Date of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
This thesis is essentially divided into two parts: the first three chapters form the section in which I critically examine a number of theories regarding Carroll's use of the chess motif in Through the Looking-Glass, while the fourth chapter deals with my own interpretation of the chess problem as a metaphorical device that serves to resist and subvert a superficial thematic interpretation of the text. Furthermore, because the thesis involves a significant amount of chess theory, three appendices have been included for the reader's convenience.
The first chapter examines an article by Mr. Gerry Forbes for the Canadian chess forum En Passant, entitled "Lewis Carroll Teaches You How to Play the Sicilian", a piece which promotes the idea that Carroll was writing his novel as an opening treatise on the game of chess in the guise of a children's story. The thesis attacks Forbes' article on the basis that the author ignores Carroll's own chess problem, given at the novel's outset, while admitting to cite the text selectively and non-sequentially in an effort to prove his central hypothesis.
The second chapter of the thesis focuses on Carroll's curious Dramatis Personae: a cast list of characters that the author eventually saw fit to replace with his "Preface to the 1896 Edition". I examine primarily the opinions of critics Martin Gardner and Francis Huxley, who persist in drawing associations between characters in the novel and the chess piece equivalents to which they were originally assigned by Carroll. Through an examination of the individual positioning, movement and behaviour of these characters, the thesis shows that the relationships Gardner and Huxley draw are consistently subverted by the chess problem.
Chapter Three attempts to refute Gardner's idea that the apparent madness of the chess game is the result of the "mad logic" of Looking-Glass Land. The thesis demonstrates that the solution to Carroll's chess problem becomes perfectly logical when one accepts the game as a contest among its individual participants and not between two unseen entities who silently manipulate the Looking-Glass pieces.
The concluding chapter sees my own interpretation of Carroll's chess problem as a symbolic device which reinforces and reveals the novel's underlying implications through a systematic refutation of its surface theme. Utilizing a metaphorical analysis of Alice's regimented pawn journey, her capturing of the Red Queen and subsequent checkmating of the Red King, I endeavour to illustrate that the novel is not about Alice's "victory" in making a successful dream-journey from innocence to experience, but rather, about the young girl's realization that the notions of freedom and independence she once associated with womanhood are illusory, existing only in the hearts of those who have not yet made her journey.
Downey, Glen, "Theoretical Checkmating: An Analysis of the Manner in Which the "Chess Problem" in Through the LookingGlass Resists and Subverts Critical Interpretations of the Novel's Chess Motif." (1992). Open Access Dissertations and Theses. Paper 7078.
McMaster University Library