic Text Center, 1993), chap. 4,

The dream in Looking-Glass Land seems more a nightmare for Alice, for she is scared that she is merely a figment of someone’s dream, their imagination—that’s an idea that might bring us all to tears!

We all have dreams, and we recognize that dreams often mirror the oddness and nonsense that Alice encounters in Wonderland and Looking-Glass Land. Dreams, in fact, are central to psychoanalytic literary criticism and have become the stuff of popular psychology, where dream interpretation continues to be a lucrative industry, as seen at (

Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, famously defines dreams as the “road to the unconsciousness” in his monumental work The Interpretation of Dreams (1899).Sigmund Freud, The Interpretation of Dreams.

So let’s enter the wacky and wonderful world of psychoanalytic literary criticism with a few more excerpts from literature:

  We are such stuff

  As dreams are made on, and our little life

  Is rounded with a sleep.William Shakespeare, The Tempest, Globe ed., ed. William George Clark and William Aldis Wright (1866; University of Virginia Library Electronic Text Center, 1998),

—William Shakespeare, The Tempest

  Is all that we see or seem

  But a dream within a dream?Edgar Allan Poe, “A Dream within a Dream,”,

—Edgar Allan Poe, “A Dream within a Dream”

  Was it a vision, or a waking dream?

  Fled is that music:—Do I wake or sleep?John Keats, “Ode to a Nightingale,” in The Oxford Book of English Verse, ed. Sir Arthur Thomas Quiller-Couch (Oxford: Clarendon, 1919;, 1999),

—John Keats, “Ode to a Nightingale”