Through the Looking Glass expands themes found in Alice in Wonderland but brings them to a more complete stage of thought. Alice continues to question her identity, focusing more on her name and her ownership of narrative than her physical size as in the first volume. Additionally, Alice struggles to understand why people behave the way they do and what or who defines acceptable actions.
Towards the end of Through the Looking Glass, Alice encounters the Red and White queens, who represent successful and failed attempts at Victorian womanhood, though both are equally compliant with Victorian society’s demands of women. The Red Queen insists upon avoiding challenges to propriety and passes judgement on other women, while the White Queen fails to visually or behaviorally reflect the ideal Victorian woman’s composure and delicacy. The Red Queen embodies the ideal authority female figure when she critiques the White queen and Alice’s behavior. She instructs Alice to, “Speak when you are spoken to!” (Carroll 211). Alice promptly responds, saying, “if you only spoke when you were spoken to, and the other person always waited for you to begin, you see nobody would ever say anything, so that—–“ (Carroll 211). The Red Queen silences her and proceeds to flail at a response before changing the subject. This exchange is important because Alice leaves out a key facet of Victorian social rules in her rebuttal. She fails to take into account those who are given the authority to speak before addressed. Even though the queen is one such individual, Alice’s failure to recognize and question the viability of this fact reveals how much she has been trained to accept such a hierarchy.
This passage is also important because it demonstrates the way Alice’s dream allows her to challenge and question rules that she could never discuss in waking life. When Alice’s nurse or mother instructs her to behave in a certain way, Alice would expect to be denied and punished, while she feels much more free to do so when faced with a figure like the Red Queen, whom she does not recognize from Victorian society. Her ability to point out an inconsistency in the queen’s instruction reveals and important takeaway from the book as a whole. By suggesting that the only conceivable method for exploring such ideas is a dream, Carroll also indicates that no one in Victorian society will speak on such topics even to discuss them, never mind object to them.
The circumvention of Alice’s question has significance as well because she is not able to bring up her point again. The Red Queen successfully moves on to another topic, proving the effectiveness of Victorian evasion at preventing reform or challenge to the status quo. Alice is likely accustomed to such a shift in conversation when there is a danger of substantive debate, just as she is used to someone in authority, like the nurse she mentions, instructing her.
This passage is a good example of the way Carroll asks the reader to consider why individuals are not discussing behavioral norms in Victorian England. By setting this story in a dream, he shows the extent to which Victorians would consider pursuing such topics. While he does indicate people are concerned about these ideas’ truth, he also acknowledges the likelihood of change or discussion. He does this by continually limiting Alice’s success in reaching definitive answers and by denying her understanding of her own thoughts. Without realizing that she is questioning her society, Alice will not continue to do so when she returns to her home and her cats.
Image from Wikipedia (Red Queen and Alice)