Child Labor and Exploitation
The oysters are, in effect, children, seduced from their beds and marched through the treacherous sands of the world by two wicked grown-ups who finally devour them. The exploitation of children in England during the nineteenth century was one of the most formidable issues of that century. Whereas London had always had an underclass and posed many challenges to young people, as is highlighted in many eighteenth-century novels, the advent of the industrial revolution and the growth of a factory system of manufacture required a massive number of bodies to serve as levers and connective elements for the running of machinery. Children worked long hours in factories, and often were mangled, maimed, or even killed on the job by the machinery they ran.
Political Conflict in Europe
‘‘The Walrus and the Carpenter,’’ like the book in which it appears, Through the Looking Glass, gives an account of a violent disturbance in one’s normal experience of the world. It chronicles disorder. Disorder was very much a matter of current concern in England in 1871 because of events just across the English Channel. After centuries of enmity, the English had begun to achieve serious rapprochement, or reestablishment of peaceful relations, with France, which would be solidified in 1904 when the governments of both countries signed the Entente Cordiale. Their alliance was in large measure a response to the threat posed by Germany as it strengthened its military might and imperial designs. In 1871, the French were at war with Prussia (the most powerful German state) and suffered defeat. With the capture of its leader, Louis Napoleon, by the Prussians in July 1870, the Second French Republic fell. A new government, the Third French Republic, was created, but it quickly was opposed by the French working class when it attempted to forge a cease-fire with Prussia by allowing the Prussian army a triumphal procession in Paris. French workers were prepared to fight to prevent the parade. In fright, the new government abandoned Paris and holed up in Versailles. There was no confrontation between workers and Prussian soldiers when the march occurred, and the Prussians left Paris afterward as they had agreed to. With the French government in hiding, the workers took control of Paris and established a commune. The Paris Commune lasted for two months until the end of May 1871, when French army troops reestablished governmental order.
The varieties of wonder represented in the Alice books and in ‘‘The Walrus and the Carpenter’’ are often disconcerting. They may be seen as nonsense because the violations of the natural order that the works chronicle, and the blurring of boundaries between kinds of phenomena they celebrate, in reality do not occur. Things do not flow into each other and metamorphose as they do in the books and the poem. Yet the books can be seen as representing one response to some of the actual phenomena of the time. Technological marvels resulted from the Industrial Revolution, which is the name given to the advance made in the latter half of the nineteenth century in the manufacture of goods by machinery and in the use of machine-fabricated materials like steel and construction-grade glass for the construction of buildings. These developments gave the latter part of the century an aspect of wonder. In England, the accomplishments of industrialization were celebrated by the construction of the Crystal Palace in London in 1851. The Crystal Palace was a huge glass, steel, and wood edifice dedicated to displaying the wonders of industrial manufacturing in a pastoral setting, It was a showcase for goods from around the world, bringing together the familiar and the exotic. In 1854, the Crystal Palace was relocated and enlarged. It stood in London until it burned down in 1936. A similar structure, also called a Crystal Palace, was built in 1853 in New York City. It burned down in 1858. Similar marvels were constructed in Berlin and in Paris, where the Grand Palais still stands as an example of Crystal Palace architecture.
Poetry for Students, Presenting Analysis, Context, and Criticism on Commonly Studied Poetry, Volume 30, Lewis Carroll, Gale Cengage Learning, 2009