Sunday, February 9, 2014

The Meaning Behind Nonsense Words: An Explication of The "Jabberwocky" (Final Version)

In Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky” nonsense words are used to create meaning through the placement and the words that are near them. Although the “Jabberwocky” is a nonsense poem there are more regular words nonsense words. Words such as gyre, gimble, mimsy, Bandersnatch and galumphing are few of the words that make up the poem and help to describe a character’s behavior, the condition of objects and to bring to life to fantastical creatures. Carroll’s choice of using nonsense words to describe the atmosphere, tone and state of being of character and places in the “Jabberwocky” illustrate how the English Language allows for words that did not previously exist to be born and to create meaning out of the context that they are born out of.
             Within the seven stanzas of the “Jabberwocky” there are nonsense words that are built into the lines that create tension through the connotation that we apply to each of the nonsense words based on our prior experience and through our sub-conscience knowledge of American English grammar. According to D Bruce Lockerbie connotation is defined as, “the figurative sense, the suggested application of a word”: However he also describes connotation as assuming “the experience of the reader, either his actual or his imaginative experience” to inform the reader of the definition of a word (691). If both definitions are applied to the nonsense words of the “Jabberwocky” we can surmise that nonsense words are not in reality nonsense, but actual words that hold meaning behind them. For example, the following lines contain three nonsense words that to the average reader might not make sense, “Oh frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!/ He chortled in his joy” (23-34). “Frabjous”, “Callooh”, and “Callay” are a word that at first appear to be nonsense, however because of the context they are in and the connotation that they have it gives them meaning. Callooh and Callay are words that have a celebratory connotation because of their placement in the line. They also have the same property that of the words/expression Hooray and hip hip hoora because they have the same nature and the same property as them. Thus the reader can make the assumption that the word Callooh and Callay have the same meaning as Hooray and Hip Hip Hoora.  Furthermore the second line, which states the father chortled in joy, cements our assumption, as the definition of chortled is to chuckle gleefully. The word, “”frabjous”, has a part of its word that sounds like joyous, making it sound to the reader’s ear as joyful and happy. Also a reader’s previous experience will tell the readers how to read the nonsense words.
            The opening and closing stanza are the same and they serve the function of bringing the poem full circle as well as giving a new connotation to the same stanza. According to James Rother constructing nonsense words “is [a] almost always a solemn business, maintaining the strictest of controls over both its inference and its effect” (187). Thus the opening lines, “’Twas brillig and the slithy toves/ Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:” and “All mimsy were the borogoves,/ And the mome raths outgrabe” can serve as the opening and closing because it meaning can change based on how the plot has ended (1-4). The first two lines tell the reader what time of day it is because the way the lines are structured. By looking at the word “‘twas” the reader can see that the word brillig is a state of being, in this case it indicates a time of day. The path taken to figure out the meaning behind Brillig can also be applied to outgrabe, wabe gyre and gimble. Where the words gyre and gimble are describing a state of being to the word wabe, which is the object, the state of being is being applied to. Line four of the poem, “And the mome raths outgrabe”, make the opening stanza a lot more interesting because according to mome is defined as a fool: blockhead: rath as growing, blooming, or ripening early in the year or season ( Because of these definitions the reader can assume that the poem takes place during the spring when the pollen count is high. However when the poem ends with the same stanza the son has already killed the Jabberwocky and the stanza now describes the state of being of the place. It is interesting to note that even after the jabberwocky has been killed the atmosphere remains the same as if nothing had changed.
            The rhyme scheme is something else that contributes to the poem as it starts out in a “a b a b” rhyme it is broken by the time the reader reaches the fifth stanza because that brake in the rhyme scheme follows the chaotic atmosphere that is describes the fifth and sixth stanza. The word choice of the first three stanzas creates an ominous feeling to the poem as the speaker warns his or her son “Beware the Jabberwock, my son!/ The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!” (5-6). The words jaw, bite, claw catch have a harsh sound to it and create a tension and uneasiness when its being read. The combination of these words plus the word beware also set up the plot of the story, but the tension that is created is not much and it is not so blunt. However in the fourth stanza the tone of the poem changes into a more dark tone. The shift of tone is reflected again the word choice of the poem: “with eyes of flame”, “Came whiffling”, and “and burbled as it came” (2-3). . The images that the word choice creates a sense of fear and danger that in turn creates tension and makes the story more interesting to the reader. In both stanza, however there is still a rhyme scheme that can be seen as soon as the son starts to battle the Jobberwock the rhyme scheme is broken and is not restored until the final stanza. The ending of each of the lines in the fifth and sixth stanza are, “through/ snicker-snack!/ head/ back/ Jabberwock/ boy/ Callay!/ joy” (17-24). None of these words rhyme because the break of the rhyme scheme in this section of the poem follows the action that is being described in the both stanzas. By doing this it feels more chaotic and is more in line with the movements of a fight.
Nonsense poems have words that at first may not appear to have meaning, but if they are analyzed and closely read you can find that those nonsense words have meaning and because of the meaning they contain different interpretations can arise from a single nonsense word.
Work Cited “Mome”. Web. 03 February 2014. “Rathe”. Web. 04 February 2014.
Lockerbie, D Bruce. Poetry: “Denotation and Connotation”. Jstor. The English Journal
Vol. 53, No. 9 Dec. 1964. P691. Web. 05 February 4, 2014.
Rother, James. “Modernism and the Nonsense Style”. Jstor. Contemporary Literature,
Vol. 15, No.2 (Spring 1974). Print 06 February 2014

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