Heartless Novel Summary and Theme

 Heartless Novel Summary and Theme

In the kingdom of Hearts, Catherine Pinkerton struggles against her social obligations as the daughter of the noble Marquess and Marchioness of Rock Turtle Cove. Cath is passionate about baking and dreams of opening a bakery with her best friend, Mary Ann, a venture she knows her parents will never support.

The action of the novel begins when Cath and her parents attend a ball at the King of Hearts’s palace. Cath is horrified when she learns of the insipid King’s intentions to marry her. At the ball, Cath runs into Peter Peter, the local pumpkin patch owner, and his wife, Lady Peter. Peter Peter is hostile toward everyone, and Lady Peter appears constantly ill. The King’s new court joker, Jest, performs for the court.

Cath meets Jest in the King’s Rose Garden; he is accompanied by Raven, a raven who speaks in rhyming couplets. A deep attraction grows between Jest and Cath, although it is undermined by the King’s desire to marry her. Cath leaves the ball early, narrowly escaping a violent attack by the Jabberwock, who carries off two courtiers.

The King pursues a courtship with Cath, which Cath reluctantly enters due to pressure from her parents. Meanwhile, the tension between Jest and Cath grows. One night, Jest appears at Cath’s window and invites her to a “mad” tea party. Presiding over the tea party is Jest’s close friend Hatta, who makes hats with magical properties. The Jabberwock attacks the tea party, carrying off one of the party guests.

Cath learns that there is to be a baking contest at this year’s Turtle Days Festival. The monetary grand prize would allow Cath to open her bakery. Cath enters with a pumpkin spice cake made from a pumpkin stolen from Peter’s patch, where Cath notices signs of the Jabberwock’s presence.

At the festival, Hatta shares with Cath some of his personal history: “Madness” runs in his family, and he is desperately trying to avoid it for himself. Cath dances with the King but realizes that she’s fallen in love with Jest. She secretly meets with him and learns that he is a Rook, a high-ranking military official from the land of Chess beyond the Looking Glass. Jest is in Hearts on a secret mission for the White Queen, who is engaged in an endless war with the Red Queen. He doesn’t disclose his mission to Cath, but regardless she knows they can never be together.

Disaster strikes at the baking contest when the Turtle, one of the judges, takes a bite of Cath’s cake and transforms into a half-calf half-turtle creature called a Mock Turtle. The judging of the contest is suspended, leaving Cath without the prize money.

The following night, the King takes Cath to the theater, where the Jabberwock attacks again. Cath pulls the legendary Vorpal Sword from Jest’s magical jester’s hat, and the beast flees at the sight of it. Cath is injured, and Jest whisks her away in a cloud of smoke to the mythical treacle well, the home of the Three Sisters who can dispense healing treacle for a price. Jest reveals his mission to Cath: He must steal Cath’s heart. Only the heart of a passionate, fierce Queen of Hearts can stop the endless war in Chess, and Jest suspects that this heart is Cath’s after she marries the King.

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Heartless Summary and Theme

When Jest returns Cath home, he is arrested on the charge of kidnapping her, but he transforms into a raven and escapes. Cath does not see Jest again until a few nights later, at the King’s masquerade, where Jest proposes a daring plan: If Cath crosses the land of Chess, by the rule of promotion, she will become a queen; this means Cath can save Chess without having to marry the King. Cath agrees, and she, Jest, Raven, and Hatta set off for the treacle well, which houses the portal to Chess.

As the price for entry, the Three Sisters force the group to witness prophecies of their futures. The Sisters present gruesome images of Jest decapitated, Raven a murderer, Cath the pitiless Queen of Hearts, and Hatta gone mad. The Sisters warn the group not to go through any doors; if they are careful to avoid them, they may yet escape their fates. However, at the Crossroads, a hallway lined with doors that serves as an interdimensional system of travel, Cath hears Mary Ann screaming from behind a door and sees her imprisoned by Peter in the pumpkin patch. Cath goes through the door.

When she reaches Mary Ann, Cath learns the terrible truth: Peter Peter’s wife, Lady Peter, is the Jabberwock. Peter has kept his wife’s condition a secret, trying desperately to cure her. Peter attacks Cath out of fear for his wife’s safety, and Jest, Raven, and Hatta all come through the door to Cath’s aid. Lady Peter attacks in Jabberwock form, and Cath decapitates her with the Vorpal Sword. Peter murders Jest in retribution, bringing at least one of the Sisters’ prophecies to pass.

