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Alice rests at home in an armchair, talking drowsily to herself as her black kitten, Kitty, plays with a ball of string at her feet. Alice lovingly scolds the kitten for unraveling the ball of string that she had been winding up. She goes on to scold Kitty’s mother, Dinah, who is busy bathing the white kitten Snowdrop. Alice begins an imaginative conversation with Kitty, pretending that her pet talks back, and asks her to pretend that she is the Red Queen in a chess game. Alice attempts to arrange Kitty’s forelegs to better resemble the chess piece. When Kitty does not comply, Alice holds her up to the mirror above the mantle and threatens to put Kitty into the world on the other side of the mirror, which she calls “Looking-Glass House.” Alice thinks about what Looking-Glass House must be like, wondering aloud to Kitty if there might be a way to break through to the other side of the mirror. All of a sudden, Alice finds herself on the mantle, staring into the mirror. She magically steps through the mirror into Looking-Glass House.
On the other side of the mirror, Alice looks around and finds that the room she is standing in resembles the mirror image of the room in her own house. However, several parts of the room look quite different. The pictures on the wall near the mirror seem to be alive, and the mantle clock has the face of a grinning little man.
Alice notices a group of chessmen inside the fireplace among the cinders, walking in line two-by-two. Alice examines them closely and determines that she is invisible to them. She hears a squeak behind her. Alice wheels around to find a White Pawn on the table. Out of the fireplace charges the White Queen, who knocks over the White King in her haste, rushing to grab her child. Alice helpfully lifts the White Queen onto the table, and the White Queen gasps in surprise as Alice grabs the Queen’s child Lily. The White King follows, but he quickly grows impatient. Alice lifts him up, dusts him off, and places him down next to the White Queen. The White King lies on his back, stunned in surprise, which causes Alice to realize that she is invisible to the chessmen. Once the White King recovers, he pulls out a pencil and begins jotting his experience down, but Alice snatches the pencil from him and writes something down in his book. The White King comments that he must get a new book, since strange words seem to appear on the pages of his current one.
Alice picks up one of the books from the table and discovers that the text is backward. She holds the book up to the mirror to read it properly and reads the poem on the page. The poem, entitled “Jabberwocky,” describes a knight’s travels to vanquish a hideous monster known as the Jabberwock. Perplexed by the poem, Alice sets the book down and decides to explore the rest of the house. As she leaves the room and begins heading down the stairs, she finds herself floating until she finally catches hold of the door-post to the door that leads outside of Looking-Glass House.
In his stories, Carroll blurs the boundaries between being awake and being asleep so that it becomes difficult to tell where reality ends and dreaming begins. At the beginning of the chapter, Alice enjoys a drowsy winter nap near the fire. She leaves her chair only to snatch up Kitty and place her on her knee. Alice dozes off in this position, and her step through the mirror happens in her dream. Since she is only half asleep, Alice’s experiences combine elements from the waking world and her dreams. The dream motif of Through the Looking-Glass differs from the one found in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, for here Alice exercises some control over what she encounters in her fantasy world. Alice’s repeated pleas to Kitty to play pretend emphasize her desire to exert some control over her imagination.
Alice discovers that the room on the other side of the mirror is nearly identical to her old room, showing the motif of inversion that reappears throughout the text. The alternate dimension is not just a mirror image, but a comprehensive inversion of reality. In Looking-Glass House, Alice no longer needs a fire, since the winter of the real world becomes summer in the imagined world, where the gardens are in bloom and the trees are filled with leaves. Even the inanimate objects in Alice’s old room, such as the pictures and the mantle clock, spring to life. Alice appears invisible to the chess pieces, which is one aspect of the inversion that occurs in Looking-Glass House. In Alice’s world, she is alive while the chess pieces are inanimate, but Looking-Glass World belongs to the chess pieces, where they have a working order to their lives. Like the chessboard, their lives are highly symmetrical and controlled.
Alice’s invisibility suggests that she maintains a godlike power over the chessmen of Looking-Glass World, which stems from the fact that the whole universe exists as part of her imagination. Alice picks up the White King as if she were a divine power manipulating the lives of the chess pieces. This establishes the idea of the chessboard as a plane of existence upon which individuals are positioned like chess pieces and moved around according to predetermined rules. Inside the house, Alice’s invisibility allows her to be an unseen hand, but the image of the chessboard gains its full significance in the next chapter when she joins the chess game outside. There, Alice becomes a chess piece herself, manipulated by an unseen hand, presumably the authorial hand of Carroll. The imposition of this hand starts to become apparent when Alice loses control over her body and floats down the stairs, propelled forward toward her destiny by the unseen hand of the author.
For a separate SparkNotes study guide that analyzes the poem “Jabberwocky,” click here.