9/20 Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There

1. “One thing was certain, that the white kitten had had nothing to do with it – it was the black kitten’s fault entirely. For the white kitten had been having its face washed by the old cat for the last quarter of an hour (and bearing it pretty well, considering): so you see that it couldn’t have had any hand in the mischief” (AA 137).

I think this passage represents a very suitable start to the Alice sequel, for Carroll establishes some of his common themes. We begin with a very matter-of-fact statement, conveyed through the italics of “white” and “couldn’t” – the black kitten is guilty of some unknown crime; the white kitten is innocent. However, despite the ostensibly black and white nature of the current situation (forgive the pun), we, the reader, have no idea what Alice is talking about – a usual occurrence while reading Carroll. He has a wonderful skill of making things seem quite matter-of-fact but, at the same time, a little confusing, if not nonsensical.

With Kate Bernheimer’s dictionary definition of fairytales still in mind as “cautionary tales with morals for children,” I can’t help but wonder what Carroll wants to achieve by opening with a “right/wrong” situation, in which the white kitten (white usually associated with purity, innocence) is in the right, and the black kitten (black usually associated with sin) is in the wrong. Perhaps, in later revealing that the black kitten’s great “mischief” is simply playing with Alice’s yarn, Carroll turns the presupposition of fairytales implementing morals on its head.

Evil vs. Good

2. “‘Suppose they had saved up all my punishments?’ she went on, talking more to herself than the kitten. ‘What would they do at the end of a year? I should be sent to prison, I suppose, when the day came’” (AA 140).

Alice is surprisingly very self-aware in this scene. Moreover, the fact that she’s confessing her awareness of her numerous past offenses in the presence of a kitten reminded me of Calvin and Hobbes’s close relationship.

Professor Bump’s focus on animals in Carroll’s work also has me wondering about the role animals will adopt in this sequel. In Wonderland, the Cheshire-Cat seemed to act as one of Alice’s few friends in the novel. Here, we once again encounter a cat who acts as “some one [willing] to listen to her” (AA 86).

Calvin confesses to Hobbes
Calvin confesses to Hobbes

3. “‘I’ve been in many gardens before, but none of the flowers could talk.’

‘Put your hand down, and feel the ground,’ said the Tiger-lily. ‘Then you’ll know why.’

Alice did so. ‘It’s very hard,’ she said; ‘but I don’t see what that has to do with it.’

‘In most gardens,’ the Tiger-lily said, ‘they make the beds too soft – so that the flowers are always asleep’” (AA 159).

Here, Carroll provides an interesting metaphor for the idea that one’s greatest growth and success occurs while under adversity. The maxim that hardships make one stronger is conveyed through the flowers’ ability to talk only while in dry soil. Alice, the character, also brings this idea to life in Alice’s Adventures, for while struggling in Wonderland, a nonsensical place full of strangers and dangers, Alice grows as an individual, discovering a piece of her identity and finding self-confidence.

4. “‘I think I’ll go down and – no, I wo’n’t go just yet,’ she went on, checking herself just as she was beginning to run down the hill, and trying to find some excuse for turning shy so suddenly. ‘It’ll never do to go down among them without a good long branch to brush them away’” (AA 169).

Alice’s reaction to the elephant bees perfectly reflects what Professor Bump mentioned in class – how fear can cause us to respond violently. Though initially curious of the elephants, Alice becomes abruptly very afraid of the large creatures – an unstated fact, yet conveyed through her sudden timidity. Thus, full of fear, she turns to violence, declaring that she certainly couldn’t visit the elephants before acquiring a stick to “brush them away” if necessary. In the end, she chooses to avoid her fear all together, going the other way.

  1. A new difficulty came into Alice’s head. ‘Supposing it couldn’t find any?’ she suggested.

‘Then it would die, of course.’

‘But that must happen very often,’ Alice remarked thoughtfully.

‘It always happens,’ said the Gnat.

After this, Alice was silent for a minute or two, pondering.

In Alice and the Gnat’s discussion of the brief life of a Bread-and-butter-fly, we encounter Carroll’s second direct reference to death (the first being at the end of the mouse’s tale). Though it only concerns the death of a small insect, the reference succeeds in evoking an emotional response from the audience, perhaps due to Alice’s reaction. By silently pondering, Alice almost invites the reader to consider the inevitability and constancy of death – a somewhat serious topic for a “children” book but a poignant issue for adult readers, supporting the reality that Alice is often read by adults.

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