We’re All Mad

This was written for my English class. We studied children’s literature from American and British authors. We had to do an analysis paper, to which I chose a passage from Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland.

“’Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?’

‘That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,’ said the Cat.

‘I don’t much care where—’ said Alice.

‘Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,’ said the Cat.

‘—so long as I get somewhere,’ Alice added as an explanation.

‘Oh, you’re sure to do that,’ said the Cat, ‘if you only walk long enough.’

Alice felt that this could not be denied, so she tried another question. ‘What sort of people live about here?’

In that direction,’ the Cat said, waving its right paw round, ‘lives a Hatter: and in that direction,’ waving the other paw, ‘lives a March Hare. Visit either you like: they’re both mad.’

‘But I don’t want to go among mad people,’ Alice remarked.

‘Oh, you can’t help that,’ said the Cat: ‘we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.’

‘How do you know I’m mad?’ said Alice.

‘You must be,’ said the Cat, ‘or you wouldn’t have come here.’

Alice didn’t think that proved it at all; however, she went on ‘And how do you know that you’re mad?’

‘To begin with,’ said the Cat, ‘a dog’s not mad. You grant that?’

‘I suppose so,’ said Alice.

‘Well, then,’ the Cat went on, ‘you see, a dog growls when it’s angry, and wags its tail when it’s pleased. Now I growl when I’m pleased, and wag my tail when I’m angry. Therefore I’m mad.’” (Carroll 52-53)


Children have an immeasurable amount of imagination because they have not been introduced to a mass of logic reasoning and reality. The main character, Alice in Lewis Carroll’s Alice In Wonderland, has this uncanny imagination. She creates many nonsensical beings in her mind, and readily accepts them; this makes one think that she is mad. Carroll through his illustrations suggests that there is a blurred line between a child’s imagination and madness.

First, let us explain madness. Carroll illustrates madness as the acceptance of the peculiar and nonsensical, to the extent that these ideas of peculiarity become reality, reality in the mind of Alice. Though, Carroll’s implied definition sounds negative, there is a connotation to his definition, which is You’re entirely bonkers [mad]. But I’ll tell you a secret. All the best people are. (Alice, Alice In Wonderland). According to Merriam Webster, madness is defined as nonsensical and crazy; it is the state of being mentally ill, severely; a state of frenzied or chaotic activity; extremely foolish behavior (Merriam Webster); this definition is portrayed all throughout Alice’s time in Wonderland.

Alice’s madness developed after seeing a rabbit in a waistcoat, tracking time with a pocket watch. However, the odd thing is that time does not exist in Wonderland. There is no sense of time. Instead, Alice is running around, engaging in teatime, and never being able to get anywhere. This imagination land is painted with animated, personified flowers and animals. There are also plays on words such as the word lesson,

“’And how many hours a day did you do lessons?’ asked Alice, in a hurry to change the subject. ‘Ten hours the first day,’ said the Mock Turtle: ‘nine the next, and so on. ‘What a curious plan!’ exclaimed Alice. ‘That’s the reason they’re called lessons,’ the Gryphon remarked: ‘because they lessen from day to day.’” (Carroll 81)

She falls asleep, and has a dream that seemingly takes place for a whole day, yet it is only a few minutes to an hour in reality.

A very important character that is essential to Alice’s journey in Wonderland is the Cheshire cat, though he is nonsensical, he is the only character that admits that they are all mad, by saying that “we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.” (Carroll 53) Alice further questions the cat on how he knows that she is mad, and he answers: “You must be, ‘said the Cat, ‘or you wouldn’t have come here.’” This further confirms the ambiguity that Alice is mad, and that this ‘Wonderland’ is a ‘real’ place and that Wonderland is real inside her head. Being that Wonderland is a place of imagination, Alice can be labeled as mad, even her own subconscious; the cat confirms that she is. Cheshire then defines madness in his own terms “…‘you see, a dog growls when it’s angry, and wags its tail when it’s pleased. Now I growl when I’m pleased, and wag my tail when I’m angry. Therefore I’m mad.’” (Carroll 53) This is an example of the Cat being mad, because he offers a double entendre because mad, has a meaning of either being angry or being nonsensical, crazy. The statement of the cat is ambiguous in meaning.

When the Cheshire Cat tells Alice that the only reason she is there or is surviving is that she is mad as well, she questions the cat but not herself. She was raised on works of famous authors and educated based on the recitation of the works of such works, yet she accepts this peculiar world and cat with ease. It is very peculiar that she questions the Cat and not herself, because how would this strange Cheshire Cat know more about her than herself? This is where we get the famous ‘who are you?’ line. Cheshire introduces Alice to the questioning of who she is and why she is in Wonderland. He further guides her to question herself and how she could be in this Wonderland.

With the knowledge of Cheshire, and the fact that he is mad and everyone in Wonderland is mad, brings about a question if Cheshire is part of Alice’s subconscious; one may assume that he is the voice of reason. This cat comes in at all the right times and reasons with Alice in a way that she understands, in ‘Wonderland’ language, which is nonsensical and a play on words, such as when he explains how he is mad, with his analogy of a cat and dog and their differences in how they express their emotions.

Alice’s conversation with the Cheshire Cat crucial, because it brings about the word, people. She uses that word people to describe all the beings of Wonderland, human or animal. She has seen the creatures become once in-animate creatures, to ones that are personified and animated, to the point where she sees them as equals, as any normal being. When she hears of the March Hare and The Mad Hatter, she can see no difference, not even realizing that one is a hare and one a human. They have the same mindset, madness, and that is the measure of equality in Wonderland.

In the words of Willy Wonka “There is no life I know to compare with pure imagination. Living there you’ll be free if you truly wish to be…”(Willy Wonka, Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory). Pure imagination is a part of our mind that says that anything is possible, nothing is voided or ignored, everything is questioned; there doesn’t have to be any sense. Imagination linked to madness because in our imagination the incomprehensible can happen and make sense. Children are the prime examples of the limitlessness of the imagination and through Alice’s adventure we can see that just like madness has no bounds, neither does the imagination.