Lewis Carroll was the pen name of Charles L. Dodgson, the renowned Victorian author and mathematician. The eldest of 11 children, Carroll was rather adept at entertaining himself and his siblings. He also pursued photography, often choosing children as the subject of his portraits. One of his favourite models was a little girl named Alice Liddell, the daughter of the Dean at Christ Church College where Carroll had studied, and who later became the basis for Carroll’s fictional character, Alice.
Carroll primarily wrote comic fantasies and humorous verse that was often very childlike. Carroll published his most famous children’s novel Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland in 1865, followed by its sequel entitled Through the Looking Glass in 1872.
“How doth the Little Crocodile” is a short poem by Carroll which appears in the novel Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. This poem is made up of 2 stanzas. Each of these stanzas is again made up of 4 lines. Hence, the entire poem consists of just 8 lines. The speaker of this poem is the protagonist of the novel, that is, Alice herself.
Stanza 1: In this stanza, Alice describes how a crocodile may enhance the physical appearance of its tail. The word “little” is used with reference to the crocodile, but it is safe to assume that the use of that word is merely ironic. Even young crocodiles are rather large in size, when their whole length is measured extending from the snout to the very tip of the tail. The crocodile has come up out of the water and is sitting on the shore.
It is evidently as sunny day, for the light of the sun that is falling on the scales of the crocodile’s body is making them shine. However, the crocodile does not seem to be content with just the sunlight brightening up its appearance. It concludes that a certain amount of water poured on its scales would further beautify its appearance. As we know, the eyes of the crocodile are placed in a horizontal relation with its back. Therefore, when it secretes tears, the water from the tears can easily spread over its back. This is exactly what the crocodile does.
The crocodile’s tears are not only caused by emotional distress, as they are in the case of human beings. Hence, it is easy for the crocodile to secrete a large amount of teardrops and have them roll down the scales of its body, making them shine to a larger extent than they naturally would in the sunlight. Alice jokes that the crocodile secretes enough teardrops for them to seem like they equal all the water in the River Nile.
Stanza 2: In this stanza, Alice describes what the crocodile does when it spots the fish in the water trying to swim near the shore. The crocodile seems to start grinning, as if it were welcoming its fellow creatures of the sea onto land along with itself. The crocodile also spreads his claws out on the sand, as if to create space for the fish to move in. The last thing the crocodile does is to open its mouth wide, as if to utter a kindly word.
However, the fish are sorely mistaken if they interpret the crocodile’s actions in this way. In fact, all these actions on the crocodile’s part are designed to trick them and to trap them. When it opens its shining mouth, it in fact gobbles up all the fish that come swimming up towards its body.