Matthew M on the Caterpillar

The Questions of the Caterpillar

The Caterpillar in AliceThe 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.

4 thoughts on “Matthew M on the Caterpillar

  1. This may sound a bit silly, but your post immediately made me think of Selected Program Notes From the Retrospective Exhibition of Theresa Rosenberg Latimer, by Kenneth Schneyer (http://podcastle.org/2013/07/18/podcastle-269-selected-program-notes-from-the-retrospective-exhibition-of-theresa-rosenberg-latimer/). The thing that hit me was the sense of frustration surrounding communication.

    Written language can be a lacking form to describe many experiences, and spoken/signed language is barely better as tonality and expression are often culturally bound. The binding of culture to communication is important and super cool, but I agree with you that it can get frustrating when something is being explained in terms we’re not apt to understand. The only reason I get so in-depth on this point is that Alice never “speaks” in a way which gives us the benefit of expression/tonality/spacial awareness/etc, but rather Carroll “speaks” for her via putting words to paper. Even when we’re able to relate to a media, it’s still a form separate from reality.

    What I’m kind of trying to get at here is that I don’t know if the purpose of language is universality. Realistically, universality as it pertains to human experience is a myth (perpetuated by capitalism, etc etc). There’s no single right or wrong way to live a life, just as there is no single right or wrong way to describe that life–unless it’s not to describe it at all.

    So how, then, are we able to communicate ourselves and our experiences to others?

    (Seriously. I want to know.)

    (PS- I did read and think about your analysis of the Caterpillar, but it was your conclusions that really got my brain moving. Thanks! But also sorry if you were looking for a different type of response.)

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  2. To me, the Caterpillar sort of represents a teacher. His conversation with Alice gets her thinking about her identity. The main focus of their conversation is about going through changes. As a Caterpillar, he too is must undergo change – metamorphosis. The metamorphosis of a butterfly is actually quite fascinating; and Alice actually brings it up which is what got me thinking about it. What I understood from the Caterpillar is that he was trying to tell Alice that not all change is bad. In fact, the changes in our lives ultimately shape our identity. Every decision that we make may (or may not) lead to change, and that is what makes us who we are.

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  3. I found the character of the caterpillar very interesting, and very much like Alice. Especially in the way in how he looks at himself, and seems to unaware of the most obvious things. A lot like Alice, I think. I think the caterpillar is a very complex character, and I think he has a large influence on Alice. Evethough, like the OP said, he doesn’t really say much to her at all.

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  4. i never really thought of the caterpillar in that way OP and i think its really interesting how you feel the caterpillar is more of a self serving figure than a hindrance. lots of the other characters stop Alice or slow her down or confuse her but the all the caterpillar simply asks her questions of her, and if i rember correctly he doesn’t ask anything about her she wasn’t already wondering form the start anyway. maybe he is simply curious about Alice? i really appreciate a new way to look at the character because now that I have if I go back to the book i may have a different understanding to what i had before.

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