Essay on Nonsense Language in Carroll's Jabberwocky

Essay on Nonsense Language in Carroll's Jabberwocky

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The Importance of Nonsense Language and Sounds in Carroll's Jabberwocky  

"Wn a bby fst ts 2 kmnikt the wrds snd gibberish. " No one knows what the baby is trying to say. The poem, "Jabberwocky," written by Lewis Carroll, uses meaningless speech to either frustrate or amuse the reader. When trying to pronounce the nonsense words in the poem, the sounds of the words come out as gibberish. The sounds are the important element of the poem. Often, people like to hear poets read in languages they cannot understand. A woman leaving a reading by the Polish poet Czeslaw Milosz said she was glad he'd read some of his work in Polish because the language sounded exciting, like horse hooves over cobblestones.


Sometimes a poem can mean little or nothing, yet the stimulus of words alone wins our attention. Some poets can even invent words themselves. Carroll combines two words (portmanteau) into one word to compose those weird sounds and words in the poem. In a unique way the meaningless words combine with recognizable words to create a poem almost comprehensible. The language and sounds allow a reader to reflect back on the concept of how to communicate Carroll's theme of survial of the fittest, and besides the battle between animals, Carroll creates a battle for the reader to understand the language and sounds.


For an animal or reader to survive in Caroll's poem it must kill before being killed, or understand the language before reaching the end. The setting of such survival is the forest, and Caroll's forest is a fantasy land where words are foreign to the reader. "He left it dead, and with its head He went galumphing back," (Carroll, 36) has reference to survival of the fittest. The head becomes the trophy of ...

... middle of paper ...

...tree," (Carroll, 36) describes the actual skill of using a tree for camouflage. The tree is the Dumdum and covers up the hunter's stupidity. Is the Jabberwocky harmless? The forest people could have invented a wise tale about the creature for amusement. What the hunter killed was part imagination and part real; the way Carroll's poem is.


The sounds and nonsense language are important elements of the poem. At the same time, we can use the grammar of the sentence to help us imagine the meanings of the nonsense words. The poem is playful and frustrating at the same time. We might say it "plustrate."

Works Cited

Carroll, Lewis. "Jabberwocky." The Discovery Of Poetry. 2nd Edition. Ed. Frances Mayes. Orlando: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1987.

Hunter, Paul J. Footnote. The Norton Introduction to Poetry. 6th Edition. Chicago: Norton, 1996.



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