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Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, or literary
devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes.
Many of the basic assumptions that Alice makes about her
environment are reversed in Looking-Glass World. Outcomes precede events,
cakes are passed out before being cut, destinations are reached
by walking in the opposite direction, and characters remember the
future and think best while standing on their heads. These strange
phenomena challenge the way Alice thinks and in some cases expose
the arbitrary nature of her understanding of her own world. Many
of Alice’s experiences exist as meaningless parodies of aspects
of her own familiar world back home. Alice becomes aware of a new,
inverted perspective on life as she travels forward and backward
through Looking-Glass World.
Alice falls asleep at the beginning of Through
the Looking-Glass, just as she did at the outset of Alice’s
Adventures in Wonderland, so that the resulting fantastical
adventures occur in her dreams. The story follows Alice through
the various episodes of Looking-Glass World so that we experience
her adventures through her impressions of Looking-Glass House, the
chess game, and her quest to become a queen. The characters and
scenes that she encounters exist as a combination of her memories
and impressions of the waking world and the random, illogical inventions
of her dreaming mind. Carroll emphasizes the dream motif by basing
some of the denizens of Looking-Glass World on individuals from
the life of his real-life muse, Alice Liddell. For example, the
Red Queen is based on Alice’s governess Miss Prickett, while the
White Knight is closely based upon Lewis Carroll himself.
The chess game that Alice participates in becomes the
organizing mechanism for her adventure in Looking-Glass World. Alice’s
journey closely follows the rules of a traditional game of chess.
The perspectives and movements of the individual characters correspond
to the movements of their respective chess pieces. The Red and White Queens
have an unlimited view of the board, since queens can move in any
direction and as many spaces as they want in a single turn. The
Red and White Kings can only move one space at a time in any direction,
so while they have the same perspective as the queens, they have
limited mobility. This limitation explains why the White King cannot
follow the White Queen as she runs away from the other chessmen,
since she moves “too fast.” As a pawn, Alice can only move forward
once space at a time, with the exception of her first move, in which
she can move two spaces. Like a pawn, Alice can only “see” one square
ahead of her. When she reaches the final square and becomes a queen,
she can “see” the whole board because now she has the full mobility
of the queen chess piece. Alice’s move to take the Red Queen results
in a checkmate of the Red King, ending the chess game and causing
Alice to wake up.
Trains and train imagery appear frequently to underscore
the feeling of unstoppable forward motion that governs Alice’s journey
toward womanhood. The Red King’s somnolent snoring resembles a train engine,
while the White Queen screams like a train whistle before she pricks
her finger. Alice skips forward several spaces when she finds herself
unexpectedly on a train, shooting through the forest toward her
destination and mimicking Alice’s forward movement as a pawn in
the chess game. The train imagery suggests the irreversible and
unstoppable movement toward adulthood that Alice becomes subject
to in her journey through Looking-Glass World.