Through the Looking Glass: Summary, Characters & Author

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  • 0:01 Introduction to…
  • 0:45 Plot Summary
  • 3:23 Major Characters of the Story
  • 5:41 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Francesca Marinaro

Francesca M. Marinaro has a PhD in English from the University of Florida and has been teaching English composition and Literature since 2007.

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.

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.

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