The tone of “Jabberwocky” is ironically tense even though the creatures and situations described in the poem are nonsensical. The tone of “How Doth the Little Crocodile” is ironically tense because of the juxtaposition of danger and naivety: the “gently smiling jaws” of a truly dangerous animal and not just a “Bandersnatch” or “Jabberwocky.”
Speak Roughly” is another Wonderland poem that relies on irony and tension by juxtaposing the innocence of youth with the harsh realities of the adult world. In “Speak Roughly,” the speaker claims that little boys sneeze only to annoy and tease his parents. The speaker urges beating the child because of his disrespectful behavior. “Speak Roughly” is even darker in tone than “Jabberwocky” because of the reality of child abuse. Many parents do beat their children for reasons that make no more sense than sneezing. Any reader will know that a Jabberwocky is a fictitious creature, and any reader will know that crocodiles are not cheerful. Yet all readers know that speaking “roughly” and “severely” to children for petty things occurs regularly. The irony in “Speak Roughly” is therefore more bitter and morbid in tone. Still, the poem contains just enough nonsense to be quintessentially Carroll. The idea that a parent would scold a child for sneezing is as absurd as slithy toves.
Most of the Wonderland poems contain a similarly ironic, satirical tone that promotes Alices cognitive development. She learns how to question all reality: even that which she would take for granted. In Wonderland, nonsense is real. Strangeness is normal. Carrolls Wonderland poems including “Jabberwocky” first and foremost capture the mood and essence of Wonderland in poetic verse. The Wonderland poems are also far more complex than they seem, especially “Jabberwocky.” Using nonsense words, Carroll manages to illustrate the fallibility of language. Humpty Dumpty helps Alice to see how all language is arbitrary: a highly mature revelation for a girl as young as Alice. The Wonderland poems that do not rely on nonsense language like “Speak Roughly” and “How Doth the Little Crocodile” are equally as complex because of their layers of irony. The lighthearted language Carroll uses in “How Doth the Little Crocodile” belies the poems sinister subject. Similarly, the sinister language Carroll uses in “Speak Roughly” is contrary to the poems dark theme. All the Wonderland poems use satire and irony to break down reality further for Alice, to show through verse that things are not always what they seem.
Milner, F. (1903). The Poems in Alice in Wonderland. Retrieved Oct 12, 2008 at http://www.durrant.co.uk/alice.