When Lewis Carroll composed his poem entitled Jabberwocky, he did so with the intention of writing a nonsensical piece which used such invented words as “manxome” and “uffish.” These fantastical words are used with two intentions in mind: the first is to enhance the reader’s child-like state of mind in order to encourage a full comprehension of the poem’s symbolism, whilst secondly it is used to mask the poem’s true meaning, for reasons that are only clear to the poet himself. Symbolism, however, plays a key role in the poem and it does, in part, tell the story of a boy becoming a man.
In the second stanza, the reader and the boy in the poem, are issued a warning to not go into the woods for fear of meeting the Jabberwocky (as well as other mythical beasts) who has “The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!” (Carroll 6). It is clearly a nasty beast who impedes the pleasure of life for the surrounding town folk who live in perpetual fear. In this sense, the Jabberwocky, along with the Jubjub bird and the Bandersnatch, are symbolic of danger and the things that cause life to be less enjoyable. The boy, in the grips of youthful arrogance, decides to find the Jabberwocky and does so – killing it in the process: “The vorpal blade went snicker-snack! He left it dead, and with its head He went galumphing back.” (Carroll 18-20) and he returns back to show off his triumphant defeat of the beast. In this respect, the boy uses his slaying of feared Jabberwocky to demonstrate his ascent from boyhood to manhood. Carroll’s use of nonsensical language and made-up creatures is significant here because they exist in a childish world where we are afraid of the bogeyman and the like; here, the boy slays his childish fears and it is symbolic of his coming of age, as a consequence.
This is also significant when we consider what this implies about the individual who issued the warning – the boy’s parent or some such person: their fear of the Jabberwocky is obviously great but they were never brave enough to conquer it and so it is, perhaps, a comment on Carroll’s part about the wonder of children and the strength and joy that they give to their elders. Carroll, of course, is a well-known children’s author and his devotion to children has been well chronicled.
Equally, it can be argued that the Jabberwocky represents the darkness that is inside all of us and the poem exists as a comment on how ridiculous it is to try and slay such a beast. From this perspective, it is clear to see why it is a young boy who can slay such a demon and not an adult because children are purer and lighter of heart than adults, whose darkness grows as they become more accustomed with the world.
However, regardless of which reading is taken from the poem, it is clearly a narrative about growing up; the perils that we face, the fears we overcome and the darkness that we endeavour to halt in its growth within us. The jabberwocky is a dark creature that represents our fears, our dark side and our desire to be stronger than we perhaps really are.