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Lewis Carroll’s ‘Through the Looking Glass’ is the sequel to ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ and one of the most beloved classics of children’s literature. This lesson provides an overview of the plot, main characters and major themes of the story.

Introduction to Through the Looking Glass

Imagine a world where everything is backward, where animals and flowers talk, chess pieces come to life, and you can’t cut a cake before you eat it. In Lewis Carroll’s Victorian children’s classic, Through the Looking Glass, just such a world exists. Carroll wrote the story in 1869 as a sequel to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, which was a children’s book that had been published in 1865 to mixed reviews.

When Through the Looking Glass was published in 1871, it was received far more enthusiastically and has remained a classic staple of Victorian children’s fiction, delighting child and adult readers alike with its whimsical imaginary world.

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Plot Summary

The book begins with 7-year-old Alice sitting in her drawing room with her kitten. An imaginative child, Alice begins to describe to the kitten a world that exists just beyond the mirror in the drawing room.

The world looks much the same as the one in which they live, only everything is reversed. Suddenly Alice finds herself standing in front of the mirror, but she realizes when she looks around that she has magically appeared on the other side of the mirror in a world where flowers talk, walking forward only seems to bring her back to her starting point, and the only way to read a book is to hold it up to a mirror.After attempting unsuccessfully to read a poem, ‘Jabberwocky,’ by holding it up to the mirror, Alice wanders through a garden of talking flowers and eventually meets the Red Queen in a landscape that looks like a giant chessboard. She asks if she can play, and the Red Queen permits her to become one of the white pieces, explaining to her that she must reach the other side of the board if she wants to become a queen herself.

This begins an interesting series of adventures across the board-landscape. Alice seems not so much to run across the board as to magically disappear and reappear in different places. Along the way, she meets a host of comical characters, including a talking gnat who seems to know a lot about the world, and Tweedledee and Tweedledum, a silly pair of twins who amuse her with their recitation of a poem, ‘The Walrus and the Carpenter.’Each time Alice begins to get her bearings, she magically finds herself in a new place, including a wood where she temporarily forgets her name, a shop where she haggles over the purchase of an egg that turns into Humpty Dumpty, and the center of town where she finds herself the prize in a battle between the Red Knight, who wants to carry her away, and the White Knight, who manages to protect her and promises to deliver her safely to the other side of the chessboard.When Alice finds herself sitting on a bank at the other end of the board, a crown magically appears in her lap, and the Red and White Queens both show up and begin asking her complicated questions about everything from math to philosophy and the meaning of truth, until she mysteriously finds herself standing in front of a castle with the words ‘Queen Alice’ inscribed on the door.A giant frog lets her in and leads her to a feast in her honor that quickly erupts in chaos.

Frustrated by the mayhem around her, she pulls at the tablecloth, sending food, drinks, and guests flying. Blaming the Red Queen for everything, Alice picks her up and shakes her violently until, with a jolt, she finds herself back in her drawing room, shaking her poor kitten. As the novel ends, readers are left pondering the power of the imagination and the blurring of boundaries between reality and fantasy as Alice wonders which world was real. Did she dream it all, or is she just a character in someone else’s dream?

Major Characters of the Story

Seven-year-old Alice is the heroine of the story, a returning character from Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. A bright and imaginative young girl, she wants to grow up and be a Victorian Lady in a neat and orderly world. Her adventure into the looking glass both brings home the importance of embracing the magic of childhood and the somewhat harsher reality that real adult life isn’t quite as neat and orderly as Alice would like it to be.

The challenges she faces, principally her journey across the chessboard, which mirrors the passage from childhood to adulthood, teach her the importance of acting and thinking for herself, which are all part of growing up. It isn’t just pretty manners and hosting tea parties.In her travels, Alice meets a host of colorful characters. Gnat is a wise, kind old character; one of the few kind characters Alice meets in her backward, looking glass world. He is her guide through the woods and warns her to be careful of things like word play and wary of things that aren’t what they appear to be.

Humpty Dumpty is a talking egg who, naturally, sits perched atop a ledge and recites poetry. He tells Alice that he can reverse the meanings of words, making them mean whatever he wants them to, and treats her rudely when she admits that she can’t understand anything in this mixed up world.Tweedledee and Tweedledum are a pair of twins dressed as schoolboys who like word games and reciting poetry, but their insistence that Alice is just a character in a dream and not a real girl unsettles her and is one of the many tests she encounters in her struggle to distinguish between the real and the imaginary.The arbitrary and domineering monarch, the Red Queen, brings Alice into the chess game and sets her the task of reaching the other side to become a queen, a metaphor for Alice’s coming of age journey from girlhood to adulthood.

She is rude, demanding, and constantly changes the rules of the game and the world in which Alice finds herself. Her harshness and the challenging questions she poses to Alice when Alice makes it to the end of the board remind Alice and the reader that being grownup is difficult.

Lesson Summary

Through the Looking Glass, a children’s novel by Lewis Carroll, is the sequel to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, a children’s book that had been published in 1865 to mixed reviews.

Through the Looking Glass was published in 1871, seven years after the first Alice story, and finds Alice in another imaginary world, this time on the other side of the mirror in her drawing room.The world is a place of chaos where everything is backward, and Alice, the heroine of the story, a returning character from Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, becomes increasingly frustrated with the chaos surrounding her because she wants to be an adult and live in a neat and orderly world. She encounters several characters, including Gnat, a wise, kind and old character; Humpty Dumpty, a live egg who speaks in poetry from atop a wall; Tweedledee and Tweedledum, a pair of twins dressed as schoolboys who like word games and reciting poetry as well; and, of course, the Red Queen, the arbitrary and domineering monarch.Most of the story consists of her journey across a landscape made to look like a giant chessboard she’s forced onto by the Red Queen, and if she reaches the end of it, she will supposedly become a queen. Along the way, she discovers that reaching this goal of being a queen, a metaphor for her adult womanhood, is difficult and confusing, and she realizes at the end of it that she isn’t quite ready for the responsibility of growing up, one of the themes of the novel.

Other themes are explored, including reality versus make believe and the general chaos of life itself.

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