Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll Chapters 5 and 6 Summary

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll Menu
Chapter 5 – Advice from a Caterpillar

After a while, the Caterpillar takes its pipe out of its mouth and calmly begins to interrogate Alice. Even its simple question — “Who are you?” — is very difficult for poor Alice, however, since she has changed size (and other things) so many times today that she isn’t sure any more who she is. When Alice explains that she can’t seem to remember anything right, the Caterpillar asks her to recite a poem called “You Are Old, Father William.” This is supposed to be a moralistic poem about a saintly old man, but when Alice tries to recite it, it comes out as satirical nonsense.

The Caterpillar speaks to Alice in a confusing and condescending way, and Alice finds herself getting angry — and when it advises her that she ought to keep her temper, this irritates her even more. Finally, she learns to be patient with the Caterpillar, and this works a little better. After dropping a few more cryptic remarks, the Caterpillar eventually crawls away into the grass, telling Alice, “One side will make you grow taller, and the other side will make you grow shorter.”

Alice puzzles over this until she decides that the Caterpillar must be talking about the mushroom it has been sitting on. She yanks off two handfuls of mushroom, one from either side, and nibbles on one. It makes her grow taller very suddenly — her neck shoots way up above the trees, where her head swoops around like a snake’s! Alice is suddenly attacked by a mother Pigeon, which believes she is a serpent who has come to eat her eggs. After convincing the Pigeon — with difficulty — that she is really just a little girl, Alice crouches down among the trees until she can reach her hands again, and nibbles on the two pieces of mushroom until she comes back down to her normal height. She heads off to try to find the beautiful garden she’s been looking for, but comes into a clearing in which stands a house only four feet tall. Reducing her size by nibbling on the mushroom, Alice brings herself back down to nine inches tall and walks up to the house.

Chapter 6 – Pig and Pepper

As Alice stands outside the little house wondering how to approach it, a fish, dressed in the livery (uniform) of a footman — that is, a messenger for some important person — runs out of the woods and knocks on the door. A frog, also in livery, opens it. The Fish-Footman gives the Frog-Footman an envelope, which they announce is an invitation from the Queen to the Duchess to play croquet.

The two of them are so ridiculous (they are both wearing wigs!) that Alice has to run back into the woods so they won’t hear her laughing. When she returns, only the Frog-Footman is there, sitting outside on the ground and staring stupidly up at the sky. Alice asks him how to get into the house, but he answers that knocking won’t do any good — it’s too noisy inside for anyone to hear. In fact, there is a great noise of howling, sneezing and banging coming from within. When the door suddenly opens and a plate is hurled out, just missing the Frog-Footman’s head, Alice decides to forget formality and simply walks in.

Indoors, she finds an amazing scene: An extremely ugly woman — the Duchess — is sitting on a stool in the middle of the kitchen, nursing (that is, rocking) a baby. Meanwhile, a cook is stirring a pot of soup. The air is filled with floating pepper, and the baby is wailing and sneezing without pause.

To add to this amazing sight, Alice beholds a cat lying on the hearth and grinning from ear to ear. Timidly, she asks the Duchess why her cat grins, and is told that it is a Cheshire cat, and Cheshire cats all grin. While Alice is trying to figure out how to turn this into a normal conversation, the cook takes the soup off the fire and starts hurling things at the Duchess and baby — fire tongs, plates, pots and pans. Horrified, Alice begs the Cook to be careful, and the Duchess rudely tells her to mind her own business. The Duchess then starts to sing an awful lullaby to her baby, which begins, “Speak roughly to your little boy, and beat him when he sneezes.” She shakes it at every chorus (in which the Cook and the baby join in the singing, shouting “Wow! wow! wow!”).

The Duchess flings the baby at Alice, and tells her she can take care of it for a while, since the Duchess needs to get ready to play croquet with the Queen. Alice nervously carries the baby outside — where, to her surprise, it slowly metamorphoses into a small pig. Not knowing what else to do with it, Alice puts it down, where it trots happily off into the forest.

Unexpectedly, the Cheshire Cat shows up, sitting on a tree branch near where Alice is standing. It looks friendly, so Alice asks it for advice: where should she go from here? The Cat, in a pleasant enough way, says that that depends on where she wants to go. Puzzled, Alice tries another tack and asks what kind of people live nearby. The Cat tells her that if she follows the road in one direction, she’ll find a Mad Hatter; in the other, a March Hare. It adds that she might as well visit either one, since they’re both mad — that is, insane. Alice exclaims that she doesn’t want to go among mad people, to which the Cat cheerfully remarks: “Oh, you can’t help that… we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.” Alice is not convinced by its reasoning, however.

The Cat asks her if she will be playing croquet with the Queen later in the day, to which Alice replies that she’d like to, but she hasn’t been invited. The Cat calmly says, “You’ll see me there,” and disappears. But it reappears a moment later to ask what happened to the baby. Alice explains that it turned into a pig, and the Cat remarks that it had expected that, and disappears again. A few minutes later, however, the Cat reappears again — now in a different tree — and asks Alice if she said “pig” or “fig.” Alice clarifies the point, and then asks the Cat please not to appear and disappear so suddenly: it makes her dizzy! The Cat pleasantly agrees, and this time it disappears very slowly, leaving only its grin behind, hanging in the air. Alice murmurs to herself, “Well! I’ve often seen a cat without a grin, but a grin without a cat!” and heads on down the road. Soon she comes to a large house with two chimneys shaped like ears and a roof made of fur. Figuring that this must be the March Hare’s house, she nibbles on the mushroom to make herself a little bigger, and then, a little nervously, approaches the house.