A Mouse Tail? No, a Mouse Tale

In chapter three there is a conversation that takes place between Alice and the rather smart mouse. The mouse has already told us that he dislikes both cats and dogs. This is normal since cats chase mice, and dogs are larger than mice. Dogs could also be intimidating since they are so energetic and knock different items around (if these are bigger dogs). The mouse says that he has reasons why he does not like those two animals, which Alice has to ask what are those reasons. The mouse remarks that he will tell her later when he is on safer, dryer land. The mouse nearly forgets, but Alice asks him if he can tell her about his background story; about his Cs and Ds. The mouse begins to tell Alice and the other assembled animals why he does not like cats and dogs.

The mouse begins to tell a poem about his background, but what is odd is that he refers to his story by the term “tale.” Now Alice, being as young as she is, mistakes this “tale” to be the mouses actual tail. The English language is somewhat cross-examined by Carroll in this passage, but you would not be able to see this unless you read the book. He shows how that English can be difficult to comprehend due to confusing words. The English language is odd, with it’s word that sound alike and confuse us, and the rules like “I before E, except after C.” This rule is not always right, thus explaining that rules like this should never have been taught to us. It seems that Carroll is commenting that English is complicated and that it is hard for young children, unless it is written, to understand the language. If the word is written we can see how the definition. Tale is like a story, but tail is what cats clean and dogs wag.

The mouse tells his “tale,” but discovers that Alice is not paying attention to him. He becomes angry with her apathy at the story she wanted to know so badly before. Alice remarks that the  mouse was at the “Fifth bend” in his story, but the mouse replies that “I (he) was not.” Again, with the English language, Alice mistakes “not” for “knot.” This is easy to understand since Alice had thought the mouse was talking about his actual tail, and tails do get in knots. Originally the mouse believes that him and Alice are on the same page, but they are not even close. Alice’s interpretation of the two words throws her off course and she is now totally lost in comparison to the mouse. The misinterpretation between the mouse and her, and the overall mistake causes the mouse to leave, and be quite angry with Alice. We may never see the smart, clever mouse again.

Carroll is telling us that the way we interpret ideas and words change our views. Alice was thinking of long whip-like tails, while the mouse was thinking of stories and histories. These two thoughts are far from the same category of idea. This dichotomy is caused form the seemingly simple words that cause great confusion between two speakers. This, again, mirrors the seemingly simple story of just a girl in a different world. We know, though, that much bigger ideas are being presented and it is up to us to reach out and grab these ideas. Just as Carroll eludes to with the English language. Confusion is just the first part, it can only be followed by abandonment of the confusion through actual abandonment, or through understanding. Understanding is what leads one to the epiphany stages and what ultimately teaches us the overarching meanings being simple ideas.
Published in: on November 5, 2009 at 21:18  Comments (1)  

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. Well thought out entry… I always tried to think of a meaning for the Mouse, but never developed a reasonable one. You line saying it was normal for mice to hate dogs because they’re intimidating made me think if this was a way of showing how intimidated Alice is by Wonderland. She was thrown into this unknown world where she was ordered around by animals: maybe this was just a way Carroll wanted to use to show that everything in Wonderland was sporadic.

    I’m trying to sound smart, but all I can do is agree to what you said about the chapter. The wordplay was thrown across the entire story, and it caused confusion for both Alice and the Mouse. Carroll set us up with his story of the Cat and Dog, but since the mouse eventually leaves, we’re free to draw our own conclusions.

    This was a great analysis of the chapter, and in case you want to dig deeper, I believe Lindsay (Alice Project Team 7) also has an analysis titled “Mouse Tails and Tales.” (Just a Coincidence)

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