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Through the Looking Glass: Themes & Analysis

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  • 0:01 Background to 'Through…
  • 1:48 Themes of 'Through the…
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: David Boyles

David has a Master's in English literature and is completing a Ph.D. He has taught college English for 6 years.

'Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There' is the sequel to Lewis Carroll's beloved masterpiece 'Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.' This lesson will discuss the major themes of the book and the evolution of the central character.

Background to Through the Looking-Glass

People who have never read Lewis Carroll's Alice books are usually familiar with them through their various adaptations. However, many of these adaptations, such as Walt Disney's 1951 film Alice in Wonderland, take elements from both books and combine them into one story, giving the impression that the books are essentially the same. However, the two books are very different.

Through the Looking-Glass is a more complex book which focuses on the end of Alice's childhood and innocence. It is an exploration of the underlying rules that govern our world and shows the process of growing up as a struggle to comprehend these rules. It also questions exactly where these rules come from and the nature of reality.

Carroll wrote Alice's Adventures in Wonderland to entertain his young friend Alice Liddell and her siblings on a boating trip. In the six years between the publication of Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, Carroll taught Alice to play chess, which led to the game becoming a primary symbol in the sequel.

Through the Looking-Glass takes place six months after Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. After pondering the backwards world on the other side of her mirror, Alice goes through the mirror and into this world, which is organized like a giant chess board. Progressing like a pawn from one chess square to another, Alice encounters characters such as Tweedledee and Tweedledum, Humpty Dumpty and the White Knight, who was modeled on Carroll himself.

The book ends with Alice encountering the White Queen and Red Queen. Alice is crowned a Queen herself because she reached the end of the chessboard. She then awakes in her home and wonders if she had dreamed these adventures or if she was actually the figment of someone else's dream.

Themes of Through the Looking-Glass

There are several prominent themes and images in Through the Looking-Glass through which Carroll questions the nature of reality and shows Alice's bewilderment at understanding the rules of the adult world.

Now let's look at the theme of mirroring. Perhaps the most predominant image in the book is that of mirrors. Looking-Glass Land is like a mirror image of the real world and Through the Looking-Glass is in many ways a mirror of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Whereas Wonderland starts outdoors in the sunny springtime, Looking-Glass starts indoors in the snowy winter. And while Wonderland focused on physical changes such as Alice growing big and shrinking small again, Looking-Glass focuses on changes in time and space, such as the White Queen's ability to remember events that haven't happened yet. The mirror image creates an upside-down world which in turn makes the reader question the normal rules of our world and where they come from.

Now let's look at the theme exemplified by chess. Carroll loved games of all types and Wonderland featured frequent images from playing cards. In another mirroring of the first book, Looking-Glass takes chess as its primary game. Looking-Glass Land is conceived as a chess board, with the squares as fields separated by rivers and brooks. Looking-Glass Land is governed by confusing and seemingly arbitrary rules that Alice struggles to understand, perhaps resembling the real Alice's process of learning the game of chess. Alice's increasing frustration with the complex rules of Looking-Glass Land also demonstrates her increasing engagement with the world and nascent maturity.

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