Posted by: The Snooty Tea Person | December 7, 2012

Madness in Wonderland–Is it really that mad after all?

It seems that in Wonderland, what Lewis Carroll calls “madness” in fact has a certain logic to it. For example, when the Cheshire Cat explains to Alice why he’s mad, he says, “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” (66). Essentially, the Cat is claiming that a dog’s actions are not mad, therefore to do the opposite is by default to be mad. It is evocative of simple logic statements found in math and philosophy: if a statement is true, then its inverse must also be true.

Now, logic is defined by the World English Dictionary on as “reasoned thought or argument, as distinguished from irrationality.” Irrationality is linked to madness, which is defined as, “senseless folly.” Now, if logic is the reverse of irrationality, then it is the reverse of madness. Therefore here’s the snag in the puzzle: if the madness in Wonderland has a logic to it, doesn’t the nature of logic itself negate the madness?

I believe that the Wonderland system is built on its own logic, yet since its laws are the inverse of our own, it qualifies as madness in our world and thus they call it “madness” because that is how it is perceived by Alice. Yet within Wonderland itself, that “madness” is merely the norm. When studied in this way, it would seem that Carroll is also making a subtle prod at imperialism–what the English called “madness” upon being exposed to indigenous cultures, was only mad by English standards.


Carroll, Lewis. Alice in Wonderland.


  1. If I say I am thoroughly confused does that mean that I am actually not confused?!

  2. I agree with your statement that Carrol’s nonsense is logical. Not only is the cat’s statement that you cited a logic statement, but if you think about it for a moment and twist the words a bit, it does actually make sense. Cats do growl when they’re happy (they purr) and they do in fact twitch their tails when upset. Carrol’s statement seems like nonsense because of the way he presents it, but it has truth at its core.
    I also find your statement that “madness” is a social construct to be intriguing…

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