After Jest’s death, Cath is lost in her lust for revenge against Peter; meanwhile, Hatta has become mad. Cath strikes a deal with the Three Sisters: they will bring Peter to Cath in exchange for the heart of a queen. Cath marries the King so that she can pay the Sisters’ price. When the Sisters extract Cath’s heart from her breast, it is cracked in two from grief and filled with dust and ash. Cath orders Peter’s beheading, which is carried out immediately by Raven.

Heartless-Character Analysis


Cath, Meyer’s reimagined Queen of Hearts, is the novel’s protagonist. Cath is the only daughter of the Marquess and Marchioness of Rock Turtle Cove, high-ranking members in the court society of Hearts. Throughout the novel, Cath is primarily motivated by her desire to fulfill her dreams, whether that be opening a bakery or a having life with Jest. At first, Cath’s primary conflict is between following her own heart or appeasing her parents’ expectations. As the novel progresses, the conflict escalates to one between pursuing true love with Jest or accepting the power that a marriage proposal from the King would bring Cath.

Cath begins the novel a passionate, driven young woman, whose primary goal is to open a bakery with her best friend, Mary Ann. Cath feels unsupported by her parents and unable to go to them for help with her plans, as they expect Cath to fulfill the role of a noblewoman. Cath is unhappy with the thought of marrying the King, but at the same time, she questions whether she could truly say no: “With [Cath’s] father there, and her mother, and the dear, sweet King of Hearts, and all their hopeful eyes focused on her…she knew that she would undoubtedly say yes [to the King’s proposal]” (135). Cath’s primary conflict throughout the novel becomes a marriage of the novel’s three major themes: Escaping Fate, Love as a Constructive and Destructive Force, and Being True to Your Own Heart. Cath tries to escape the fate of queenship set out for her by her parents—and, on a metatextual level, by the reader’s prior knowledge of Cath’s ultimate fate as the evil Queen of Hearts—so that she can be with Jest, with whom her true heart lies; but her love for Jest ultimately takes her down a dark path when her desire to revenge his murder leads her to pursue power and give up her own heart.

As a reimagining of the Queen of Hearts’s story, the narrative is haunted by the knowledge that Cath must one day become the villain of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Cath’s character arc is therefore one of disintegration: Instead of tracking her growth, the narrative tracks her descent into becoming the crazed, irascible Queen of Hearts. As such, Cath is the primary character through whom the narrative examines whether one can truly escape one’s fate, prompting the reader to consider how Cath is responsible for bringing about her own destiny. While social expectations make it difficult for Cath to be true to herself, ultimately she still has agency in determining her destiny. At the critical juncture in Chapter 45, it is Cath who chooses to ignore the Sisters’ advice and go through the gate to Mary Ann, leading to Jest’s death. After the loss of her love, Cath chooses revenge to cope with her grief. In Chapter 52, just before her wedding, Cheshire remarks that Cath has become “empty.” Likewise, although heartlessness appears to be a foregone conclusion for Cath, she makes an active choice to give her heart to the Three Sisters in Chapter 49 and Chapter 53. Although Cath’s character arc is predetermined by virtue of the reader’s prior knowledge, it is ultimately her choices that bring it to completion.

Power is a subtle motif in Cath’s arc, but one that grows as the narrative approaches its conclusion. At times, Cath wonders whether she really could give up her privileged life for her dreams, and she is occasionally tempted by the power that being Queen could grant her. This is evident in Chapter 8, when Mary Ann suggests that Cath may not really be able to live a pauper’s life if they open a bakery, and in Chapter 27, when Cath realizes that despite what she tells herself, Jest’s social class does matter to her (243). Ultimately, Cath overcomes these thoughts by following her passions for baking and for finding love with Jest, but in the absence of these things, Cath turns to power and revenge. At the end of Chapter 38, when Cath thinks she’s been abandoned by Jest and betrayed by her best friend, she gives in to fantasizing about power: “Cath lifted her chin and, for the first time, dared to imagine herself as a queen” (336). This foreshadows the role that the loss of love will play in Cath’s self-destruction.

