LIT 4334: The Golden Age of Children's Literature

The Role Chess Plays in Through the Looking-Glass

on February 21, 2013 11:24am

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In Through the Looking-Glass, Alice has barely aged since her last escapades in Wonderland took place. She was born into rich Victorian family, thus solidifying her nobility as a character. I feel that it is important to mention her circumstances because chess is a game that was played by royalty. There are many instances in antiquity in which people play a chess match against Death as a symbol of Fate. This appears to be the case in Through the Looking-Glass.  Alice starts off as a pawn in this new portal existence and she is surrounded by a set of heavily-structured guidelines, much different than her previous experiences. When Alice is a pawn, she is naive and has little knowledge and control over what to do, as she is unfamiliar with this game, even though she is predestined to be a queen, the best piece. Her movements to become a queen happen with great success, but only because she is helped by other circumstances. This new world is divided into chess squares, which are indicated by crossing over a brook or stream, and each time Alice successfully crosses over a square, she gets closer to her goal. Any time Alice lands on the same row as another character, she is interacting with them in some way.  Throughout the text, the characters act in accordance to their corresponding pieces. The Queens go all over the board, which speaks to how powerful they are. The knights falling off of their horses symbolize an L-shaped move which a knight piece does in chess. The Kings are usually cautious and tend not to move very often.

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This whole idea of chess serves as a metaphor for two different points. It points toward the idea that Fate is a predetermined notion and that individuals are guided not by themselves but by exterior forces. Alice has no sense of freedom of thought because she is constantly surrounded by heavily enforced rules and structure. Chess also serves as a metaphor for the maturation or evolution of Alice. Even though she stays the same age throughout the text, her language and attitude change and she becomes more woman-like as she goes up the ranks. When she successfully overtakes the Red Queen, thereby checkmating the Red King, she becomes the best piece and wakes up from her dream.

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