Through the Looking-Glass | Study Guide

Lewis Carroll

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Through the Looking-Glass | Chapter 3 : Looking-Glass Insects | Summary

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Summary

As expected, Alice boards a train. There she encounters a group of unusual passengers, including a goat, a beetle, and a gentleman dressed in paper. Alice encounters hostility on board. The Guard angrily asks for her ticket, and other passengers chime in aggressively. When Alice says she doesn't have a ticket, the Guard continues to be unpleasant: "'Don't make excuses,' said the Guard: 'you should have bought one from the engine-driver.'" He examines her with a telescope, a microscope, and opera glasses before abruptly leaving.

Soon afterward Alice meets another passenger—a Gnat the size of a chicken.

When the train ride ends, Alice finds herself under a tree. The Gnat is still with her, and they discuss Looking-glass insects and names. In the discussion, Alice notes that insects don't answer to their names where she comes from. The Gnat is perplexed and queries, "What's the use of their having names if they won't answer to them?" They continue on, discussing the Rocking-horse Fly that eats sap and sawdust, and the Dragon-fly that eats "frumenty and mince pie."

Eventually, the Gnat suggests it would be appealing to lose her name, especially as it would mean her governess couldn't call her to lessons. As they travel, Alice feels nervous. They cross a field and approach a wood that "looked much darker than the last wood, and Alice felt a little timid about going into it. However, on second thoughts, she made up her mind to go on: 'for I certainly won't go back.'"

Alice proceeds. She is having trouble remembering words—including her own name—and meets the Fawn, who is experiencing the same problem. Together, Alice and the Fawn exit the woods.

Analysis

Alice has now passed through the first two squares of her journey. The pattern of groups of unpleasant characters continues in this chapter. There is no threat from them, merely criticism. But much like real life for Victorian children, who tended to be raised with strict discipline and frequent correction, the Looking-glass world is not a loving or indulgent place.

Alice's resolve remains evident. Although she is intimidated, she is moving forward, and she is able to maintain her own perspective even when those around her influence her. She briefly forgets her identity after her encounter with the Gnat but quickly recovers it. Her claim that she will not go back reflects her strength of will. She knows the path she must take, and as she has told the Red Queen, she wants to be a queen.

The significance of names and the word-play of characters' names is one of the threads running through the novel. "What's the use of their having names" can apply to more than the insects, as is evident when the Gnat asks about Alice losing her own name. The Gnat's theory is that Alice could avoid her school lessons by having no name. However, this is illogical. Alice points out: "the governess would never think of excusing me lessons for that. If she couldn't remember my name, she'd call me 'Miss!' as the servants do."

The loss of a name is also considered in another example. When Alice forgets her name and the Fawn loses its name, they seem to forget more than that, such as the typical relationship between humans and wild animals. They share a camaraderie that is lost with the return of names. Carroll may allude here to the real-life girl—Alice Liddell—who served as inspiration for his main character. When Alice forgets her name she does remember it begins with an "L."

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