The poem begins with a paradox, presented by the peculiar image of the sun shining upon the sea in the middle of the night. The mention of the sea establishes the landscape of the action of the poem. The jaunty rhythm of the poem carries the reader and suggests the easiness of light verse, belying the grim subjects of the poem— seduction, betrayal, and death.
A wry sort of conflict is introduced since the moon is sulking because of the sun’s presence in a realm in which he does not belong. He is robbing the moon of the pleasure of presiding over her domain. The theme of conflicting interests is thus introduced.
The third stanza is devoted entirely to description. Sea and sand are described by their predominant characteristics of wetness and dryness. The sky is presented as cloudless. Birds are not flying in it for the simple reason that they are not there, or perhaps because, although they exist as a word and a concept, they actually do not exist in the world of the poem. The reality of the poem is a construction of words, not a reflection of the actual world in which the readers live.
The two principals of the poem, the walrus and the carpenter, are introduced walking along the shore. They are crying at the amount of sand they see and think the setting would be significantly improved if the sand were removed.
The walrus reflects on the impossibility of clearing the sand from the beach even if a great effort were dedicated to the task. The carpenter agrees with his assessment and cries, apparently because it is so. The apparent absurdity of their conversation, and even the fact that they can be having it, prepares the reader for the interaction between these two and the oysters.
With no transition, as in the movement of dreams, the walrus turns from talk of clearing the sand from the beach and addresses some oysters in the water, inviting them to take a walk on the beach. He notes, however, that he and the carpenter can only accommodate four oysters because they have only two hands each. By noting the scarcity of opportunity, he attempts to make his offer seem more desirable.
The patriarch of the oysters looks at the carpenter from his oyster bed without speaking. He does wink his eye and shake his head, indicating that he has no intention of moving. It is unclear whether he is wise or only weary.
Four younger oysters, however, are seduced by the walrus’s invitation and leave the water to join the walrus and the carpenter on the beach. The oysters are anthropomorphized, or given human characteristics, at first and described as having clean faces and coats and shoes that are polished. But this humanization is challenged in the last two lines of the stanza by the introduction of the fact that oysters do not have feet. By mixing the fantastic and the actual, the poem not only adds to its foolishness but also signals that it is a fable, cautioning the reader not to fall for word tricks.
After the first oysters make their way to the beach, they are followed by four more and then by recurring groups of oysters all quitting the water for the beach. The psychology of mass movements is keen here. Once a process is set in motion, people often follow others blindly.
The walrus and the carpenter walk along the beach for a few miles and then stop to rest, perching themselves on a low rock as the oysters stand lined up in front of them. They have mesmerized the oysters with expectation.
The walrus addresses the waiting oysters, telling them that the moment has arrived to discuss a variety of matters, a rather random list, followed by the kind of nonsensical propositions characteristic of the poem, including questions regarding the reason that the sea is hot to the point of boiling and whether pigs are winged. Rather than offering any real information, the walrus offers a kind of con man’s patter, further confusing the oysters.
The oysters interrupt his discourse, asking him to wait because they say they are fat and need to catch their breath. The carpenter is happy to comply and the oysters thank him. They have no sense of the trickery involved.
Without transition, the walrus says they need some bread and several condiments, particularly vinegar and pepper. He then addresses the oysters, saying they can begin to eat, using the inclusive first-person plural, thus not revealing that the walrus and carpenter intend to eat them.
The oysters, however, finally realize with helpless shock that they are the intended meal and protest against such behavior after the apparent kindness the two have shown them. The walrus responds only by speaking of the clarity of the night and asks them if they do not enjoy seeing it.
With the gracious politeness of a host, and smooth mockery, the walrus continues, thanking the oysters for coming and complimenting them. The carpenter assumes no share in his politeness. Rather he reproaches the walrus for having to ask a second time for a slice of bread.
The walrus expresses some regret at having misled the oysters and put them to the trouble of having exerted themselves. The carpenter only complains about the butter being too thick on the bread.
The walrus, however, continues addressing the oysters sympathetically, crying, with a handkerchief to his eyes, as he chooses the juiciest oysters.
In the final stanza, the walrus turns from being a pseudo-sentimentalist, one who falsely expresses sympathy for his victims, into an ironist, one who mocks their fate, speaking as if they were still alive although he knows they are not, having eaten them himself. He once again addresses the oysters, commenting on the fine exercise they have had from their walk and asks if they would not like to go home now. But the narrator intervenes with the last word, pointing out that the oysters make no reply for they have all been eaten.
Poetry for Students, Presenting Analysis, Context, and Criticism on Commonly Studied Poetry, Volume 30, Lewis Carroll, Gale Cengage Learning, 2009