Through the Looking-Glass | Study Guide

Lewis Carroll

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Through the Looking-Glass | Chapter 4 : Tweedledum and Tweedledee | Summary



When Alice meets Tweedledum and Tweedledee, she is reminded of a rhyme about Tweedledum and Tweedledee quarreling over a rattle. Not surprisingly, this nursery rhyme is reflected in the event that ends this chapter.

Alice shakes both Tweedledee and Tweedledum's hands at once. They start dancing, and afterward, they recite a poem, "The Walrus and the Carpenter." The poem is the story of a Walrus and a Carpenter who deceive and then devour a group of oysters.

After the poem, Alice hears a peculiar noise, and she wonders if there are lions or tigers nearby. The brothers lead her to the sleeping Red King, who is wearing a tall red night-cap. As they stand over the sleeping king, Alice worries he may get cold sleeping on the ground as he is. The brothers are more interested in the fact that the king is dreaming. They ask her what she thinks he's dreaming. Alice says, "Nobody can guess that."

Again, Alice is faced with unpleasantness. The brothers argue not only is the Red King dreaming of her, but she would vanish if he awoke: "You'd be nowhere. Why, you're only a sort of thing in his dream!" Alice's rebuttal is dismissed because, according to them, "You know very well you're not real."

Obviously, Alice rejects this idea. She cries and, in doing so, points out if she weren't real, she wouldn't be able to cry. Again, Alice defaults to logic. She is a reasonable person, and she realizes they are not: "I know they're talking nonsense." This logic makes her stop crying and decide to continue on her journey.

However, Tweedledum notices his rattle, and the brothers insist Alice help them dress for a battle. The sky grows dark as a great crow approaches. The brothers run off at the sight of it, and the flapping of the bird's wings sets someone's shawl to flight.


Tweedledee and Tweedledum are mirror images of each other and reflections of the nursery rhyme Alice initially recalls upon seeing them. Here again, the events are predicted. This predictability of narrative is in direct opposition to the nonsense aspects of Through the Looking-Glass. On one hand, Alice—and the reader—know the order of events from the meeting with the Red Queen and the order of this chapter as a result of the nursery rhyme. On the other hand, the individual conversations, characters, and discussions often devolve into sheer nonsense. This is the apparent case when the brothers suggest that Alice isn't "real."

"The Walrus and the Carpenter," along with "Jabberwocky," is one of Lewis's most famous poems. Critics have read into it various political or religious allegories (the "carpenter" may be a representation of Christ), but there is no indication that Carroll intended the poem to have an underlying meaning.

Within the world of Through the Looking-Glass, Alice is the only real character. She is the character who is driving the narrative, presumably by either dream or imagination. So Alice is dreaming a sleeping Red King who is potentially dreaming her. The layers of meaning in the simple question of whether Alice is real reveal a larger philosophical question Carroll is prompting. The question of whether reality might be a dream was explored in Carroll's time by Irish Bishop George Berkeley, who proposed the entire world was merely God's dream.

To prevent his children's adventure from becoming too serious, Carroll introduces the whimsical elements of the twins' battle dress: "He called it a helmet, though it certainly looked much more like a saucepan." The "monstrous crow" that frightens the twins out of doing battle may symbolize death, as crows are seen as carrion birds, or feeders on dead flesh. At any rate, it's fairly certain these unlikely warriors are looking for any excuse not to fight, although one boasts, "I generally hit everything I can see," and the other asserts, "I hit everything within reach whether I can see it or not."

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