Through the Looking-Glass | Study Guide

Lewis Carroll

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Through the Looking-Glass | Plot Summary

See Plot Diagram


The Set-Up

Spending a lazy afternoon with her cat and its kittens, Alice grows restless and bored. She explores the Looking-glass world by passing through the drawing room mirror. She observes living chess pieces and moves to help the White Queen and King when their daughter, Lily, falls over. After moving the queen and king, she sees the king writing in a notebook and notices all the writing appears backward. By holding the book up to a mirror, she's able to read the poem "Jabberwocky," which she finds filled with nonsense words, such as "Jubjub bird" and "frumious Bandersnatch."

After struggling to understand the poem, Alice gives up and crosses into the garden. In the garden, Alice is amazed to realize the flowers can speak. She converses with them briefly, and then sets off to have "a talk with a real Queen." She is surprised to find the Red Queen, who had previously been only three inches tall, is now "half a head taller than Alice herself!" Alice also realizes that walking toward the queen is futile. In this world, Alice will meet the queen only if she walks away from her.

After Alice notices the landscape's resemblance to a giant chessboard, the Red Queen explains that Alice will take part in a giant chess game. She shows Alice the path by which she will travel through the squares, ending with the Eighth Square, where Alice will be promoted to Queen.

A Live Chess Game

Alice finds herself on a train, where many of the passengers are animals. Like the flowers, these beasts can talk. Alice meets the Gnat, and they discuss Looking-glass insects and names. Afterward, Alice has problems remembering words and meets the Fawn, who is having a similar struggle. Together, Alice and the Fawn exit the train for the woods, and Alice walks along a woodland trail with signposts to the houses of Tweedledum and Tweedledee.

When Alice meets Tweedledum and Tweedledee, she shakes hands with both of them at the same time to avoid showing preference for one or the other. The twins dance and then recite a poem, "The Walrus and the Carpenter." Shortly after, the three come upon the sleeping Red King, and the brothers try to convince Alice that she is not a real person, but merely a character in the king's dream. She refuses to believe them, even though they insist that if the king wakes, Alice will cease to exist.

As Alice tries to leave, Tweedledum notices his broken rattle, and the brothers insist she help them prepare to fight. When a great crow approaches, the brothers run off, and a breeze caused by the bird's wings sends a shawl flying into the air.

Alice catches the shawl, which belongs to the White Queen. When she returns the shawl, the White Queen says she'll hire Alice as her servant, paying her "two pence a week, and jam every other day." Alice refuses the offer, although she and the queen continue their conversation. The queen explains that "living backwards" is initially confusing. As the two cross a brook, Alice hears the queen's voice change to a bleat.

Quite a Lot of Nonsense

The White Queen has transformed into a sheep and sits knitting in a shop. Alice turns around in the shop, and suddenly they are in a boat. The Sheep gives Alice some knitting needles that turn into oars. After they row around a while, they are back in the shop, where Alice buys an egg. The egg turns into Humpty Dumpty.

Alice and Humpty Dumpty talk briefly about word meanings and un-birthday presents. Then Humpty Dumpty recites a poem, abruptly stopping his recitation and bidding Alice, "Good-bye." Shortly afterward, there's a tremendous crash; Humpty Dumpty has finally fallen.

As Alice continues her journey, she encounters a large number of soldiers on their way to rescue Humpty Dumpty. There are "four thousand two hundred and seven" soldiers, according to the White King. The king's messenger, Haigha, reports that the Lion and the Unicorn are fighting for the king's crown. When Alice and the king arrive at the fight, they find Hatta, the other messenger, watching the Lion and the Unicorn. Haigha and Hatta are recurring characters from Alice in Wonderland, where they were known respectively as the March Hare and the Mad Hatter. During a pause in the fight between the Lion and the Unicorn, Alice speaks with the combatants. The Lion refers to her as "Monster." The Unicorn and Alice each admit they thought the other wasn't a real creature. While the Lion and the Unicorn argue about plum cake, loud drumming sounds frighten Alice, so she leaps over a small brook and flees.

A sudden silence makes Alice wonder if she'd been dreaming. The Red and White Knights appear, declaring themselves Alice's captor and rescuer. The knights quarrel, and the Red Knight leaves. Alice and the White Knight travel together—at a slow pace—because the knight keeps falling from his horse. After a discussion about names, the knight sings Alice a ballad, and they arrive at the Eighth Square. Instead of crossing into the square immediately, Alice waits so she can wave to the knight when he reaches the next turn in the road.

Winning the Game

When Alice moves onto the final square, a crown appears on her head. Sitting beside Alice, the Red Queen and the White Queen quiz Alice with nonsensical questions. The Red Queen sings a lullaby to the sleepy White Queen. Shortly thereafter, both queens doze off, leaning on Alice. She extricates herself and walks to an arched doorway inscribed, "Queen Alice." While she wonders which bell to ring, a long-beaked creature refuses to allow her in.

After Alice knocks on the door to no avail, it is suddenly flung open to a chorus of "Welcome, Queen Alice." Alice finds the Red and White Queens in the crowd, where they keep ordering and then rejecting the foods. The White Queen recites a poem, and the queens push Alice as she attempts to deliver a speech. The party dissolves into chaos, and the White Queen vanishes into a soup tureen. Noticing that the Red Queen has shrunk into a rollicking doll-like figure, Alice grabs her and declares, "I'll shake you into a kitten, that I will!" That is exactly what she does, and Alice wakes to discover she is holding one of Dinah's kittens. By capturing the Red Queen, Alice has also checkmated the Red King and has won the chess game.

Through the Looking-Glass closes with Alice talking to the kittens and musing over the things she's seen: she's not sure whether she dreamed up what happened or whether she was part of the Red King's dream. But the kitten she addresses doesn't want to help her figure it out, and keeps grooming its paws.

Through the Looking-Glass Plot Diagram

Falling ActionRising ActionResolutionClimax123456789101112Introduction


1 Alice enters the Looking-glass world.

Rising Action

2 The Red Queen recruits Alice as a White Pawn.

3 Tweedledum and Tweedledee deny Alice's plea for directions.

4 Alice is told she's just part of the Red King's dream.

5 The White Queen explains living backward.

6 Alice dodges the White King's chaotic band of soldiers.

7 The Red Knight tries to capture the White Pawn (Alice).

8 The White Knight rescues Alice; they travel together.


9 Alice reaches the Eighth Square.

Falling Action

10 The White and Red Queens quiz Alice—the would-be queen.

11 Alice captures the Red Queen—checkmating the Red King.


12 Alice wakes to discover her adventure was a dream.

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