Absolem and Russel–these are the other names that the famous Caterpillar from Alice in Wonderland goes by. The Caterpillar is one of the more recognizable characters in the story, and it’s a character that served an important purpose in the story even though it wasn’t as popular compared to other characters such as the White Rabbit, the Mad Hatter, or the Queen of Hearts. We actually see the Caterpillar twice in the entire story of Alice’s Adventure in Wonderland, first in Chapter Four and then in Chapter Five. His part in the story is pivotal to the direction that Alice and her story eventually take.
There have been many depictions of the Caterpillar based on how Lewis Carroll described it in the book. We know that it is exactly three inches tall, which is quite small if you were regular in size. We also know that it smokes a hookah. Some drawings have depicted the Caterpillar stoutly, while others have pictured the Caterpillar as slim. Some variations have depicted the Caterpillar as grumpy or angry, while others simply show it as more aloof than anything. The Caterpillar has appeared blue in some iterations and green in others. One thing that most of these variations have in common is that the Caterpillar is almost always holding the hookah that it’s smoking.
When Alice met the Caterpillar for the first time, she actually did not like it. The Caterpillar took its time talking to Alice, and it was very curt each time it spoke to her. Alice first saw the Caterpillar sitting on top of a mushroom and smoking its hookah. The first thing that the Caterpillar said to Alice was a question, “Who are you?” Alice had difficulty answering the Caterpillar, and so she decided to just take her leave. The Caterpillar called her back to recite a poem, Father William, which she did incorrectly. She was again dejected by this occurrence, especially considering she thought she knew the poem completely. The Caterpillar made sure to point out her mistake and proceeded to ask Alice how tall she would like to be. Alice simply answered that being three inches tall was a misery, something that insulted the three-inch Caterpillar deeply. It then decided to crawl away, but before doing so, it told Alice how she could grow back to normal size again. Apparently, one side of the mushroom would make her shrink, while the other would make her grow when consumed.
There are so many important things that happened during this meeting that gets lost easily. First off, the Caterpillar was really the very first character Alice meets that actually made an effort to help her out. Everything in Wonderland was quite confusing for Alice, and the height changes were beginning to really take a toll on her. The Caterpillar, though antagonistic in nature, still told Alice exactly what she needed to know in order to get back to her original size. While she still may have had difficulty doing this, at least she had some type of direction. In addition, the Caterpillar wasn’t the only character that was acting contemptuous. Alice herself made insulting remarks that may not have been directly aimed at the Caterpillar, but it was still haughty regardless.
The role of the Caterpillar has been interpreted many different ways in the past. Some say that the Caterpillar was there to highlight Alice’s compounding confusion and the fact that she was beginning to forget who she really was. Others say that the Caterpillar was absolutely sexual in nature, considering its phallic shape and its impending body transformation–a representation of sexual maturity. Even further, the Caterpillar has been used to point out the drug culture in the story of Alice in Wonderland, considering that the Caterpillar was smoking a hookah and pointed Alice towards eating some magic mushrooms in order to solve her issues.
There are many interpretations that can be said of the Caterpillar, but the most popular notion is the idea that the Caterpillar represented change for Alice. After all, she met the Caterpillar after having gone through so much change in her height, and many experts believe that the Caterpillar was there to show Alice that change is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, change can even turn into something beautiful–a fate that the Caterpillar would eventually experience. Regardless of how angry or negative it was, the Caterpillar would still turn into a butterfly.