Alice in Wonderland: Novel Summary: Chapter 8
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Alice comes into the garden and discovers that it is the Queen's garden. There she finds several playing-card-shaped men painting the Queen's white roses red. This is because they accidentally planted a white rose bush instead of a red one. Symbol Alert! Many scholars have been concerned with the literal symbolism of this scene. That is, they take this scene as a reference to the War of the Roses, a powerful conflict in British history between the Lancastrian Family (the Red Roses) and the York Family (the White Roses). Thus, the Lancastrian Queen is driving out the York roses as a statement of her power.
Sounds good, and in some sense it is true, but what could it possibly have to do with Alice and her quest for adulthood? A popular Freudian argument (and one that I am inclined to agree with) makes sense of this scene in the following manner: the Queen is aging and therefore waning in her power (physically, mentally and spiritually). At the same time, Alice is waxing, growing to adulthood, fertility and beauty. As a mother dies, so the daughter rises to take her place. Red here, then, is a symbol of menstrual blood. That is, it is a symbol of youthful vigor in much the same way as red lipstick or heavy rouge on the cheeks. The Queen is vainly fighting against the power of time. I choose this argument (though it does not exclude the political one. actually it compliments it nicely) because it fits much better in the overall argument of the novel. It deals with the downside of growing up: growing OLD. Also, it places Alice in a larger context of adulthood, which is that older adults resent the vigor of younger adults and children, thus presenting a whole new level of complexity to the problem of politeness. Unlike madmen like the Hatter and the Hare, Alice cannot overcome time, cannot freeze time, so she has to realize that when she grows up, someone else is growing old, and when she grows old, someone else has to die.
All that in a little bit of red paint on a white rose. White flowers, the flowers of a funeral. The flowers of death.
Anyway, Alice's meeting with the gardeners is cut short by the appearance of the Queen and her court. Alice does not lay down like the other subjects and thus attracts the attention (anger) of the Queen. Alice introduces herself, but privately realizes that she need not be afraid because the court is only a pack of cards. Alice speaks corageously (almost rudely) to the Queen and the Queen demands that her head be lopped off for the offense against civility.
Nonsense! Alice cries.
The Queen seems to forget Alice at this, and the King thinks it is because Alice is only a child. In fact it is because Alice is an adult with some sense. That is, Alice has realized that civility cuts both ways. You must be polite to a degree that is appropriate, but you must not become such a slave to civility that you forget your own humanity. The Queen is such a slave to civility that any offense, in her eyes, should receive the penalty of death. There is a comment here, perhaps, on the reason that people become more conservative as they grow older. The Queen, feeling her body grow old and weak is trying to assert her power by more forcefully enforcing civility. The irony, as we shall see, is that she has grown progressively more and more Uncivil in the process. Notice that the Queen only shouts, she never speaks.
Loudly, the Queen invites Alice to a game of Croquet. The game turns out to be, rather than a game with no rules, a game with TOO many complications. Live flamingoes for mallets, live hedgehogs for balls, bent over soldiers for arches, nothing but ridges and furrows on the ground, and everyone must play at once without waiting for turns. Alice finds here the opposite but equal problem of the Caucus Race. That is, with too many complications and with a Mad Queen seeking to enforce fatally every minor indiscretion, one is as immobilized as if there were no rules at all. Either way, there is hardly any point in playing at all. With no rules, everyone wins but the winning is meaningless. With too many rules and a cruel enforcement, everyone is sure to lose and then die!
Just as Alice was beginning to realize her problem she saw the Cheshire Cat slowly fading into view. The cat is pleasantly impertinent to the king and Alice notes that a cat may look at a king, so he isn't being uncivil. At this point, though, the King and Queen call for the cat's head to be chopped off.
Alice departed for a moment to continue with the game only to return to find the executioner, the King and the Queen all arguing around the cat about something. They each tried to get Alice to settle the dispute. The executioner refused to cut off the cat's head because he had no body. The King said that anything with a head could be beheaded. The Queen said that the whole matter had better be settled or everyone would be killed. Alice replied that the cat belonged to the Duchess (who was sent to prison by the Queen). Then the party dissolved in disarray because the cat faded out of view.
Ultimately, this chapter sets up a sort of endgame between Sensibility and the twin forces of Nonsense, that is Too Many Rules, and Too Few.