The Questions of the Caterpillar
The Caterpillar is not a welcoming figure. In fact, he is very ‘short’ with Alice and incites in her a state of confusion even stronger than what she felt prior to their meeting. Even after their meeting she is still marred by his existential questions about her, as seen when she stutters as she tries to identify herself to the Pigeon (100). The Caterpillar himself is very much an outsider in Wonderland due to his size, perhaps resulting in or is the result of his attitude as well as his state of contemplation on the mushroom.
The Caterpillar does not engage Alice in polite or lengthy conversation. He is indifferent to his impending transformation when it is pointed out by Alice. His brusque attitude and short yet difficult questions towards Alice serve only to confuse her even further about who she is and about her perception of the world around her. In the words of Dr. Martin, he is the embodiment of indifference. For the Caterpillar, there is no sense of self or other, there is only the caterpillar. This is enhanced by the fact that he is described as being blue (92), implying a contemplative mood about him. His character is distanced from the rest of Wonderland due to both his size and nature, explaining his defensive stance regarding whether or not three inches is a good height for one to be (98), as it is logical that one so contemplative would likely appreciate distance in order to better reflect and/or focus the mind.
For me, the Caterpillar is of interest due to his contemplative mood and indifference towards the world around him. I often find myself at a distance from others due to my independent nature, and also have difficulty relating to others that are too focused on the moment and their own personal worlds to be able to step back and look objectively at the universe. The result is that I usually come to view many aspects of popular human life to be mundane, vain, and utterly pointless, resulting in a difficulty to relate to others. Like the Caterpillar, my conversation tends to lead to difficult questions often without answers.
So what are we to make of the caterpillar? That he’s a dick that only wants to incite confusion? That is too easy of a conclusion. I believe that his insistence that Alice explain and identify herself serve to show her and the reader that she cannot be explained, at least not through the medium of the spoken word, and by extension neither can the reader. Identity is far too grand a concept to be put into something as simple and subjective as human speech when so much feels lost when one attempts to relate to another. Or that may just be my own experience.
There may not be any definitive answer to the Caterpillar’s questions, and I believe that that is the very purpose of them, to show Alice and the reader that attempts to put grand notions of the metaphysical into terms that will mean the same thing for everyone is a fruitless pursuit. To categorize and label is to limit and thus is a failure to accurately communicate full and genuine meaning.