Jabberwocky is an epic poem told through nonsense phrases. The poem describes a father’s quest for his son involving the slaughter of a beast (The Jabberwock). The poem describes the son’s progress from his departure to his effective return.
In Lewis Carroll’s poem “Jabberwocky,” the poet produces an epic tale using only seven four-line stanzas with twenty-eight nonsense phrases. Despite the reality that there are countless nonsense words, the reader can still make sense of the nonsense by evaluating how the nonsense words are used with the ordinary words to determine the occurrences of this epic poem.
Each stanza contributes to the plot line of a young boy whose father warns him of all the nonsense he faces in life and how he must attack this nonsense in order to learn the real meaning of life. Moreover, the mood shifts throughout each stanza as the tension starts to construct and is lastly released upon the Jabberwock’s slaughter.
The second stanza starts the quest of the epic hero. It’s here that the dad warns the child to be careful about something called a Jabberwock that has “jaws that bite and claws that catch” and other awful stuff like a Jubjub bird and a Bandersnatch.
The son begins his quest in the third stanza by taking his “vorpal sword in hand” and searching for the Jabberwock. He was “rested by the Tumtum tree” and meditated along the lines.
The encounter with the Jabberwock happens in the fourth stanza when the hideous creature arrives from the forest making weird noises and assaults the child. “The Jabberwock, with eyes of flames, came whistling through the tulgy wood and burbling as it arrived.” The hero, the son, triumphs in the third stanza when he kills the Jabberwock by cutting off his head. “The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
In the fifth stanza, the hero, the kid, triumphs when he kills the Jabberwock by cutting his head off. “The vorpal blade went snicker-snack! He left it dead, and with its head, he went galumphing back.” to his father.
The child returns home in the sixth stanza and the father is overjoyed; they are celebrating. “Oh, fragile day! Callooh! Callay!” The father shouts at the end of the epic venture.
The last stanza is a repetition of the first stanza with life returning to the starting environment, suggesting perhaps that life has returned to normal. The morning’s unsettled and uncomfortable feeling could now be gone because of the Jabberwock’s slaying.
Mood of The Poem
The mood of this poem changes throughout in relation to the setting characters’ actions. In the beginning, there seems to be a sense of normalcy. The mood seems to be serene with the toves, borogoves, and moms living quietly as they do every day, but there may be a feeling of apprehension in the shadows of these creatures.
In the second stanza, there is a change when the father warns the son about Jabberwock. The scary picture of this monster that has “jaws that bite and claws that catch” generates a frightening mood as the reader understands that the child ventures out to hunt this creature. The child begins his quest and the poem moves back to a peaceful moment when the child rests and reflects on what’s in store for him.
The mood changes to frightening when the jabberwock viciously interrupts this peaceful scene when he arrives with flaming eyes “whiffling through the tulgey wood, “with flaming eyes the courageous son stands his ground and in an exciting climax, he beheads the jabberwock with a “snicker-snack” with his “vorpal” blade and victoriously “galumphs” home. once again, we feel peaceful but happy as the father praises the child for completing a rite of passage into adulthood passage. Things finally come back to normal, and the toves, borogoves, and moms end the day as quietly as they started.
bryllyg – The time of broiling dinner, i.e. the close of the afternoon
slythy – smooth and active
tove – a species of Badger
gyre – to scratch like a dog
gymble – to screw out holes in anything
wabe – the side of hill
mimsy – unhappy
borogove – an extinct kind of parrot
mome – grave
rath – a land turtle
outgrabe – squeaked
Questions and Answers of Jabberwocky
1. Using the vocabulary above, write out the first stanza of the poem in a more standardized version of English.
Answers may vary. Example: It was evening, and the smooth active badgers were scratching and boring holes in the hillside, all unhappy were the parrots, and the grave turtles squeaked out.
2. The poem is an example of nonsense poetry. The term comes from nonce, or a made-up word. Carroll, however, claims that all the words actually have standard English roots. Choose any two of the words above and explain what you believe their English derivatives to be.
Answers will vary. Examples: Brillig (broil); slithy (slimy and lithe); gyre (from the old English gyaour meaning dog); mimsy (miserable).
3. What is the poetic form of “Jabberwocky”?
The poem is written in traditional ballad form.
4. The poem makes substantial use of alliteration. Find three examples of alliteration.
Answers: Here are some examples of alliteration used in the poem: “gyre” /“gimble”;
5. Why do you think this poem ends with the same stanza as it began?
Answers may vary. Example: Carroll may have done so to reinforce the ridiculousness of the poem. He may also have wanted to show that the world, which began in this poem as a relative calm place, was once again a place free of fright, thanks to the killer of the Jabberwocky.
6. Most of the nonsense words in this poem are nouns or adjectives. Why do you think Carroll chose to use nonsense words to replace these parts of speech in his poem?
Answers may vary. Carroll may have been hoping to show that, with actions intact, what characters look like, see and say can be left to the imagination of his readers so that the story told can be different for each person.
7. What is the key idea of the poem?
Answer: There is a sense in the nonsense that surrounds us, but we are able to overcome difficulties in spite of the nonsense.