Through the Looking-Glass
Chapter 3: Looking-Glass Insects
Alice surveys her surroundings, spotting a group of elephants in the distance that seem to be pollinating flowers and making honey. She sets off in the direction of the elephants, but changes her mind and starts heading down the hill in the other direction. Before she knows it, she finds herself riding inside a carriage, and she explains to the Guard present that she doesn’t have a ticket. She hears various voices in the carriage badgering her, as the Guard examines her with a telescope, a microscope, and opera glasses. The other passengers in the carriage begin to discuss Alice. A man dressed entirely in white paper comments that she ought to know where her ticket is, while a goat interjects that she should know the location of the ticket office. A beetle comments that Alice will have to make the return journey as luggage. Alice hears a hoarse voice in her ear that suggests various jokes she can make using wordplay. As the train prepares to jump over a brook, Alice speaks back to the voice. The train jumps and Alice finds herself sitting quietly in the shade of a tree.
The strange voice turns out to be the voice of a gnat, who has grown to the size of a chicken since they landed in the forest. Alice and the Gnat discuss the difference between the insects in Alice’s world and Looking-Glass World. He explains that the horsefly becomes a rocking horsefly, the dragonfly becomes a snapdragon fly, and the butterfly becomes a Bread-and-butter-fly. Alice wonders what would happen to the Bread-and-butter-fly when it cannot find its chosen diet of weak tea and cream. The Gnat informs her that this is a regular occurrence, which means that Bread-and-butter-flies frequently die. The Gnat then warns Alice that she will lose her name if she travels into the wood. The Gnat discusses lost names and then vanishes as mysteriously as he appeared.
Alice journeys into the wood and finds that she cannot remember the name of anything. In her confusion, she thinks that her name begins with the letter “L.” She comes across a Fawn, who helps her through the wood. Once they exit the forest, the Fawn runs away now that it remembers that it is a fawn and Alice is a human. Alone again, Alice notices a series of signs pointing the way to Tweedledum and Tweedledee’s house. She heads off in that direction but bumps into them before she reaches her destination.
Alice fully understands the lack of control that she exerts over herself and where she wishes to go in Looking-Glass World. Despite her strong attraction to the elephants, she pulls back from going to meet them in favor of remaining on the chessboard and following the rules of the game. Back on the chessboard, her movements become measured and predictable. Alice’s train ride allows her to skip the third “square,” propelling her forward two spaces, mimicking the fact that pawns move two spaces forward on their first move. From this point on, Alice’s movement and geographical position are charted in the chess diagram provided at the beginning of the book.
Alice and the Gnat discuss in detail how one’s name should relate to one’s identity or physical characteristics. As they discuss the names of different insects in their respective worlds, the Gnat asks Alice about the purpose of names if the insects do not respond to the names when called by them. Alice explains that the names are not necessarily for animals and objects to identify themselves by and respond to, but rather, names help those with powers of language to label, classify, and organize what they experience. In Looking-Glass World, humans are not the only species with powers of language, which changes Alice’s perceptions about the act of naming and the properties of names. Alice’s interactions with the Fawn are initially friendly, but he bolts upon learning that it is a Fawn and she is a human child. Alice discovers that names do not simply label, but convey information about how something operates in the world in relation to other things. The Bread-and-butter-fly, as its name suggests, lives on weak tea with cream, and Fawns fear humans, their conditioned enemies.
The Fawn’s fear of Alice suggests Carroll’s preoccupation with Darwin’s theory of evolution. Carroll was a deeply religious man who felt threatened by Charles Darwin’s research on evolution, which was published at the same time that Carroll was writing. To Carroll, the theory of evolution challenged the Christian belief in a harmonious universe created by God in the manner described in the book of Genesis. As in Genesis, the forest resembles Eden, in which men and animals coexisted harmoniously. Alice and the Fawn exit the forest just as Adam and Eve were expelled from Eden after tasting from the Tree of Knowledge. Just like the story of the Fall of Eden, the Fawn becomes afraid once it remembers that Alice is a human and that she presents a threat to his safety. The reference to the Fall calls attention to Carroll’s anxiety about Darwin’s theories of evolution, which in his perception sought to undo the idea of a harmonious universe that might bring about a second Fall.