Like many of the other fantasies we've read, Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass is full of dream-like characters, humor, and a story of growth and learning. Although the fantastic creatures like unicorns and gryphons correspond with some amazing creatures in Narnia and Alice's journey through childhood parallel with that of Anodos in Phantastes, something sets this fantasy apart from the others we have read. Rather than one layer of meaning, Carroll presents multiple layers, each one intended for a different audience. His many ambiguities and witticisms please young children whereas a more mature audience is required to understand the symbolic meaning of Alice's encounters. This land of fantasy and wonder through which Alice travels creates an exaggeration of characteristics in a tainted Victorian society. The following conversation between Humpty Dumpty and Alice illustrates the range of meaning in the story:

" . . . only I don't sing it," he added, as an explanation.

"I see you don't." said Alice.

"If you can see whether I'm singing or not you've sharper eyes than most," Humpty Dumpty remarked severely. Alice was silent. [191]

Although the story teases and pleases its readers, it criticizes the very society in which Carroll was raised. The king and queen present another form of Carroll's criticism. The king's simple-minded comment of "begin at the beginning . . . till you come to the end: then stop," (113) places a smile on the reader's face but the text is doing more than that. The king can be placed as only one among an array of warped characters that embody Carroll's criticisms. The queen also represents a distorted and hasty adult with her rash decision of "Sentence first — verdict afterwards!" Carroll evenly bluntly comes out with his disapproval of the society as a whole in Humpty's conversations with Alice when he says, "Ah, well! They may write such things in a book. . .That's what you call a History of England, that is" (185), "such things" referring to Humpty's rhyme.

Questions

1. The concept of naming comes up again in Alice's encounter with Humpty when he asks "must a name mean something?" (184), and with the gnat, when he questions why things have names at all (153). Is this anything at all like the naming that comes up in LeGuin? Can one make names or words mean different things?

2. What is the significance in Carroll's creation of such demanding figures as seen by means of Humpty's remark in the last quotation and with his remarks, "I shouldn't know you again if we did meet" (194) and " . . .to show you I'm not too proud you may shake hands with me!" (185)? Whom else do we see assert such authority?

3. When Alice grows big, during the trial at the end of her adventures in wonderland, she seems to portray a lot authority and assertiveness, or at least stands her ground without fear and speaks her mind. She even tells kitty, " I'm going to tell you all your faults," (128) as if she had none of her own. Does her constant changing of size have anything to do with her mental or emotional growth?

4. Each new character Alice meets seems to present her with a new play on words. The Hatter tries to tell the king that his time " began with the tea" (106) and the king replies " Of course twinkling begins with a T!" (106). Why does Carroll challenge normal use of speech; is it merely for humor?

5. Does Carroll so frequently use italics merely for conversational purposes?


Victorian Web Overview Lewis Carroll Leading Questions

Last modified 25 March 2004