Posted by: Rachel M. | November 18, 2009

What of the Mock Turtle?

The encounter with the Mock Turtle has left me wondering if there is truly any significance behind the whole chapter and a half. Nothing really popped out at me immediately or nudged me into believing there was much more to be explored. Even though I’m sure there must be because it’s Wonderland. I could see the that Carroll included a funny connection between the Turtle’s school (like one of fish) and the Day school Alice knew, but there too I wasn’t able to bring about any significance. Maybe within all the puns included as lessons, and how these lessons “lessen” and become nothing over time, Carroll is trying to imply that this kind of education is a joke? I’m not sure if he was trying to create a parallel between the two and say that formal education is all “nonsense” and in vain, or if there was really much more to it than the puns. I doubt this conclusion, but that’s what I drew.

I also understood that the Mock Turtle was melancholy and forlorn because he used to be a real turtle. It is never revealed to us what caused this change because the Turtle goes off on tangents frequently. The turtle did explain that when he was young he was still a normal turtle. I suppose one could conclude that sometime between his childhood and his current state something caused him to become artificial and false (in other words, “mock”). Perhaps Carroll is suggesting that maturation causes someone to change in upsetting ways, thus favoring the allure of simple childhood? In that case, I suppose the part of the Mock Turtle that is still “turtle” represents the childhood that still dwells within all of us despite the transformations we have gone through. (This is something I discovered while writing this blog) Well perhaps there’s meaning in everything if you need it to be there.

Either way, please feel free to enlighten me about this chapter.


  1. I agree with all of you. Beginning the book, I thought this was all confusing. “Why??”, I’d ask myself, just hoping that something would mean something or be solid. But then I realized, it’s all solid in its own un-solid(I don’t believe thats a word, but liquid does not apply here) way. I think the whole story, Alice’s dream, was just what she needed in her life at the moment. Of course, we don’t know Alice’s background, but to imagine is a wonderful lessson to be taught.

  2. Well before Alice even goes to the Mock Turtle don’t forget she has an encounter with the Griffin. And correct me if I’m wrong, but doesn’t he tell her about the Queen, and tell Alice a little secret? Maybe this could be the whole reason for the chapter, and it just needed a better conclusion then going off with the Griffin. It just needed a more interesting secondary character. I was reading a little bit of Through the Looking Glass, and there is a scene where they all start rambling on about a Carpenter and a Walrus…? Not really sure what that’s about. But maybe it’s just a place filler for Carroll. Something to make the story a little more interesting then it already is.

    • walrus and the carpenter represent certain characters in society…I studied it in school the oysters aswell its all in their character that defines them more so on then their species

  3. I agree. This chapter was definitely more out there than the rest. I believe what Kristen said, that Carroll wrote it to Alice Liddell and as a joke to her. There are many things that seem like inside jokes between some other party, and we don’t really get any of them. Carroll could have been making fun of school, and how useless the knowledge the gained in school was. That in the real world those things don’t apply. Or, like Abbie said, he could have just written it as a chapter to give Alice a break from confusion into more confusion.

  4. I definately agree with you there. This chapter seems to me but a bit of humorous fluff. But, it could also be just to take Alice away from everything, with the game going on and all. I don’t quite understand it either. And the whole thing about he became a “mock”turtle still perplexes me. I like the idea you threw out there, but for some reason nothing has really clicked for me there. I still really appreciate the thought, though. I wouldn’t have paid much mind to the pointlessness of that chapter if you hadn’t brought it up. ^-^

  5. Its true Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is a symbolic and purposeful book, but perhaps we, being given the task of analyzing the story, have adapted our mindsets a bit too much to finding purpose and symbolism in everything. There are a few other entries asking the same exact question, the question being what is the purpose of the seemingly pointless chapter and a half, but if you ask me it really doesn’t need to have a purpose. The reason this book exists is to entertain, and entertain it does. This chapter doesn’t take away from that, it helps it. Reread it, you’ll find some very amusing puns and statements made, and they legitimately entertain you. They would especially entertain little children, which is who the book was written for in the first place. I guess you could say that the chapter and a half actually does have a purpose; to entertain, and if you don’t mind me saying, it does its job quite well.

  6. In the story, it is mentioned that the Mock Turtle is what Mock Turtle Soup is made of. Mock Turtle Soup is (as quoted from the relevant Wikipedia entry) “an English soup that was created in the mid-18th century as a cheaper imitation of green turtle soup. It often uses brains and organ meats such as calf’s head, or a calf’s foot to duplicate the texture and flavour of the original’s turtle meat.” Veal is the common substitute for turtle meat, which is why the Mock Turtle is depicted by Tenniel to have the head, feet, and tail of a calf. I do, however, agree that the chapter does seem to lack that characteristic depth of analysis. Perhaps there is some inside joke we’re missing?

  7. I had also been wondering if Carroll was suggesting something about the education system, and to that I would say maybe they are just play on words? I am not really sure. I love this statement: “Perhaps Carroll is suggesting that maturation causes someone to change in upsetting ways, thus favoring the allure of simple childhood”. That may be true, as we get older our lives get so much more complicated. We tend to lose track of our original goals and dreams, that seem more genuine. However I believe that is our chance to learn, to struggle our way through our busy lives, and hopefully come to realize what is meaningful to oneself.

  8. Good point, I agree the chapter was confusingly without purpose, or so it seemed.

    One thing we must keep in mind is that Carroll originally told the story for Alice Liddell’s entertainment. Most young girls dislike school. Carroll, regardless of his own opinion, could have simply been trying to make Alice laugh by making fun of education. I doubt Carroll truly disapproved of formal education, seeing as he was an accomplished mathematician.

    I agree, however, that the chapter does not seem integral to the story. Perhaps Carroll simply had an attachment to it since it was in the original story he told to Alice Liddell.

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