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Alice in Wonderland and the Mathematics Involved Essay

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The latter half of the nineteenth century became a time of evolution for different forms of mathematics such as symbolic algebra, Riemannian geometry, Boolean algebra , and quaternion calculus. "To him [Lewis Carroll], algebra was all about numbers," mathematician Keith Devlin explained. “But in the 19th century, people were developing all kinds of bizarre new algebras, where x times y was not equal to y times x.” (Devlin) While mathematicians knew that Carroll, a mathematician himself, was slipping numbers in to his classic, “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” the hidden math came as a surprise to many others. Melanie Bayley, a well-known literary scholar and dedicated fan, explains that Dodgson's work contains a lot of satire about then-modern ideas in the world of mathematics (Holwerda). Though Carroll doesn’t come out and explain the camouflaged numbers, geometric figures, and quaternions, the unexpected scenes including when Alice falls down a rabbit hole as if on a exponential graph, when the Cheshire cat appears and it’s smile represents a mathematical variable, when the Caterpillar introduces to Alice a size changing mushroom and limits, when the Duchess’s “baby” transforms mathematically because of projective geometry into a pig, and when the Mad Hatter’s scene exemplifies the quaternion theory, all portray mathematics in Wonderland thoroughly.
When a child first reads Alice, the silly plot and unique characters make a children’s literary novel what it is. The mathematics, however, can’t be seen on the pages. The reader has to delve in and test his/her knowledge of numbers and shapes. Even Alice had to move from a rational world to a land where even numbers behave arbitrarily. Lewis Carroll wrote a number of books ba...


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...ithout these analogies [in mathematics]? Nothing but Dodgson's original nursery tale, Alice's Adventures Under Ground, charming but short on characteristic nonsense.” (Bayley) Magic mushrooms, babies turning into pigs, and absurd questions (‘why is a raven like a writing desk?’) were all Carroll’s way of showing how useless the mathematical theories during the Victorian age were to him.



Works Cited

Carroll, Lewis, [Charles Lutwidge Dodgson]. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. 2nd Ed.
London: Longmani, 1990. Print.

Carroll, Lewis. Euclid and His Modern Rivals,. New York: Dover Publications, 1973.
Print.
Dodgson, Charles Lutwidge. Mathematical Recreations of Lewis Carroll. New York:
Dover, 1958. Print.
Wilson, Robin J. Lewis Carroll in Numberland: His Fantastical Mathematical Logical
Life : An Agony in Eight Fits. New York: W.W. Norton, 2008. Print.




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