Jabberwocky Summary

"Jabberwocky" is a poem by Lewis Caroll in which the speaker warns his son about the fantastical Jabberwock, which the son defeats using his "vorpal" blade.

  • In the first stanza, the speaker tells his son to be wary of the Jabberwock, a fantastical beast that speaks in nonsensical language.
  • The son unsheathes his "vorpal" sword, or "voracious word-sword." In effect, the son is using his knowledge of language to fight those who abuse words.
  • The son defeats the Jabberwock with the vorpal blade. He brings the creature's head back to the speaker, who proclaims, "O, frabjous day!" and hugs the boy.


Download PDF Print Page Citation Share Link

Lines 1–4: Carroll explicitly defined certain words when the first stanza of this poem was published as a poem in its own right as “Stanza of Anglo-Saxon Poetry.” He provided a glossary, or list of meanings, for some of the unfamiliar words; this list was later incorporated into Humpty Dumpty’s explica- tion in Alice in Wonderland . The first line begins with the now archaic English contraction for “It was” and contains the noun “brillig” which Carroll says comes from the broiling or grilling done in the early evening (br + ill + i[n]g) in preparation for dinner. “Toves” are supposedly badger-like creatures, and the adjective “slithy” is a portmanteau made up of “lithe” and “slimy.” The definition offered for “gyre” in the second line is “to scratch”; “gimble” is defined as “to bore holes.” Carroll has directed us to pronounce these both with a hard “g.” However, in American English “gyre” is pronounced with the soft sound of the “j” in “june.” Furthermore, “gyre” as a noun in its own right means “to circle,” so it makes sense that its use as a verb might have that same meaning. “Gimble” is said to be associated with the noun “gimlet,” “a small tool for boring holes.” “Wabe” is defined by Carroll as “the side of a hill,” but the explanation proposed by Alice as a portmanteau of “way + before/ behind” seems much more helpful. Thus, the line can be read, quite poetically, as “Did spin and spike in the way beyond.” The second line ends with a semi-colon in some versions of the poem, but with a colon in the last version edited by Carroll. A semi-colon would indicate a lesser break than a period, establishing two independent thoughts connected into one sentence. A colon suggests a further amplification of, or elaboration on, what has already been said, and in fact in this case the colon might stand for a break plus the word “however”: “It was evening and the toves were having a great time [; however,] the borogoves weren’t very happy and the raths felt so bad they cried.” “Mimsy” in line 3 is made up of “flimsy” and “miserable,” and the “borogoves” which it describes are said to be parrots. The “raths” of line 4 are defined as turtles, and Carroll offers an interesting etymology, or word history, for the adjective “mome” as being related to “solemn,” which he suggests comes from an earlier (imaginary) word “solemome.” The verb that ends the stanza is said to derive from a word meaning “to shriek,” although Humpty Dumpty is more explicit, indicating that it is something “between bellowing and whistling,” which suggests a sobbing, crying kind of sound, and which coupled with the sound of “outgrabe,” perhaps might come close to being a past tense form for “outgrieve,” or “grieve out[loud].” Carroll’s original intention of the alliteration of the hard “g” for “gyre” and “gimble” in line 2 is lost with the American pronunciation of the soft “j” beginning “gyre.” However, the assonance between the vowel sounds in “slithy” and “gyre” in lines 1 and 2 remains to emphasize the musicality of the poem, as does the assonance of the short “i” in “brillig,” “gimble,” and “mimsy” in lines 1, 2,...

(The entire section contains 2771 words.)

Unlock This Study Guide Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this Jabberwocky study guide. You'll get access to all of the Jabberwocky content, as well as access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

  • Summary
  • Themes
  • Analysis
  • Critical Essays
  • Teaching Guide
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial