Mathematical satire in “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”

Topics: Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Through the Looking-Glass, Lewis Carroll Pages: 4 (1326 words) Published: September 23, 2014
Mathematical satire in “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” ”Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” are probably one of the most analyzed-in-class books ever written. It does not take a lot of research to realize that there are numerous different approaches to fully understand that book. In this essay I chose to look at it through a prism of Lewis Carroll’s profession and passion – mathematics. Lewis Carroll, or rather Charles Dodgson was an oxford mathematician and was known in particular for being stubbornly conservative and unable to adapt to the changes occurring in the fields of mathematics in the nineteenth century. As a fan of pure, simple mathematics he in particular valued “Euclid’s Elements” as the epitome of mathematical thinking. “Euclid’s Elements” cover the basics of geometry, arithmetic and trigonometry - they carry solid, testable information. Meanwhile, nineteenth century was a turbulent time for mathematics. Many new and controversial concepts such as symbolic algebra or imaginary numbers were being proposed and widely accepted in the mathematical community. Dodgson considered all of the changes nonsense and would even refer to all the mathematicians who weren’t as rigorous as him as “semi-colloquial” or even “semi-logical”. When looking at “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” in this perspective one could argue that the author used some of the stories to satirize the increasing abstraction in Charles Dodgson’s favorite subject. Inspired by Martin Gardner’s book “The Annotated Alice” I believe that many of the scenes are a reflection of his skepticism of those radical new ideas. To prove my point I will be analyzing three passages from the book – the caterpillar smoking the hookah (chapter 5), the Mad Hatter’s tea party (chapter 7) and Alice’s calculations in the beginning of the second chapter. Let’s start with the chapter “Advice from a Caterpillar” as the reflection is very subtle and makes an opening to other, stronger allusions. For Charles Dodgson...

Bibliography: Martin Gardner, “The Annotated Alice”, New York City, New York, W.W.Norton&Company, 1990
Lewis Carroll, “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”, Chicago, Illinois, VolumeOne Publishing, 1998
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