Jabberwocky | Study Guide

Lewis Carroll

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Jabberwocky | Themes


Carroll writes for children and his themes initially seem simple, yet they tend to require more analysis which allows children to explore the deeper meanings normally associated with adulthood and growing up. "The Jabberwocky" itself is a piece of literature inside a greater work that helps illustrate the dichotomy between the nonsensical world that Alice finds herself in and her need to understand it. The poem showcases some of the main themes of Through the Looking Glass. These themes include the battle of good versus evil, the role of nonsense in storytelling, the connection between puzzles and logic, and how growing up means trying to understand the world instead of just accepting the world as it is.

Good versus Evil

On the outside "The Jabberwocky" is a tale of heroism and good versus evil. A young boy goes out to slay the monster and returns triumphant. This is a classic story that has been told countless times. The simple theme allows readers to puzzle over the words and try to imagine and recreate the tale in their head.

The simple theme of good versus evil gets turned on its head at the end of the poem with the repetition of the first stanza as the last stanza. The world does not seem to have changed much with the death of the Jabberwock. The boy has defeated an evil, but the world continues moving on. Carroll's message is not about the defeat of evil but more about the continuing battle against evil. Although the Jabberwock is slain, the Bandersnatch and Jubjub bird remain. The boy's triumph shares the message that it is possible to be victorious against evil forces but that the fight is never truly over.

Nonsense and Storytelling

Carroll uses the normal convention of storytelling to explore and use unconventional language. Readers learn later that the words have meaning, but Alice's initial reaction to the poem is one of confusion. However, the structure of the poem as a ballad and the narrative flow make it possible to read the poem without understanding all of the words. Later in the novel, Humpty Dumpty tells Alice he is uncertain about the exact definitions of the words, yet he seems to understand the core story perfectly well.

The poem pokes fun at lyrical and epic ballads which are generally serious and deal with more difficult topics than a boy killing a fictional monster. The narrative story is tense and frightening, but the nonsense words add an element of humor. Carroll proves that with the right narrative structure and keywords, the rest of the words can be made up and the readers' imaginations will fill in the gaps.

Puzzles and Logic

Lewis Carroll was a man who enjoyed puzzles and logic. He authored several books on math and wrote riddles for children. Several of the words in "The Jabberwock" are logic puzzles because they are combinations of two words. For example, "slithy" is a combination of the words "lithe" and "slimy." In this way, the nonsense words are familiar to readers who can determine their meaning by breaking them apart and figuring out their root words. Readers can use the knowledge they already have to gain a deeper understanding of new concepts.

Growing Up

Growing up is a reality that all children face, and accepting the responsibilities of adulthood may seem exciting and scary. The boy in "The Jabberwocky" accepts his role in a bigger world. He moves past himself and begins helping others with problems like the Jabberwock. The boy's journey to face the Jabberwock is parallel to him accepting responsibility and growing up. He is no longer a weak little boy but a man who ultimately defeats the Jabberwock and makes his father proud.

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