Decorative Initial I

f Jane Eyre's Rochester entered Carroll's Looking-Glass world, he would make the perfect stand-in for the Walrus. Both lie to their victims. Both put on alluring airs. As the Walrus feigns grief and pity while eating his oysters, so Rochester emanates a false sympathy for Jane while he attempts to seduce her. At one point he says to her, "'You — poor and obscure, and small and plain as you are — I entreat to accept me as husband" (224). This line works essentially the same as the Walrus covering his mouth with a handkerchief: it does a poor job of hiding contrary feelings. For the most part, Rochester disregards Jane's own well-being. He tricks and lies, condescends and abuses. Ultimately, he tries to trap Jane into a lawless, dead-end future.

If Jane Eyre has a simple moral, it must run, "People have to learn to truly understand the consequences of their actions upon others." Carroll's rhyme "The Walrus and the Carpenter," on the other hand, lampoons this principle. Even if human beings understand the injurious effects of his actions, Carroll seems to say, they will still act the same way.

Ironically, morality poses a more perplexing problem in Carroll's nursery rhyme than it does in all of Jane Eyre. By employing the nonsensical and unrealistic qualities of fantasy, Carroll satirizes the everyday world. Alice falls victim to a cruel, no-win game of logic with Tweedledum. Whether she sides with the Carpenter, who ate as many oysters as he could get, or the Walrus, who ate even more but felt guilty about it, she inevitably loses to Tweedledum's arguments. This totally absurd, fantastic scene creates a sense of levity, yet at the same time the humor of this passage seems rather bitter. After all, the Walrus — the kind of figure one can only achieve in fantasy writing — feels human emotion, not the Carpenter. With this inversion of character, Carroll implies that man operates on the same level as beast.

his moral confusion bears stark contrast with Jane Eyre, in which justice comes neatly and systematically, as if handed down by God. The symbolism in that book distinguishes clearly between the good and the bad. The horse-chestnut "struck by lightning in the night, and half of it split away" tells the reader that perhaps Jane should not marry Rochester after all (225). The fire which consumes Thornfield, blinds Rochester, and kills Bertha might possibly come, we think, from the hand of God Himself. At least Rochester explains it so: "'Divine justice pursued its course'" (393). Brontë's symbolism rigidly fixes morality. God determines right from wrong. Man should know what to do.

Content last modified May 1994