Through the Looking Glass

Through the Looking Glass Summary and Analysis of Chapter 5


Alice catches a shawl that happens to belong the White Queen. The White Queen is just as rumpled as the Red King, and Alice finds that conversing with her is extremely confusing. When Alice comments on the Queen's bedraggled state of dress, the Queen tries to employ her. They get into an argument about the mode of pay; the Queen claims that one gets paid in jam every other day, but never today, though Alice insists that at some point it will have to be today.

The Queen also argues that the backwards way of living is best, because one's memory works in both directions. Alice tries to convince her that prosecuting a crime before it has happened is not right, but the queen argues that the punishment is good for the person apprehended. She puts on a bandaid and screams because she anticipates pricking her finger while refastening her brooch, and indeed, after fumbling with it, she pricks her finger.

Alice suddenly becomes sad because she feels so alone in the woods. The Queen tries to console her by getting her to consider something else, anything else, and Alice finds that she is laughing at what the Queen is asking her to think about. The Queen insists that Alice should practice thinking about impossible things, and the two jump across the next brook together.

Alice finds herself in a dark shop with a sheep behind the counter. The sheep encourages her to make up her mind about what she is going to purchase, but Alice asks for time to look around before making up her mind. But when she tries to peruse the shelves, there is never anything on the shelf she is looking at.

She discovers that the sheep is knitting with 14 pairs of needles. The sheep asks her if she can row, and she says that she could only do so in water, and then she finds herself in a boat with the sheep. She notices some beautiful rushes and picks some, but their beauty fades once they are in the boat.

She suddenly finds herself in the shop again with the sheep asking what she wants, and when she asks for an egg, the sheep places it on the shelf. She is convinced that it is not a good policy to put things directly into a person's hand. When Alice reaches for the egg, it just moves farther away from her, and soon everything she approaches becomes a tree.


In this chapter, the White Queen proposes the notion of "living backwards." Alice thinks this is a preposterous idea. The White Queen goes on to argue that one who is living backwards has a memory that functions in both directions, and that this is the optimal way of functioning.

This relates to Jan Gordon's hypothesis about Victorian literature and its presentation of childhood. The Victorian era was a difficult one for the notion of childhood. Many laws that previously applied only to adults were applied to children. Additionally, laws that specifically protected children were removed. Further, the thinking that madness was actually a state of perpetuated childhood began to develop.

Gordon proposes that because of this, the line between childhood and adulthood began to blur, especially in literature. The reader notices that the White Queen, and all the other "adult" characters in the book, do not really act like adults. They indulge in childhood fantasies, and Alice is left the burden of providing logical responses and make sensible decisions.

Alice's situation reflects that of children in her era. Carroll was probably attempting in his literature to capture the problem of children being forced to grow up too fast, just like J.M Barrie in Peter Pan. Alice has not parental role models for guidance on her journey, so she is forced to learn quickly and act the adult herself. Otherwise, she has no chance of reaching the eighth square.

There are a couple hypotheses about the dream-rushes and what they are meant to represent. It is possible that they are symbols of the author's child friends. The best are always out of reach. It is also possible that they represent the transience of youth and beauty, because once picked and held in hand, they quickly fade.

Alice's ability to balance an egg on its end on a flat surface alludes to Columbus' supposed accomplishment of the same feat. It might refer to an old gambling game in which the objective was to be the last person to place an egg on a napkin already crowded with eggs. None of the other eggs can be touched, and the winning strategy involves placing the first egg on its end in the very center. Many solutions to the egg-on-its-end problem have been proposed, including cracking it slightly on the bottom, shaking it so that the contents are dispersed and the center of gravity changes, etc.