Through the Looking-Glass
Chapters 9–12: Queen Alice; Shaking; Waking; Which Dreamed I?
After realizing that she has become a Queen, Alice finds herself in the company of the Red Queen and the White Queen. The two queens begin questioning her relentlessly, telling her that she cannot be a queen until she passes the proper examination. They ask her strange questions about manners, mathematics, the alphabet, how to make bread, languages, and the cause of lightning. The Red Queen frustrates Alice by correcting every incorrect answer. Alice mistakenly remarks that thunder causes lightning, but when she attempts to reverse her statement, the Red Queen snaps that once she says something, she must live with the consequences. The White Queen changes the subject to a thunderstorm that occurred on the last set of Tuesdays. Confused, Alice listens to a sneering explanation that in Looking-Glass World, days are taken two or three at a time. The White Queen continues her foolish story, while the Red Queen apologizes to Alice for the White Queen’s behavior, explaining to Alice that the White Queen wasn’t brought up well.
The Red Queen asks Alice to sing a lullaby to the White Queen, but Alice claims that she doesn’t know any. The Red Queen begins singing instead, causing the White Queen to fall asleep on Alice’s shoulder. Soon, the Red Queen falls asleep, too, and both queens slump their heads into Alice’s lap. The snoring sounds like a song to Alice. She becomes distracted by the music and doesn’t notice when the two queens vanish inexplicably. When Alice looks up, she finds herself standing in front of a door emblazoned with the words “QUEEN ALICE.” Alice wants to enter but only finds a visitor’s bell and a servant’s bell, and no bell for guests. She knocks on the door and it flies open. The words “NO ADMITTANCE UNTIL THE WEEK AFTER NEXT!” boom out of the open door. Alice continues to knock to no avail, until eventually an old frog approaches from behind her and asks her what she wants. Alice explains that no one will answer the door. The confused Frog asks what the door has been asking and whether it would need an answer. The door flies open again and Alice hears a song about Queen Alice’s grand party.
Alice finds a large table set before her with fifty guests seated around it. She sits down at the head of the table between the White Queen and the Red Queen. A servant brings out food and the Red Queen formally introduces Alice to the food. After the introduction, the Red Queen sends the food back to the kitchen, commenting that it is impolite to eat something after one has made acquaintance with it. Alice becomes frustrated and asks to get the pudding back, which she slices and serves to the guests. As the pudding is passed around, Alice asks the guests why there are so many poems in Looking-Glass World on the subject of fish. The White Queen responds by telling a riddle that asks whether answering the door or uncovering a dish of fish is more difficult. The queens toast Alice, who rises to give thanks to her guests. As she stands up, the room spontaneously erupts into chaos. Candles rise to the ceiling, guests become stuck to their plates, the White Queen tumbles into a soup tureen, and a soup ladle storms around the table. Alice grabs the tablecloth and tugs it off of the table, sending all of the guests flying to the ground.
Alice turns to the Red Queen, whom she considers responsible for the chaos, and grabs her. The Red Queen shrinks down to the size of a doll and Alice begins shaking her. Before Alice’s eyes, the Red Queen seems to transform into her kitten Kitty. Alice realizes that she has woken up. She scolds Kitty for waking her up and then grabs the small Red Queen off of the nearby chess table, trying to get Kitty to admit that she had transformed into the Red Queen. Alice addresses Snowdrop, stating her suspicion that the white kitten is the White Queen. Lastly, Alice tries to guess who Dinah might be before deciding that she’s probably Humpty Dumpty. She turns back to Kitty and tells her all about the fish-themed poetry she heard in her dream.
The chess motif becomes highly pronounced in this chapter, and the various movements of the pieces signify the conclusion of the game. As Alice becomes Queen, the movements and positions of the individual pieces become clear. Flanked by both queens, Alice can see the entire chessboard. As she sits at the head of the table in her castle, all of the guests stretched out before her represent the other chess pieces. The table in this scene represents the table in Alice’s house on which the chessboard rests, adjacent to the “real” Alice asleep in her chair. The White Queen’s move to the soup tureen sets up the Red King’s “checkmate,” and when Alice slides over to seize the Red Queen, she puts the Red King in checkmate herself and ends the chess game. Now that the game has ended, Alice wakes up from her dream and finds herself holding Kitty.
Alice seems unsure of herself at the start of the game, but once she exerts her power as a queen, she exposes the façade and liberates herself from the confines of the chessboard. The Red and White Queens’ relentless questioning represents an attempt to flatten Alice into submission so that she becomes part of their two-dimensional lives in Looking-Glass World. Alice resists this flattening, which manifests itself literally when the guests at the table become stuck to their plates. Alice rises to give thanks and in doing so becomes three-dimensional, setting off the chaos that allows her to seize the Red Queen and end the chess match.
Some critics see the moment when Alice wins the chess game to be the moment of her sexual awakening. In this reading, Alice’s standing up represents a moment of orgasmic realization. The rising candle flames imply erection imagery, while the repetition of the word “moment” in the scene underscores the fleeting sensory intensity that causes Alice to tear away the tablecloth and attack the Red Queen. This orgasmic moment leads to the checkmate of the Red King, so that Alice experiences a sexual awakening. At this point, Alice has nowhere else to go in her dream, and abruptly wakes up. The fact that Dinah continues to wash Snowdrop when Alice regains consciousness supports the fact that the dream has happened in a single “moment.” This realization also prompts Alice to wonder whether it was she or the Red King who had had the dream. By leaving off at this moment, Carroll comments that life is nothing but a dream, a blinking moment in God’s mind.