Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Deliberate nonsense claims, by definition, to be devoid of meaning. Although Carroll’s satirical annotation of the original version of the first stanza produces a painstaking word-by-word analysis, the result is calculatedly silly. Because the five enclosed stanzas constitute a story of sorts, however, it is perfectly reasonable to discuss the theme of the narrative. The tale offers a conventional account of a young man’s quest; like any knight errant—whether of Anglo-Norman romance or modern genre fantasy—he sets out, forearmed by the warnings of his worldly-wise father, to confront a draconian threat, which he despatches with casual ease before returning home to a hero’s welcome. The net effect of the rhythmically interpolated nonsense words is, however, to make the adventure seem utterly absurd.

The implicit meaninglessness and perverse interpretation of the poem’s neologisms are extremely contagious, overspilling the words to call into question both the conventionality of the knightly quest as a generic device and the formality of lyric poetry as a vehicle for conveying that kind of content. It is not surprising that Carroll went on to produce a much more elaborate and more carefully satirical account of a vaingloriously futile quest in the mock epic Hunting of the Snark, nor is it surprising that he should take the trouble to acknowledge the contribution of “Jabberwocky” to the longer poem’s inspiration by reusing several of its key terms, intermingled with new coinages. It is necessary to observe, however, that the flow of contagion is not unidirectional....

(The entire section is 654 words.)

Jabberwocky Themes

The Heroic Quest
Despite its seeming playfulness, “Jabberwocky” contains a very serious theme as old as literature itself...

(The entire section is 1001 words.)