While exploring the outside of her house in the other world, Coraline encounters a black cat. Coraline begins conversing with the cat, but she finds the creature to be rude and cold. Coraline wonders if cats in the real world can also speak, or if this cat’s speech depends on the particular circumstances of the other world. Coraline knocks on Ms. Spink and Ms. Forcible’s front door. Their apartment appears to have been transformed into a theater, and one of the neighbor’s black Scottie dogs asks Coraline for a “ticket” to the show.
Confused, Coraline takes a seat and begins to watch the show. Miss Spink rides a one-wheeled bicycle while juggling, and Miss Forcible performs behind her. Miss Spink and Miss Forcible then shed their “recognizable skin” and emerge as thin, pale women with black button eyes. Coraline gets recruited to join the show, and Miss Spink places a balloon on Coraline’s head so that Miss Forcible can perform a trick. Miss Forcible then throws a knife at Coraline, popping the balloon and scaring her.
Coraline feeds the dogs chocolates before leaving the theater. She meets up with her other mother and father, who tell Coraline that she can stay in the other world forever, if she wishes. In order to stay in the other world, Coraline must replace her eyes with black buttons. Worried, Coraline decides to leave the other world and return to her real apartment. Her other parents encourage her to visit the other world whenever she wants, but Coraline seems uneasy about returning.
After she returns to her home, Coraline finds that her mother has yet to return from her shopping trip. She makes herself a microwavable pizza for dinner and waits for both of her parents to come home. She falls asleep, and in the morning she finds that neither of her parents have returned. Coraline visits Miss Spink and Miss Forcible for tea, and she tells them that her mother and father have gone missing. The women seem unbothered by their neighbors' disappearance.
Coraline spends another evening alone in her apartment. She falls asleep but wakes later in the night to find that her parents are still gone. She is greeted by the cat, who claims to know where Coraline’s parents are. The cat leads her to the mirror at the end of the corridor, where Coraline is greeted by her parents' reflection. They write Coraline a message on the mirror, which Coraline deciphers to read “HELP US.”
Coraline phones the police to alert them of her parent’s disappearance. The police are unhelpful, as they are convinced that Coraline is merely experiencing a nightmare. Frustrated, Coraline recounts a memory of a profound experience she shared with her father. One day, her father dropped his glasses while he and Coraline were being attacked by wasps on a hike. Although her father was aware of the danger that the wasps presented, he returned to the wasp-infested woods in order to retrieve his glasses. Inspired by this memory of her father’s bravery, Coraline decides to re-enter the other world.
Coraline is greeted by her other mother, who speaks in a tone that makes it hard for Coraline to distinguish her from her real mother. Coraline confronts her other parents and demands that they tell her where her real parents are. They lead Coraline to the same mirror in which she saw her parents cry for help. In the mirror, Coraline sees her real parents discussing how they feel relieved that Coraline has found the other world so that they no longer have to care for her. Coraline refuses to believe what she sees, as she thinks her other parents are manipulating her into staying in the other world.
In the other world, Coraline encounters a sassy black cat. Although black cats typically symbolize danger and misfortune, the black cat in Coraline is an ironic reinterpretation of this canonical character. As Coraline continues her journey in the other world, the black cat becomes a source of comfort. In addition, the cat is an ally and confidant as Coraline fights against oppressive forces. In this way, the cat is an essential character throughout the novel.
When Coraline expresses her initial appreciation for the other world, her other parents present her with a choice. The motif of choice reappears throughout the novel, as Coraline is forced to make essential decisions at every twist and turn. While Coraline appreciates the food and the comfort of the underworld, she is uneasy at the thought of replacing her eyes with buttons. In this way, Coraline demonstrates her intuition and exercises her morality. Coraline is mature enough to realize that she wishes to live a meaningful life that does not just satisfy her basic desires.
Coraline’s parents have gone missing, thus exposing her feelings of vulnerability and fear. While Coraline has always seemed mighty and strong, the audience is forced to remember that she is just a child who needs love from her caregivers; she is not yet ready to navigate the world alone. When Coraline begins to cry upon returning to her empty house, the reader is reminded of her helplessness and desperation. When Coraline discovers her parents' warning in the mirror, she understands that she must put aside her fears in order to rescue her loved ones.
When Coraline phones the police, she feels as though she is acting responsibly in involving adult authority figures. However, the police dismiss Coraline’s phone call and insist that the entire instance is a figment of her imagination. This encounter prompts the reader to consider the roles of adults in the novel. Though adults are typically perceived to be sensitive and responsible, the adults in Coraline’s world often serve as a counterpoint to the protagonist’s endeavors. Instead, Coraline must take matters into her own hands in order to achieve her desired results.
The encounter with the police also inspires the audience to consider the role that imagination plays throughout the story. Coraline uses her imagination in order to create adventure in her dull world. In this way, Coraline’s imagination is her salvation. However, is it possible that the entire existence of the other world is merely an extension of Coraline’s imagination? If yes, would this alter how the audience perceives the actions of the protagonist?