The Dangerous Use of Language in Alice in Wonderland

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All throughout Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Carroll, by satirizing formality of language, picks apart his preferred English dialect, exposing its imperfections, and showing them used as deadly weapons.

The author's prime examples are within the dialog of “A Mad Tea-Party,” a scene involving more than simple word play. An entire conversation is spent arguing such “You should say what you mean,” followed by, “I mean what I say-- that's the same thing...” which is countered with an offended, “Not the same thing a bit!...Why, you might jus as well say that 'I see what I eat' is the same thing as 'I eat what I see'!” (Carroll 67). Any native English speaker knows the trickery of a statement when combined with its converse, and that it in fact do not, contrary to the Hatter's words all work in a contradictory manner. Carroll then shows us Alice's timid response, ashamed as if she had been whipped. His ultimate goal is to show that even though Alice used the utmost formality of language, the Hatter called her on it, and punished her. The reader is left to wonder if such contradictory statements have ever slipped past themselves, wildly altering what they intended to say.

Later, though, the concern of the reader is heightened to genuine worry as Carroll hands the English arsenal to the King and Queen of Hearts in the Court room. The misinterpretations of the couple nearly beheads the Knave of Hearts. From the King's instruction to “Stand down,” and the response of “I'm on the floor as it is” (which he finds perfectly acceptable), to the King and Queen's clear mimicry rather than knowledge of court terminology, and finally the King's odd interpretation of the mysterious poem, the Knave swings precariously between life and death (Carroll 105-113). Carroll here illustrates the bare fact that words are simply sounds that humans assign meanings, and thus clarity carries so much impact. He further presses the importance of the issue by setting this example in a...
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