* NOTICE: Mr. Center's Wall is on indefinite hiatus. Got something to say about it? Click HERE and type.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Through the Looking Glass VI -- chapter 4: BLACK BIRD

The first half of Chapter 4 (to the completion of Dee's recitation) manages a balance of true nonsense for nonsense's sake ("The Walrus and the Carpenter," for example, though I think there's yet some revelatory nuggets here anyway) and what I believe to be truly symbolic, either as intended by Carroll or as subconscious manifestation.

What are your thoughts regarding:
  • the music from the tree, which starts when Alice and the Tweedles begin their brief dance and ends abruptly upon their finishing;
  • Alice's narration of her story to her sister;
  • "The Walrus and the Carpenter":
– There is evidence that Carroll intended no symbolism whatsoeverby this poem, and despite uncounted readers' attempts, and that it’s indeed complete nonsense, for Carroll left the choice of the second character to Tenniel, based upon the latter's preference in drawing, betwixt a carpenter, a butterfly, and a baronet.
– (from Roger Green, via Martin Gardner) The operetta Alice, by Savile Clarke extends the ending of the poem with an additional stanza, thus:
        The Carpenter he ceased to sob;
                The Walrus ceased to weep;
        They’d finished all the oysters;
                And they laid them down to sleep—
        And of their craft and cruelty
                The punishment to reap.
        —at which point the ghosts of two oysters return and dance upon the chests of the gluttons.  According to Gardner “Carroll felt, and apparently audiences agreed with him, that this provided a more effective ending for the episode and also somewhat mollified oysters sympathizers among the spectators.”

The second half of the chapter is significantly darker, even if you are an oyster sympathizer.
  1. Which is Alice more justified to "like": the Walrus, who felt sorry for the oysters; or the Carpenter, who ate fewer of them?
  2. The Red King is Carroll.  Defend.
  3. Dee and Dum are mirror opposites (enantiomorphs; examine Tenniel's illustration of Alice preparing the brothers for combat.  Except for the accoutrement, they are indeed mirror images of each other).  If one stood before a mirror, he would not see himself (so to speak), but his brother.  As we're dealing with reflections, what do you think of someone battling with his/her own reflection?
  4. This chapter opens with a famous nursery rhyme, which turns out in the end of the chapter to be prophetic--i.e. the crow actually comes.  Does Carroll, perhaps passively, hope that his writing might be similarly prophetic?  Does he have any such hope?
  5. Interesting bit of double symbolism with the crow: first, consider the quotation from Steinbeck's Tortilla Flat, below; second, the fact that in 585 B.C. the war between King Alyattes of Lydia and King Cyaxares of Medes ended--or was interrupted--by a total eclipse of the sun.  Tangentially, is there a connection between Alice's taking refuge under a tree and the somehow-avoidance of dark and death?
From Tortilla Flat:

        Where is Danny?  Lonely as smoke on a clear cold night, he drifts through Monterey in the evening.  To the post-office he goes, to the station, to the pool rooms on Alvarado Street, to the wharf where the black water mourns among the piles.  What is it, Danny?  What makes you feel this way?  Danny didn’t know.  There was an ache in his heart like the farewell to a dear woman; there was a vague sorrow in him like the despair of autumn.  He walked past the restaurants he used to smell with interest, and no appetite was aroused in him.  He walked by Madam Zuca’s great establishment, and exchanged no obscene jests with the girls in the windows.  Back to the wharf he went.  He leaned over the rail and looked into the deep, deep water.  Do you know, Danny, how the wine of your life is pouring into the fruit jars of the gods?  Do you see the procession of your days in the oily water among the piles?  He remained motionless, staring down.
        They were worried about him at Danny’s house, when it began to get dark.  The friends left the party and trotted down the hill into Monterey.  They asked, “Have you seen Danny?”
        “Yes, Danny walked by here an hour ago.  He walked slow.”
        Pilon and Pablo hunted together.  They traced their friend over the route he had followed, and at last they saw him, on the end of the dark pier.  He was lighted by a dim electric wharf light.  They hurried out to him.
        Pablo did not mention it then, but ever afterwards it was his custom, when Danny was mentioned, to describe what he saw as he and Pilon walked out on the wharf toward Danny.  “There he stood,” Pablo always said.  “I could just see him, leaning on the rail.  I looked at him, and then I saw something else.  At first it looked like a black cloud in the air over Danny’s head.  And then I saw it was a big black bird, as big as a man.  It hung in the air like a hawk over a rabbit hole.  I crossed myself and said two Hail Marys.  The bird was gone when we came to Danny.”


