Through the Looking Glass is a satirical work in which author Lewis Carroll strongly criticizes Victorian society by means of disguised characters and absurd events. Throughout the novel, Carroll makes fun of authority—especially England’s highest authority figures, including the queen herself. More generally, he also goes after the hypocrisy that seems an inevitable by-product of the country’s rigid social hierarchy.
In a wide variety of ways, Carroll applies the overall conceit of inversion to call attention to the dangers and absurdities of Victorian society. Alice finds herself in a backwards world. One key element of the symbolic inversion is Alice’s wisdom and maturity, which offer a stark contrast to the foolish behavior in which the adults—and the nonhuman characters—consistently indulge.
The character of the Queen of Hearts or Red Queen is generally understood to satirize Queen Victoria. Carroll’s critique partly addresses the queen herself but more broadly applies to the concept of monarchy as a system of government. The queen’s distance from her subjects and the daily workings of the kingdom are apparent through her excessive concern with the missing dessert. This obsession leads to her putting the knave on trial.
The seriousness of the critique of the government is most evident in this trial scene. The jury members are both ignorant and uninterested in the proceedings. The queen declares that the sentence must be pronounced first. When Alice sensibly objects to this travesty, she risks her own life. The queen declares, as she does on other occasions, “Off with her head!” The relevance of the royalty is dismissed with Alice’s declaration: “you’re nothing but a pack of cards.”