The Alice books mingle human and animal characters with nursery rhyme figures and game pieces come to life. Alice, of course, is an ordinary little girl from Victorian England. At first, her encounters with the other characters in Wonderland are with animals – the nervous White Rabbit, the sluggish Caterpillar, the grinning Cheshire Cat, the Mad March Hare, and the sleepy Dormouse. These personified animals, each of which seems to derive its main characteristics from our stereotypes about the animal, are then mixed with seemingly human characters like the Hatter and the Duchess. These “human” characters are even more caricatured and strange than their animal peers.
Of course, at the end of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, we discover that many of the characters who were playing cards come to life. Neither animal nor exactly human, they remind us that the ultimate basis of the story is nothing more than a game. Through the Looking-Glass also mingles human beings like Alice with animals (the Lion and the Unicorn) and game pieces (the various chess pieces, especially the kings and queens) and other seemingly human figures (such as Tweedledum and Tweedledee).
Perhaps more important than the connotations of the specific types of beings is the fact that all of them are intermingled and jumbled together in the stories. The Alice books are not strict allegories – they don’t set out a one-to-one correspondence between the human world and the animal world, or the human world and a game of cards or chess. Instead, they take a cafeteria approach, including a little bit from several different patterns. The result is a delightful hodgepodge, always interesting, but never with a definite or didactic meaning.
The following is a list of prominent characters in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
- The White Rabbit
- The Queen of Hearts
- The Duchess
- The Hatter
- The Caterpillar
- The Cheshire Cat
- The Cook
- The Dodo
- The Dormouse
- The Duchess’s Baby
- The Gardeners
- The Gryphon
- The King of Hearts
- The Knave of Hearts
- The March Hare
- The Mock Turtle
- The Mouse
- The Pigeon
An adventurous, spunky, and levelheaded seven-year-old who jumps into a dream world, Alice finds herself constantly confronted by characters who say things that make no sense and do things she knows are impossible. Alice does her best to stay grounded and polite with each new encounter—a hard task, considering she changes size so often that she’s not always sure she’s the same person. Although she sometimes gives way to emotion, she becomes braver and more assertive as her adventure continues. She learns to stand up for herself, and at the story’s end, she stands up for a character who’s being treated unfairly. She even defies a queen before returning to her world.
The White Rabbit
At the beginning of the book, the White Rabbit races past Alice on his hind legs, checking his pocket watch and muttering anxiously. Alice chases him down a rabbit hole and finds herself in Wonderland. Readers never learn much about the White Rabbit, but because he’s the first Wonderland creature readers meet, and because he reappears occasionally, he’s an important character.
The Queen of Hearts
An animated playing card, the Queen of Hearts is Alice’s main antagonist. The Queen is nasty to everyone she meets. She’s like a walking volcano, always erupting with fury, and her favourite command is “Off with his head!” (or “her head,” in Alice’s case). Sensible characters like the Gryphon realize that the Queen never actually succeeds at getting her opponents beheaded, though she terrifies many of her subjects. The Queen’s mood never changes; it’s always pitched at the same level of rage. But Alice realizes that the Queen has no power over her. When Alice defies the Queen at the trial of the Knave of Hearts, Alice’s trial in Wonderland immediately comes to an end.
The Duchess is a milder version of the Queen. When Alice meets her, the Duchess is alternately cradling and shaking a howling baby. Suddenly, she casually tosses the baby to Alice and leaves. A few minutes later, the baby turns into a pig and walks away. Alice next meets the Duchess at the royal croquet game, where the Duchess is more friendly. As she and Alice chat, the Duchess finds a moral in every topic and practically every sentence. None of the morals makes any sense, but the Duchess is proud of them.
With the March Hare and the Dormouse, the Hatter presides over a long tea table set with dozens of empty chairs. He’s rather uncivil to Alice, informing her that she needs a haircut and asking her to solve a riddle that doesn’t have an answer. He bafflingly explains that the previous March, he “murdered the time” (sang off the beat) and that time punished him by stopping the clock at six o’clock in the evening, so that it’s always teatime.
When Alice meets the Caterpillar, he’s sitting on top of a mushroom and smoking a hookah. He contradicts everything Alice says, but he does make her think. He also tells her that eating from one side of the mushroom will make her grow taller and eating from the other side will shrink her. After that, Alice is better able to control her size.
The Cheshire Cat
The Cheshire Cat is one of the few characters who’s moderately pleasant with Alice. He appears and disappears without warning, but when he’s around, he listens to her sympathetically. However, he’s disconcertingly sure that he, Alice, and everyone else in Wonderland are insane. Another disconcerting feature of the Cheshire Cat is that he can disappear gradually, leaving only his smile floating in the air.
Bill is a bedraggled lizard who first shows up when the White Rabbit asks him to see who’s plugging up his house; later, as a juror, he writes on his slate with his finger.
The Cook, a temperamental woman, rules the kitchen in the Duchess’s household.
The Dodo climbs out of the pool of tears and shows Alice and the other wet swimmers how to get warm and dry by running around haphazardly (the Dodo calls this a Caucus-race).
The Dormouse is one of the three characters Alice meets at the tea party; it can barely keep itself awake and sometimes drifts off mid-sentence.
The Duchess’s Baby
The Baby may not be the Duchess’s child; all Alice knows for sure is that it turns into a pig and wanders away.
The three Gardeners work for the Queen of Hearts, who orders them beheaded when she catches them painting white roses red. Alice rescues them by hiding them in a flowerpot.
Half eagle and half-lion, the Gryphon is a brisk, cheerful creature who introduces Alice to the Mock Turtle.
The King of Hearts
The King of Hearts is mild-mannered, timid, and terrified of his wife.
The Knave of Hearts
A member of the royal family, the Knave of Hearts is put on trial for stealing tarts.
The March Hare
The March Hare is one of the three characters at the tea party.
The Mock Turtle
The Mock Turtle is a sad tortoise with a calf’s head who sobs all the time.
Alice meets the Mouse when both of them are swimming in a pool of tears; the Mouse is painfully insulted when Alice mentions her cat.
The Pigeon meets Alice in the woods and is convinced Alice is a serpent out to steal her eggs.