The Tweedles always frightened me more than anything else in the two books when I was a kid.


  1. I will get to a fuller response later, but I just want to add on "The Walrus and the Carpenter" that my edition notes that the poem is composed in the same meter as "The Dream of Eugene Aram" by Thomas Hood, which is about a school teacher that is also a murderer. Seriously, I am starting to get creeped out.

  2. My edition acknowledges this quotation to Carroll from 1872 ("The Letters of Lewis Carroll"), "In composing 'The Walrus and the Carpenter,' I had no particular poem in my mind, The metre is a common one, and I don't think 'Eugene Aram' suggested it more than the many other poems I have read in the same meter."

    I've never read the poem. I think I'll look it up.

  3. Arg, I may have to get to this full post tomorrow (although I'll still be able to read the next chapter, too). Sorry, I'm just trying to catch up after the trip, and, of course, as fate would have it, it's mid-term week, so I have 4 days to get a crapload of work done before leaving DC again. I am going to explode.

    But anyway, sometimes Carroll's frustrating because he's so slippery. He plays things off like they're nothing, but, maybe it's just me, but I can't just accept that. This is an especially hard one because if he WERE to admit that it's a sly allusion to this poem, then he's going to run into all sorts of controversy. I really can't say either way. My hunch was that it made sense because "The Walrus and the Carpenter" really is very dark, but your quote has me back to being completely undecided.

  4. Have you read the poem yet? I'm not sure if it sways me one way or the other. It turns out Aram was a real man, as well. A philologist, of all things! I expect, however, that this was a fairly popular poem once, or it wouldn't have been so casually mentioned by Carroll, understood by him to be recognized instantly by his reader. This, despite the context, supports the idea that the meter is a catchy one, and this a popular poem....

  5. Alright, now to the other questions:

    1. It's tough to say, but I think the walrus. If he at least feels somewhat sorry for the oysters, then there's the potential for future change. He at least is able to sympathize for the victim. The carpenter has no similar awareness.
    2. I actually had the same thought. So I agree. Also, I notice more nihilist elements in this. Here there's nihilism even with a sort of god. If the god is just sleeping and dreaming of us, then what's our purpose, really?
    3. Do you see this maybe as being some sort of battle of self? Just an idea.
    4. Well, the crow's not necessarily a good thing. They forget the quarrel due to fear, if I remember correctly. Allow me to indulge my (hopelessly implausible) theory for a second. If Dee and Dum are a representation of a battle within Carroll, could the arrival of the crow represent Alice leaving him? That's when she leaves the twins.
    5. Could you explain a little more?

  6. 1. Agreed.
    2. I thought more about your nihilist theory for Wonderland when I read this at McSwey's (probably the worst writing I've ever seen here, but the ideas are interesting/humorous), about the nihilism of Heathcliff Huxtable: http://www.mcsweeneys.net/links/cosby/8cosby.html
    3. Definitely! Carroll is definitely at odds with himself. He projects his problems onto and futzes with them within all the characters around Alice, by putting himself into the narrative, and even within Alice herself. He is definitely a man in turmoil, and I think it's most transparent in the Tweedles.
    4. Well, Alice's departure was a death of sorts for Carroll....
    5. Trees as symbols of life; crows as omens of death....

  7. You know, it's interesting because there is the book that the author wrote, but then there is the experience for the reader. My Contemporary Political Thought is almost entirely about 20th century reactions to nihilism so far, so if I'm reading so much about it, not to mention thinking about it and discussing it, it would make sense that I'd find it in the reading, whether it's actually a real part of the story or not.

    And to your comparison to the McSweeney article, come on, my theory's not that crazy is it!? I am going to publish a book: "Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Didn't Find There: An Analysis of Nihilism in Wonderland".

  8. By the way, I finally watched the clip. It's pretty appalling how much they change the story.

  9. No, you're perspective is not nearly as crazy and much better written. Don't worry. However, your proposed book would be hilarious!

    I remember I used to really like Disney's Alice in Wonderland. I can't stand it now. It's one thing to make changes to accommodate the shift from text to film, but this is all so unnecessary. Yes, the animation is beautiful. Yes, the assembly is sharp as anything by Disney. But it doesn't border on disrespectful; it's falling headfirst into the chasm.

  10. It is. It's blasphemous enough that they combined the two into one, but...



    Ok, took a sip of water. I'm good.

  11. Amen.

    I had a piece of chocolate.


Be sure to subscribe to the thread to receive discussion updates.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...