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Through the Looking-Glass

Lewis Carroll

Chapter 5: Wool and Water

Chapter 4: Tweedledum and Tweedledee

Chapter 6: Humpty Dumpty

Summary

As Alice runs through the forest, she comes across a shawl blowing about in front of her. She grabs the shawl and bumps into the White Queen, who has been chasing through the wood after her missing shawl. In thanks, the White Queen offers Alice a job as her maid, promising “twopence a week, and jam every other day.” Alice respectfully declines. The White Queen tells Alice that she lives backward and remembers events before they happen. She goes on to inform Alice that the King’s Messenger will be in prison the week after next, that his trial begins next Wednesday, and that his crime will come last of all. As the two discuss the merits of punishment for a crime that may not be committed, the White Queen starts screaming like an engine whistle. She tells Alice she will prick her finger, and then pricks it as she refastens her shawl.

Alice feels lonely and begins to cry. The White Queen cheers her up by telling her to consider things such as her age before admitting that she is over one hundred years old. When Alice states that to live to a hundred is impossible, the White Queen counters that Alice cannot believe the impossible because she has not had any practice. The White Queen’s shawl blows away again, and she chases after it over a brook. As Alice crosses the brook to catch up with her, the White Queen transforms into a sheep, and Alice finds herself suddenly in a shop.

The Sheep asks Alice what she would like to buy and Alice begins looking around the shop. Though filled with curious items, every shelf that Alice sets her eyes upon appears to be empty. The Sheep then tells Alice she must begin “feathering,” which means rowing. Alice looks around and finds herself in a boat with the Sheep on a river. Alice rows until the boat reaches sweet-scented rushes, which she pulls up from the water and lays at her feet. She begins rowing again, but the oar gets caught, jarring the boat so that Alice falls down to the floor of the boat. When she stands up again, Alice finds herself back in the shop, where the Sheep asks her again what she would like to buy. Alice pays for an egg, which the Sheep places on a shelf for her. Every time Alice moves toward the egg on the shelf, it seems to get progressively farther away from her. She continues to walk toward the egg as the shop transforms back into the wood.

Analysis

Time moves backward in Looking-Glass World, further challenging the assumption that people have control over the choices they make. Time does not move backward toward a final point of origin. Instead, characters move forward while the order of events moves backward. The White Queen illustrates this principle by explaining that the King’s Messenger will be sentenced before he commits his crime. Her wounds heal and she experiences pain before she becomes injured. All of the characters, the White Queen included, “remember” both the past and the future. They have knowledge of events before they happen, which reinforces the deterministic aspect of Looking-Glass World. Causal relationships are inverted, so that every effect experienced leads back to a cause that eventually occurs. Characters commit actions for which they have already experienced the consequences. Because of this, the concept of free will in Looking-Glass World becomes tenuous at best.

As the White Queen attempts to cheer Alice up, she points some of the arbitrary conventions that Alice lives by. The White Queen chastises Alice for refusing to believe that she is over a hundred years old on the grounds that it is “impossible.” Alice does not know what is possible in this fantasy world, especially since her adventures thus far have repeatedly challenged her preconceived expectation. Even under the assumption that Alice’s doubts are justified, the White Queen’s claim to be a hundred years old is not impossible, merely unlikely. Regardless, Alice should know by now that individuals in Looking-Glass World are capable of doing the impossible.

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