Through the Looking-Glass – Analysis


Chapter 1, 2

Carroll who is known for his passion for Contrast introduces us to the use of Inversion from the first two chapters of the text. The lonely seven and a half year old protagonist Alice is often left by herself with no companion so she keeps herself entertained by ‘playing pretend’. To escape from the lonesome reality, Alice slips into the world of ‘pretend’ where she pretends to be the adult and would mother her kittens and discipline them like an adult disciplines her. This vivid imagination of Alice helps her get away from a lonesome reality. It is in one of these games of pretend that Alice falls into the Looking-Glass world where she finds a Looking- Glass book with a poem titled “JABBERWOCKY” which can be read only when held in front of a mirror. The poem contains a lot of portmanteau words such as ‘slithy’ and ‘mimsy’ and ‘chortle,’ Some have even found their way into the English language. The poem may seem nonsensical at first but a close reading reveals it to be a tale of a hero returning victorious after having slain the villain, the Jabberwock. The theme of the poem is victory of good over evil. It is written in the form of a ballad and the rhythm appeals to the ears.

The theme of inversion starting from the first two chapters runs extensively throughout the novel. Carroll challenges the perception of reality through the use of inversion in the looking glass world. The contrast in the reader’s own reality makes the readers question their already established knowledge of the world and of what is accepted as normal.

Alice in these first two chapters is astounded by the beauty of the garden, she wanders around speaking to the flowers not knowing that the flowers can talk and is taken aback when the flowers respond to her questions and think her to be one of the them who can move .

Alice meets all the main characters in these two chapters as Chess pieces and also in their human form. She joins the game of Chess from Chapter 2 and though new to the Looking- Glass world she asserts that she wants to be queen and not just a pawn, hinting at some kind of growth in her character. The game of Chess gives a structure for Alice in the Looking Glass world. It is an irony that the game that is controlled by logic, calculations, strategy serves as a backdrop in a world where living backward and inversions are considered normal. Alice’s goal in the book is the attainment of queenhood and Alice like a strategic chess player relies on rules and logic but is always confronted by the realities which do not agree to her idea of reason. The movement of the individuals in the game are equivalent to the movement of the respective chess pieces. The game of chess also suggests a preordained way of life where all individuals are guided by an unseen force. like Alice’s destiny to being a queen is already fated from the beginning of the story.

Chapter 3, 4

After taking the two –square jumps allowed to a pawn Alice now starts from the second square, but as she takes the leap, she finds herself in the train, which takes her to the fourth square. In these chapters names play a very important role, Alice not only forgets her name in the forest but she also makes a distinct observation about the character association of names with the insects. She makes a more logical argument than the Gnat when she talks about how names are not essential but are only needed as tags to refer to a particular person or thing. Alice’s reasoning is rather very practical and logical which could have been moulded after the character of Carroll himself. The issue of identity is also highlighted in these two chapters; her sadness when she forgets her name. From the beginning of the book Alice’s identity has been questioned by people in the Looking glass world over and again. The flowers in the garden call her a flower like themselves but who can move like the red queen, then she forgets her name in the forest and Tweedledee and Tweedledum question her existence and tell her that she is not real but just a figment of the Red King’s dream. Apart from the people questioning her identity Alice also seems to go through a change in her development as she transitions from childhood to adulthood. Chapter two also introduces to the readers an interesting poem titled “The Walrus and the Carpenter”. The poem is a nonsense poem narrated by Tweedledee and Tweedledum to Alice, it is interpreted by many as walrus to be the caricature of Buddha because of his size and the Carpenter to be of Jesus Christ because Jesus followed the trade. The innocent oysters are lured from the bed of the ocean by the Walrus and the Carpenter with a promise of a good time but the carpenter is only interested in eating them. The poem is a comment on how unsuspecting and innocent creatures can be beguiled by the crafty ones.

