LIT 4334: The Golden Age of Children's Literature

The Shifting World of Through the Looking Glass

on February 21, 2013 2:23pm

What is life but a dream?

Much like its predecessor, Through the Looking Glass showcases Lewis Carroll’s love for seemingly nonsensical characters, dialogue exchanges, and world. However, it can be argued that the world showcased in the sequel surpasses the original world of Wonderland in its  non-linearity and bizarre occurrences. One of the biggest differences between Wonderland and the world within the looking glass is the completely random shifts in settings that pop up in the sequel. Carroll purposely sets up a setting and a set of characters only to change them completely without notice. The motif can be in interpreted several ways, but I believe Carroll included this odd device to reinforce the idea that real life can be as nonsensical and random as the looking glass world.

A peek into the bizarre carriage scene.

The first major example of this motif occurs in chapter 3 when Alice inexplicably goes from running down a hill to being thrust inside a carriage and being badgered for not having a ticket. She undergoes bullying from the carriage guard  and its passengers, has her thoughts read by everyone on the carriage, and is scrutinized under microscopes. I think Carroll potentially included this encounter to showcase the way situations sometimes deprives people completely of their preparedness. The complete tonal shift reinforces this idea, with the tone first being curious and whimsical to anxious and troubled. The prevalent sense of helplessness Alice experiences in the carriage, particularly the insults aimed at her from the characters, also adds to this stark tonal shift. Although seemingly random, I think Carroll possessed a method to his madness through complete scene changes.

Alice and her kitten, the ear to her muse.

Although many of the scene changes in the novel represent a shift from tranquility (at least what can be considered tranquil in the world) to chaos, the final setting change at the end represents a stark departure from this trend. When Alice becomes queen, a nonsensical and disastrous dinner is held in her honor. At the climax of this dinner, Alice awakens and learns the entire ordeal was a dream. I think this shift at the end directly links to the poem that ends the story, which’s final line states “Life, what is it but a dream?”  (line 21). This particular shift gives the reader an interesting insight into Carroll’s opinion on life in a very melancholy yet philosophical line. When Alice awakens, she attributes figures in her life (such as her cats) to to characters in her dream and recounts the dream to one of her kittens. Her desire to make sense of the dream and remember all the details could indicate a desire to return to the looking glass world. This relates to the sadly nostalgic tone of Carroll’s poem, which sounds like he experienced life as a dream and perhaps mournfully misses it. This could sum up a huge theme of the book, which emphasizes attaining happiness no matter the circumstances, even if it’s achieved through a dream.

Carroll’s employment of drastic scene changes represents both the positives and negatives of the randomness of life. Although I may not agree with his feelings regarding happiness and its pursuit, I find his weaving of nonsense with philosophical themes quite admirable as a writer.

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