Alice in Wonderland Chapter 5: Advice from a Caterpillar
Alice and the Caterpillar look at each other for a long time until finally the Caterpillar sleepily demands to know who Alice is. Shyly, Alice responds that, though she knows who she was when she got up in the morning, she is pretty sure she's been changed a few times since then. The Caterpillar orders her to explain herself and what she means by such a remark. Alice answers, "'I can't explain myself, I'm afraid, Sir...because I'm not myself you see.'" Chapter 5, pg. 28 This does not make the issue any clearer to the Caterpillar, who doesn't think that changing size again and again would be confusing. Alice reminds the Caterpillar that it will be strange when he changes to a chrysalis and then into a butterfly, but the Caterpillar disagrees. Alice counters that such changes would seem strange to her. Again, the Caterpillar demands, "Who are you?"
Annoyed at being back at the beginning of a disagreeable conversation, Alice tells the Caterpillar that he should tell her who he is first. The Caterpillar gives a short "Why?" as a reply, and this sends Alice away in anger. The Caterpillar calls her back to tell her something important, which he prefaces by advising Alice that she should keep her temper. After some time and some more puffs on his hookah, the Caterpillar continues by asking Alice if she really thinks she's changed. Alice insists that she has. She knows this because she can't remember things the way she used to and because she changes size so frequently. When questioned what things she cannot remember correctly, Alice says that she's recited children's rhymes all wrong.
The Caterpillar suggests that Alice recite You are old, Father William. Thus Alice begins to recite what turns out to be nonsense. The most famous stanzas of this poem are:
"'You are old, Father William,' the young man said,
'And your hair has become very white;
And yet you incessantly stand on your head--
Do you think, at your age, it is right?'
"'In my youth,' said his father, 'I took to the law,
And argued each case with my wife;
And the muscular strength which it gave to my jaw,
Has lasted the rest of my life.'"
"'I have answered three question, and that is enough,'
Said his father, 'Don't give yourself airs!
Do you think I can listen all day to such stuff?
Be off, or I'll kick you down-stairs!'" Chapter 5, pp. 29-32, stanzas 1, 6 and 8
When Alice finishes, the Caterpillar comments that her recitation is not right. Alice concedes that it is not quite right, as some of the words are changed from normal. The Caterpillar retorts that her version is wrong from beginning to end, and then he asks Alice what size she would like to be. Alice says she doesn't mind what height she is exactly, but she doesn't like changing so often, as the Caterpillar would know. The Caterpillar says that he doesn't know, and Alice begins to lose her temper again.
She tells the Caterpillar that she'd like to be a little larger and offends him by telling him that three inches (his own height) is an awful height to be. Soon after, the Caterpillar decides to take his leave of Alice and gets down off of the mushroom and crawls away. As he goes, he comments that one side of the mushroom will make Alice taller and the other side will make her smaller.
Alice has a hard time figuring out what the sides of a round mushroom would be, but finally she broke off a bit of the edge with each hand. She nibbles one handful and suddenly feels her chin hit her foot. Alarmed, she quickly eats from the other handful as best as she can, what with her chin up against her foot. Her head shoots up, but soon she realizes that she can no longer see her own shoulders below the treetops that surround her neck. She realizes she can get a better idea of what's going on by moving her neck like a snake and looking around.
She hears a hiss from a Pigeon who fears Alice because she appears to be a serpent. Despite Alice's protests, the Pigeon continues to address her as a snake and wails "'...those serpents! There's no pleasing them!'" Chapter 5, pg. 34
Alice tries to tell the bird that she is not a serpent, but a little girl, but even Alice herself is not sure if she is still a little girl after having undergone so many changes in one day. Alice finally leaves the Pigeon after telling her she doesn't want to eat the bird's raw eggs. She remembers the two pieces of the mushroom and nibbles at them until she finally achieves her usual height.
At first, being normal size seems strange, but Alice is glad to have accomplished the first part of her plan. Now she only needs to get into the garden. While wondering how to do this, Alice comes upon a little house about four feet high. Since Alice sees that she is far too large to meet anyone living in such a house, she nibbles on the right-hand bit of mushroom until she is nine inches tall.