Through the Looking-Glass | Study Guide

Lewis Carroll

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Through the Looking-Glass | Chapter 6 : Humpty Dumpty | Summary

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Summary

The egg Alice buys grows larger and becomes Humpty Dumpty. Alice and Humpty Dumpty talk briefly. He is as unpleasant as the flowers, the guard, and the twins. Not bothering to make eye contact, he comments, "Some people have no more sense than a baby!" In general, he is quarrelsome, alternating between insulting remarks and arguments about the meaning of words—and he is thoroughly impressed with his own knowledge and cleverness.

He is most helpful in responding to Alice's questions about the definition of words from the "Jabberwocky" poem. He explains, "Well, 'slithy' means 'lithe and slimy.'" However, as he continues, his answers are increasingly nonsensical: "Well, 'toves' are something like badgers—they're something like lizards—and they're something like corkscrews."

His arrogance, however, may cast doubts on the accuracy of his explanations. He claims, "I can explain all the poems that were ever invented—and a good many that haven't been invented just yet." Since such a claim isn't realistic, the validity of everything he has said may be suspect.

Then, Humpty Dumpty recites a poem, despite Alice's assurances he need not. Suddenly, he stops reciting without ending the poem. "Good-bye," he announces, bringing their conversation to an abrupt end. The chapter ends with a heavy crashing sound that shakes the whole forest.

Analysis

Contextually speaking, Humpty Dumpty is one of the most arrogant and least useful characters Alice encounters. He asserts numerous things that are illogical, and his only reference for authority is himself. The terms he defines are those in a nonsense poem, and as he continues, his explanations seem increasingly inaccurate. In many ways, he resembles adults Alice is likely to encounter in the waking world. He is pompous, and even though she politely points out when he is wrong, he dismisses her opinions out of hand. His manner is both unpleasant and disdainful.

However, a function Humpty Dumpty does serve is to allow Carroll to offer insight into the poem, "Jabberwocky." Humpty Dumpty offers readers some pronunciation and word association clues.

At this point, readers may recall that Carroll's preface focuses both on the "Jabberwocky" verse and on the narrative's chess match connections. The preface was added more than 20 years after publication, so initial readers of Through the Looking-Glass had no overt explanation of these details other than through the Red Queen's statements about Alice's route in Chapter 2 and Humpty Dumpty's comments here. Carroll clearly considered both of these things to be important, as they are outlined in two chapters and account for half of the preface.

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