Posted by: Kyle M. | October 28, 2009

“Down the Rabbit-Hole”- What Does It Mean?

When engaging in everyday conversation, people very rarely state exactly what they mean. We often communicate in figures of speech and cultural references that demand of our peers a keen understanding of both the English language and the nature of the wider world. Fortunately, most of the doublespeak that we convey and receive is easily understandable to anyone who doesn’t live under a rock; for example, referring to an idyllic location as ‘Heaven’ is a clear and obvious allusion to the Bible, and the idiom, “My spider-sense is tingling,” is an unmistakable declaration of concern and suspicion, regardless of one’s knowledge of the mythology from which it derives. That being said, it’s impossible to avoid running into the occasional reference that leaves us utterly stumped. Whether one hangs around a person constantly mentioning indecipherable quotes from A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy or associates with individuals who typically stick to plain speaking, it’d be quite the feat to go through a day without being faced with at least one confounding terminology.

I suspect that for many people (myself included), one such phrase has always been “Down the rabbit-hole.” Whenever this particular allusion was dropped, I’d always resort to the good old ‘smile and nod,’ pretending to be on the same page for the sake of my intellectual street cred. Even though I managed to grasp what  it meant on a cursory level simply through the context of its usage, I was still unclear on precisely what it meant. After perusing through the first chapter of the term’s classic origin, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carol, its meaning has revealed itself to be explicit; I’m somewhat ashamed that I never connected the dots before. I imagine that any reader in the same boat as me will, after learning its implied metaphor, share my embarrassment wholeheartedly.

When Carol’s expedition into whimsical absurdity opens, a young girl (by the name of Alice) is strolling carelessly through a meadow, when a rabbit suddenly scurries through her field of vision, boasting a white coat and red eyes.  She thinks nothing of it at first, but as soon as the rabbit “[takes] a watch out of its waistcoat-pocket, and [looks] at it (Page 12 of The Annotated Alice: The Definitive Edition),” it dawns on her that he’s certainly not a garden-variety woodland creature. It wouldn’t take much of a stretch to assume that the rabbit in question represents the new, the unexplored, the unidentified; after the rabbit scuttles away, it flashes across Alice’s mind that “She had never before seen a rabbit with either a waistcoat-pocket, or a watch to take out of it, and, burning with curiosity, she ran [through] the field after it (Page 12).” This is an animal unlike any she’s ever seen; one could use the same expression to describe a new idea or avenue to pursue.

The following sentences are where things start to become interesting; Alice decides to follow the rabbit, and she catches up with it “just in time to see it pop down a large rabbit-hole under the hedge. In another moment down went Alice after it, never once considering how in the world she was to get out again.” If we’re to accept the rabbit as a metaphor for a new idea, concept, or opportunity, it should be rather obvious what “chasing the rabbit/idea down the ‘rabit-hole’ represents: following through with any new avenue that has been presented, solely for the excitement of discovery and adventure. Even though Alice isn’t sure where ‘chasing’ this rabbit will lead, she’s enthralled enough in its originality to pursue it without question. Most people can relate to the notion; when we’re presented with an adventure or new route to explore, such as a job promotion or, say, advancement to Varsity level on a sports team,  we’re all ‘chasing’ that idea down a rabbit-hole, so to speak.

In a nut shell, going “down the rabbit-hole” represents embarking on an adventure; while yours, dear reader, might not be quite as fanciful as Alice’s, they are perhaps even more compelling and, dare I say, wonderful.

***

Note to the reader:  If anyone has ventured to this site in a state of confusion, I hope this analysis has helped you come to a better understanding of the text.

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Responses

  1. I thought it had to do with “Alice”, but wasn’t exactly sure how it related currently to our politicians. Boy, do I get it now. Thanks

  2. Nicely done. Thanks.

    Kare

  3. Huh. I always felt it had a slightly negative connotation. As in, you’re going on a journey/tangent that will be confusing and usually pointless!

    PS- It’s “Carroll”

  4. You might need to study/see rabits in their natural enviroment to really know what this means. Rabbits like to zig and zag as they run off confusing preditors-chasing rabbits down a hole means you too have to zig and zag getting dizzy -rabbits have a well developed inner ear balance and you become a dizzy fool falling down a hole running after your ambitions.

  5. Thank you! Thats cleared that up! Beautifully written.

  6. Not sure WHAT it means – – maybe just a flight of fancy . . .

    Here’s my 2-cents:

  7. I love how you drew the analogy with current expressions like spidey sense into this passage.

    Well-written!


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