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Through the Looking-Glass

Lewis Carroll

Chapter 4: Tweedledum and Tweedledee

Chapter 3: Looking-Glass Insects

Chapter 5: Wool and Water

Summary

Alice approaches the portly twins Tweedledee and Tweedledum, who stand side by side with their arms around each other’s shoulders. Upon seeing them, Alice begins reciting a poem that she knows about them. The poem describes Tweedledee and Tweedledum fighting over a broken rattle until a crow frightens them, causing them to forget their argument. They deny that this has ever happened, and though they ignore Alice’s questions about how to get out of the wood, they do extend their hands to her in greeting. Alice does not want to choose one over the other, so she grabs each man’s hand and the three begin dancing in a ring. After a short dance, they stop, and though Alice continues to ask how to get out of the wood, Tweedledee and Tweedledum ignore her.

Tweedledee begins reciting “The Walrus and the Carpenter,” a poem that describes the story of a Walrus and a Carpenter who trick a group of young oysters into leaving their home underwater and coming to shore with them. Once the oysters get to shore, the Walrus and the Carpenter eat them. When Tweedledee finishes, Alice states that she prefers the Walrus because he feels sympathy for the oysters. Tweedledee points out that the Walrus ate more oysters than the Carpenter, and Alice changes her mind, stating her new preference for the Carpenter. Tweedledum observes that the Carpenter ate as many oysters as he could, which causes Alice to doubt her feelings.

As she tries to sort out her feelings, Alice becomes distracted by the Red King sleeping under a tree and snoring like a train engine. Tweedledee tells Alice that the Red King is dreaming about her, and if he stops, she will vanish. Alice starts to cry at the thought that she is real, and Tweedledee and Tweedledum try to comfort her by telling her that her tears are not real.

Alice decides that Tweedledum and Tweedledee are talking nonsense and that she is indeed real. Alice changes the subject and starts to leave when Tweedledee grabs her wrists and points to a broken rattle on the ground. Tweedledum recognizes it as his new rattle, and explodes in anger while Tweedledee cowers in fear. Tweedledee calms down and the two agree to a battle to determine ownership of the rattle. Alice helps them put on their battle gear, but before they can begin fighting, a great crow comes and scares them off, and Alice slips away into the wood alone.

Analysis

Tweedledum and Tweedledee are mirror images of one another, reintroducing the theme of inversion. With the exception of their names, the two little fat men are identical in looks, manner, and stance. They exhibit perfect symmetry, standing together with their arms around each other, so that when they extend their free hands they each reflect the other’s body position. Their conversation also displays a symmetrical position designated by Tweedledee’s favorite expression, “contrariwise.” “Contrariwise” functions as a transitional word that flips the premise of the conversation. Tweedledee usually addresses the other side of whatever Tweedledum just said. The twins’ reversal of language becomes apparent in the following exchange with Alice:

TWEEDLEDUM: I know what you’re thinking about . . . but it isn’t so, nohow.

TWEEDLEDEE: Contrariwise . . . if it was so, it might be . . . That’s logic.

The inversion motif appears on a larger scale in the fight between Tweedledee and Tweedledum, since it appears at the beginning of the chapter in Alice’s recitation and ends the chapter as an actual event. Their scripted quarrel reveals the power of language to affect outcomes. Language has an almost magical effect on Tweedledee and Tweedledum in creating a rattle that did not exist before the two met Alice. Language also seems to cause their battle. Tweedledum and Tweedledee must play out the events of Alice’s rhyme, and their lives are destined to imitate the events in the poem.

The episode with the sleeping Red King causes Alice to question whether or not she actually exists. The possibility that she may be a figment of the Red King’s dream complicates her already slippery hold on reality. Tweedledee’s suggestion questions the stability of reality itself. Alice has already experienced the loss of her name, a fundamental aspect of her sense of self. Here, she loses the security of her material existence in the world. If the Red King is in fact dreaming Alice into existence, then he is the only thing in Looking-Glass World that truly exists. The only way to test this hypothesis would be to wake the Red King up, but if he has imagined Alice, Tweedledum, and Tweedledee, none of them would be able to ask him about it, since they exist only in his dreams and thus cannot affect his waking life. Even Alice’s emotions are artificial, since her tears are only real to her. Though the tears serve as evidence of real emotion, that real emotion exists as a figment of the King’s dream.

The episode of the Red King’s dream opens up greater implications for Alice and the readers about reality and the nature of God. The presence of the Red King suggests the notion that no person actually exists, but lives solely as a fragment of a divine imagination. The chessboard motif makes sense as a tool for organizing the story since it functions as an allegory for human life in general. The characters in the story live a deterministic existence in which they have no free will and move about according to the will of their creator. Free will is an illusion in this world, since the residents of Looking-Glass World must follow the rules of the chess game in all of their actions. The idea of free will as an illusion challenges our understanding of Alice’s adventures, since we have understood that they exist as part of Alice’s own imagination. By introducing the possibility that Alice acts under the manipulation of a larger divine force, Carroll presents the idea that human life exists as an abstraction of the imagination of a larger divine force.

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