The Walrus and the Carpenter


Carroll, Lewis




This poem first appeared in Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking-Glass: And What Alice Found There. Though it appears to be delightful nonsense verse for children, adults can find deeper meaning in it. The poem tells of a friendly Walrus and taciturn Carpenter who kindly invite some young Oysters to join them for a walk on the beach. Gradually it becomes clear, however, that the Oysters have been invited for dinner--and that they are the main course! Readers will have great fun suggesting who these characters might represent in civil society. For instance, the Walrus says to the doomed Oysters: "I weep for you, I deeply sympathize" while secretly planning to eat "Those of the largest size." Who are the Walruses in our own society, shedding crocodile tears while taking advantage of unsuspecting followers?

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Through the Looking-Glass: And What Alice Found There, Lewis Carroll (Dover, 1999)


Reading - Short Enough to Read Aloud.


Impact and OutcomesJustice and EqualityLeadership and ResponsibilityPower and Privilege

Big Questions

How do we know the impact of our actions?What is the impact of our actions - on ourselves and others?What is justice? How do we recognize it?What do we expect from the people we lead? What do we expect from our own leaders?What is my responsibility to the people I lead?How does a person or community gain power or privilege?What is power? How does it work?What is the status quo?

Sample Discussion Questions

  1. Why is the sun shining at night and why is the moon upset about it?
  2. How do the Walrus and the Carpenter convince the Oysters to join them? Why do the Oyster elders stay behind? Why do only the young join the Walrus and the Carpenter?
  3. How and why do the oysters become skeptical of the Walrus and the Carpenter? How do the Walrus and the Carpenter handle this skepticism?
  4. Why does the Walrus weep and sympathize with the oysters?
  5. Who is responsible for the demise of the oysters? The Walrus and the Carpenter, or the oysters with their blind trust?
  6. What responsibilities do leaders have to their followers? Must they always make their intentions and motives known? Are followers responsible for recognizing the intentions of their leader?
  7. What parallels do you see between this poem and our society? What are some examples of Walruses and Carpenters? Oysters?
  8. How do we determine who is an oyster and who is a Walrus?
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