Chapter 5, 6

In Chapter 5 Alice meets the White Queen again who appears to her as a clumsy, frivolous woman who has difficulty in cleaning herself up. Alice helps her out and in the meantime the queen tells her about her ‘living backwards’. According to the White Queen one may have jam ‘every other day’ but ‘never jam today’, the adults in the novel such as the White Queen do not behave like adults, Looking Glass world is a bizarre world where things are reversed, Alice, one of the youngest characters is the most logical character. She is the voice of reason, the voice closest to the adult readers. For a child reader, the Looking Glass world would spark its vivid imagination and allow him/her to escape from the adult world.

Although Alice feels offended when the White Queen calls her a ‘little goose’, Humpty Dumpty continuously insults her for having a stupid name and everything around her seems unreal and challenges her already established knowledge, Alice tries to amicably get along with everyone, she does not throw a tantrum or run away like any seven year old kid would, but rather tries to change the topic and get away with the awkwardness. Indeed Alice seems to be far ahead of Humpty Dumpty in maturity and White Queen in being collected and composed. Humpty Dumpty in spite of his mastery over language, its meanings and his knowledge fails to foresee his own epic fall which Alice is able to anticipate.

Chapter 7, 8

In this chapter, Alice meets Hatta and Haigha the two messengers of the White King who she has already met in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland but she does not recognize them. Another interesting thing in this Chapter is the emphasis on seeing ‘Nobody’. Through the White King, Carroll plays with the meaning of ‘Nobody’, he tests the reader’s understanding of the language. Chapter seven witnesses the epic battle of the lion and the unicorn another addition from the nursery rhymes. The lion which stands for England and the unicorn for Scotland are symbols in the Royal coat of arms of United Kingdom. These two magnificent creatures are seen to be fighting for the crown which belongs to the White King.

In Chapter 8 Alice makes her final move to become the Queen helped by the White Knight. The White knight at first seem like an evil character, who wants to make Alice his prisoner, however later it turns out that he only wanted to help Alice cross the last brook. The Red Knight in the book who fights the White knight stands for evil, in contrast with the White Knight , he as a Chess piece of the Red Queen who wants to prevent Alice from reaching her goal. Alice is unaffected by the fight and it amuses her to see the knights fighting, which signifies the ignorance of a child. Although Alice has been portrayed to have some maturity in the previous chapters this blissful ignorance here shows that after all, she is still a little girl though mature sometimes and has childlike curiosity and ignorance at times.

Chapter 9, 10, 11 and 12

In these Chapters, Alice’s desire to be a Queen is mocked, as everything becomes chaotic and the two queens are hostile to her. However, the feast thrown in her honour can also be seen as a metaphor for coming of age because in the feast she accidentally realizes that she can take things under her control by asserting herself. The book ends with a poem which has no title but is known as “A boat, beneath a sunny sky”. The acrostic in the poem forms the name of the real Alice i.e. ALICE PLEASANCE LIDDELL. Reality intersects with fantasy in this reminder of an actual person. It is a sad poem which laments the passing of childhood into adulthood. The poet here consoles himself that he shall find other eager ears for his audience but is also acutely aware that time and reality are irrepressible and they shall consume every childhood like Alice who transitions into adolescence. The last verse of the poem also imitates the nursery rhyme “Row, Row, Row Your Boat”.

However, it is also possible that Alice’s loneliness might have conjured up this entire story in her dream. The line between fantasy and reality is blurred and she wakes up confused like the readers. This loneliness can also be seen as a reflection of the Victorian society where children are not treated as children but groomed to become adults with no recreation, and no friends to play with. The little girl is often left to herself and her cats to whom she has attributed human characters.

In Victorian society while the poorer children are hired for cheap labour and in mining, factory work, sweeping the street, cloth and hat making, chimney sweeping, farming, textile mills servants and even prostitution, the children in the richer household, as in the case of Alice, are often left with a governess or a nanny who would teach them to be proper and polite. This leaves them with an overwhelming sense of boredom and parents have very little to do with parenting or communicating with the child.

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