Violation of territory is a continuing motif in ‘‘TheWalrus and the Carpenter.’’ In the first stanza, the sun encroaches on the moon’s domain. Later, the walrus and the carpenter draw the oysters out of the sea onto the sand. In each case, a dominant force invades the territory of a weaker entity and the weaker ones, whether the moon or the oysters, are powerless and can only sulk or beg, but to no avail, being displaced and overwhelmed. In the first instance, the moon was not complicit in her defeat. Suddenly the natural order of the universe was violated. In the second, the oysters were complicit, having been foolish enough to stir out of the safety of their natural environment.
When the walrus summons them to walk, the oysters follow without hesitation, eagerly. They leave their beds in the sea without a thought. The eldest oyster, although he seems to be on to the walrus’s deception, does not warn the younger ones. He only gives a wink and a shake of his head, regarding only himself, telling the walrus that he will not walk with them but offering the youngsters no further warning or guidance, despite his firm objection. The young oysters are even groomed to look their best: they have washed their faces, brushed their coats, and shined their shoes. Even if they in fact have neither faces, coats, nor shoes, such language suggests eagerness. There is a follow-the-leader effect; after the first four leave the water for the beach, squads of fours continue to emerge and dumbly follow the walrus and the carpenter. When those two finally stop, the oysters line up and dutifully wait for whatever is next, only asking to rest before what they seem to think will be a sort of lecture. Only when they see the walrus and the carpenter preparing bread and condiments and when the walrus talks about beginning to eat, do the oysters realize that they are to be eaten. Even then, they underestimate their predators by arguing that it would be impolite to abuse them so. But it is, of course, too late.
Order and Disorder
‘‘The Walrus and the Carpenter’’ begins on a note of cosmic disorder. The sun is usurping the moon’s function and doubly disturbing the order of nature by over-illuminating the nighttime landscape. The walrus and the carpenter, when they are introduced, are shown as being displeased with the natural order of things, as emblematized by their desire to see the beach cleared of sand. Their campaign against the oysters, while it disturbs the order of the oyster world, is, nevertheless, in accord with the order of the natural world. Predation is a fact of the natural order, although in the poem it is made to seem like a betrayal of order because it is a betrayal of the humanized oysters. These disturbances of the natural order within the poem are, of course, reinforced by the fact that the poem itself is a violation of the natural order in that it presents a talking walrus and walking, talking oysters.
Seduction and Betrayal
In ‘‘The Walrus and the Carpenter’’ the oysters are seduced, that is, led astray by someone. The themes of seduction and betrayal are usually linked because seduction implies a fundamental discrepancy in power (the seducer overpowers the seduced) and an unrevealed interest on the part of the seducer. In seduction a process of deception is at work. In ‘‘The Walrus and the Carpenter’’ the walrus entices the oysters, encouraging them to leave their home in the seabed, with honeyed words directly addressed to them, inviting them to walk and talk along the beach. He uses a typical ploy of salesmanship, claiming that his offer is open only to four of them, but he does not limit the number as many groups of four emerge from the water. He continues to charm them with his razzle-dazzle, listing like a pitchman all the things there are to talk about, and he is eloquent even as he begins to devour them. But he does, despite his crocodile tears, devour them, betraying them as he has intended all along.
Poetry for Students, Presenting Analysis, Context, and Criticism on Commonly Studied Poetry, Volume 30, Lewis Carroll, Gale Cengage Learning, 2009