Coraline and her parents move into an apartment located within an old house. There, Coraline meets her eccentric neighbors. In the flat below Coraline’s apartment, two older women named Miss Spink and Miss Forcible live with their many dogs. In the apartment above Coraline’s lives a “crazy old man” who claims to be training a mouse circus. During her first two weeks in the house, Coraline explores the grounds.
Although Coraline’s parents work from home, Coraline often feels lonely and must find ways to entertain herself. One day, Coraline decides to explore her own apartment. She is especially intrigued by the door in the corner of the drawing room, which only opens onto a brick wall. One night while she is lying awake in her bed, Coraline hears a mysterious sound coming from down the hall. After investigating, she realizes that the old door to the drawing room is slightly ajar.
While Coraline is curious about the drawing room, she closes the door and returns to bed. She proceeds to have ominous dreams. The following day, Coraline decides to explore her neighborhood. While on her walk, she encounters Miss Forcible and Miss Spink. She also runs into the man that lives above her apartment, and he tells Coraline that the mice have a message for her. The mice advise Coraline not to go through the door. Coraline doesn’t understand the cryptic message.
Bored with her afternoon, Coraline decides to stop by Miss Forcible’s apartment. While there, Miss Spink reads Coraline’s future in the tea leaves that remain at the bottom of her cup. Miss Spink tells Coraline that she is in grave danger. The two ladies advise Coraline not to wear green in her dressing room or mention the “Scottish play.” Instead of feeling afraid, Coraline is excited by her neighbors' prophecy.
The following day, Coraline and her mother decide to head into town to buy clothes for the new school year. Later, Coraline is left alone in the house while her mother does some grocery shopping. Bored and lonely, Coraline decides to take the set of keys and head into the empty drawing room. She unlocks the blocked door, only to find that the bricks have disappeared. Coraline walks through the door and heads down the dark hallway.
Upon entering the hallway, Coraline is struck by how closely the empty flat resembles her own. The wallpaper, carpet and pictures all appear identical to the items in her apartment. Coraline hears a voice that sounds as if it belongs to her mother. Following the voice, Coraline finds that the woman in the kitchen looks like her mother, with a few differences. The woman is taller, thinner, pale, and has black buttons in the place of her eyes. It appears that Coraline has encountered a world that is an alternate version of her reality.
The woman tells Coraline that she is, in fact, her mother. She advises Coraline to speak to her father, who is working in his study down the hall. After Coraline sees her father, she finds that he, too, has black buttons in place of his eyes. The family sits down for lunch together, and afterward Coraline goes to her bedroom. In her bedroom, Coraline hears Mr. Bobinski’s rats singing an ominous song. The rats scurry into Mr. Bobinski’s coat, and Coraline goes outside to explore the surroundings of the other world.
The reader is introduced to Coraline Jones, a young girl who has just moved into a new flat with her parents. From the novella’s beginning pages, the reader gathers that Coraline is a strong and opinionated character. Instead of passively observing life’s events, she embraces each experience and critically analyzes her surroundings. Coraline is eager to explore her environment, and she asserts her agency in every situation she finds herself in. When Coraline expresses her dissatisfaction with her parent’s emotional neglect, she aims to change her fortune by entertaining herself through exploration. In analyzing the characterization of the novella’s titular figure, it is clear that Coraline is a tale of bravery, power, and femininity.
In this first section of the story, the reader is introduced to Coraline’s eccentric neighbors. Miss Spink and Miss Forcible, the older women who live in the flat below Coraline’s apartment, fulfill the archetype of “the crazy ex-entertainer.” The women are eccentric, and they consistently recall memories from their past when they were performers. Although Coraline does not initially take these women seriously, she learns to value their opinions and premonitions. While she is quick to write the women off for their eccentricity, she finds that these neighbors are authentic and tuned-in to things around them.
Next, Coraline meets the unnamed man from upstairs, who we later discover is named Mr. Bobo. Once again, Coraline is initially judgmental of the man and his obsession with his pet rats. Instead of taking the time to understand her neighbor and his relationship to the mice, Coraline thinks that Mr. Bobo speaks nonsense. As the story progresses, it is clear that Coraline learns to understand how making judgments harms her. Coraline’s judgment fits into the theme of appearance versus reality. Although the neighbors first appear strange and unfriendly, they actually care about Coraline and support her quest to defeat the beldam.
When Coraline enters the other world, she is shocked at how much it ostensibly mirrors her reality. The aesthetics of the other world prompt the reader to consider the motifs of reflection and manipulation throughout the novel. Coraline is repeatedly drawn to mirrors, but she soon discovers that reflections are not always honest. In this instance, the beldam has fashioned an alternate world that is meant to trap Coraline in its initial, mirrored appearance and supposed comfort. As the story continues, Coraline must uncover how the other world is a manifestation of manipulative power, fabricated in order for one villain to exert control.
As Coraline meets her other mother and other father, she is prompted to evaluate how these characters resemble her real parents. Coraline feels neglected by her mother and father, so she is comforted by the attention that her other parents give her. The black buttons signify how these characters lack a soul. Although Coraline enjoys how much her other parents pamper her, she finds that she is unable to truly decipher their motivations or connect to them emotionally.