Last Updated on June 1, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 834
Coraline Jones, the novel’s protagonist, is an only child who has just moved to a new apartment where she has to amuse herself for the rest of the summer, without the aid of her parents’ involvement or friends her own age. While Coraline’s exact age is never revealed, she is probably around ten or eleven—old enough to be left home alone and explore the grounds of her apartment building by herself, too old to play with dolls, but young enough to wonder about strange worlds beyond a locked door. Coraline’s main attributes are her curiosity, her willingness to explore dangerous situations, and her bravery and loyalty toward her parents, even if they do not pay as much attention to her as she would like. Beyond these attributes, Coraline’s specific interests and character traits are not well developed. The author seems to make a conscious choice to keep Coraline a bit of an “every girl,” like Alice in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, who can stand in for any curious preadolescent.
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Coraline’s parents, who are never named, play only a tangential role in the story. We know only that they are distracted by work and, while well-meaning and pleasant, do not pay much attention to their daughter. The parents' limited role is another deliberate decision on Gaiman’s part: the novel is clearly Coraline’s story; she must play the active role, without relying on the help of adult figures.
Coraline’s other mother is the only real character in the other world, with the exception of the black cat and Coraline herself. The other mother has created the other father and other neighbors and controls their actions, so they are only extensions of herself. The other mother represents the cruel, greedy, cunning nature of true evil. Though she attempts to hide her true nature, her attempts become less and less successful as the narrative progresses. The other mother is soulless and heartless; she steals children’s souls and keeps their ghosts trapped forever. Although she promises Coraline the she will lavish her with love and attention, the second Coraline rejects the other mother, the other mother locks her into a dark space behind a mirror for punishment. Later on, the other mother tries to trap and trick Coraline numerous times. Coraline quickly realizes that, while her other mother may promise eternal love, she truly wants to steal Coraline’s soul as she did the other children’s and, as she did with the other children, will later forget and abandon Coraline.
When Coraline wonders what her other mother wants, the cat tells her that she wants something to love—or, perhaps, something to eat.Coraline comes to realize that for the other mother, the two are the same—the other mother loves Coraline the way “a miser loves money,” as a possession to take, use, and later abandon. The other mother’s lack of respect for—or even acknowledgement of—people’s value as human beings is at the root of her evil nature.
The black cat provides a parallel to the Cheshire Cat in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Like the Cheshire Cat, the black cat is a mysterious character, appearing and disappearing at will and offering helpful but confusing advice. Like Coraline, the black cat appears to retain the same nature in both the real and the other world, although the cat can only speak in the other world. At one point, Gaiman describes the cat as speaking in a voice like the one Coraline sometimes hears at the back of her mind. Therefore, the author implies that the cat is actually speaking Coraline’s subconscious thoughts.
Miss Spink, Miss Forcible, and Mr. Bobo—Coraline’s eccentric but kind neighbors—become terrifying and dangerous versions of themselves in the other world. Their transformation serves to illustrate the horrifying powers of the evil other mother. In addition, the two elderly women serve two important plot functions: they give Coraline a magical stone with a hole in it which protects her in the other world and allows her to see aspects of the world more clearly. In addition, the women warn her about the well outside the apartment, which inspires Coraline to trap the other mother’s hand in the well.
Mr. Bobo and his pets, on the other hand, serve more of a symbolic/ foreshadowing function. His benign mouse circus in the real world becomes a troupe of eerie rats in the other world. These rats provide Coraline with one of her first clues that the other family may not be as pleasant as they appear. In addition, the rats whisper strange, ominous rhymes that foreshadow and represent the true evil lurking in the other world. At the end of the novel, once Coraline has vanquished the other mother, Mr. Bobo relates a message from the mice: that Coraline is their savior. Thus, both the mice and rats appear to have a sort of truth-telling function in the narrative.