Cath’s character arc epitomizes the novel’s three major themes, as her choices for love lead her down a path that seals her fate—but the novel also suggests that Cath’s prophesied fate came to pass as a result of her turn toward revenge and emptiness in place of nurturing her true heart to the very end.


Jest is Cath’s love interest. He is first introduced as the King’s court jester, but the reader later learns that Jest is actually from the land of Chess, where he serves the White Queen as a Rook. Jest has been sent to Hearts to steal Cath’s heart, but in the process, he falls in love with her. Jest’s primary conflict, although it is not revealed until later, is between his duty to his country and his love for Cath. Jest’s character has the greatest impact on Cath; their relationship is a vehicle for the Being True to Your Own Heart theme, but ultimately Jest’s death unleashes Love as a Destructive Force.

Jest helps Cath embrace her true self. His role is suggested at their first meeting in Chapter 7, when Jest surreptitiously loosens Cath’s corset after she faints to help her breathe better. The corset is a symbol of the social expectations Cath is forced into by her parents. Jest’s recognition of the corset as a harmful constraint upon Cath symbolizes his ability to recognize her deep unhappiness in her environment and indicates his ability to free her from it. Jest’s role in doing this persists throughout the narrative, as in Chapter 21, when he praises Cath’s passion for baking and says she is “extra beautiful when [she talks] about baking” (180). His support for her dreams indicates that Jest recognizes and encourages Cath’s true self, a stark contrast from other figures in Cath’s life.

While Jest’s encouragement of Cath’s true self demonstrates the constructive side of love, Cath and Jest’s relationship is also a vehicle for demonstrating love’s destructive potential. Cath’s lemon-tree dream in Chapter 1 foreshadows this. In the dream, a figure with lemon-yellow eyes beckons Cath with the sense of having taken something from her; when Cath first meets Jest in the King’s garden in Chapter 7, she notices that his eyes are the color of “lemons hanging heavy on their boughs” (51), suggesting he is the one she dreamed of. Cath’s dream then foreshadows the trajectory of their relationship and hints at the irony of Jest “stealing” something from Cath. Jest was sent to Hearts to steal Cath’s heart, and he does end up doing so, but not literally; Cath figuratively “gives” him her heart by falling in love with him. Metaphorically, Cath’s dream foreshadows the fate of their relationship—once she has given Jest her heart, she cannot get it back, because Cath closes off her heart after Jest’s death. Cath’s deep love for Jest and resulting grief at his loss festers into bloodlust and desire for revenge, demonstrating how love can also motivate destructive choices.

With his death in Chapter 47, Jest becomes the archetypal martyr, the fate prophesied for him by the Three Sisters. His innocent death also marks the death of Cath’s better self, as her grief causes her to devolve into hatred and emptiness. Because Jest was the character who most brought out Cath’s true self, his death symbolizes the death of Cath’s own innocence, catalyzing her self-destructive transformation into the Queen of Hearts.


Hatta is a close friend of Jest’s. He owns a hat shop and crafts hats made of magical materials that encourage hidden qualities in the wearer. Hatta’s father was a hatter as well, but he died by suicide when Hatta was very young. After this, Hatta found his way to Chess, where he met Jest and was introduced into the White Queen’s service. Since then, Hatta has been the Queen’s hatmaker and has collected materials to create his magical hats from across Chess and Hearts alike. In the course of his travels, Hatta also became the one responsible for the creation of the Jabberwock: It was Hatta who scattered pumpkin seeds from Chess in Peter’s patch; these seeds grew into the cursed pumpkins that Lady Peter consumed.

Hatta’s character first establishes the Escaping Fate theme (beyond the metatextual awareness of how Cath’s fate haunts the narrative). “Madness” is the inheritance lurking in Hatta’s family history, and he is motivated by the need to escape it. As with Cath’s character, the knowledge of Hatta’s transformation into the Mad Hatter haunts his character arc, but Hatta’s arc is compounded by his own awareness of it. In addition, Hatta’s character also questions the role of outside influence in affecting outcome. The role Hatta plays in the series of events leading to the climax—namely, the revelation that it was Hatta who first planted the pumpkin seeds, disregarding the possible consequences—examines the role of others in influencing outcome within the theme of escaping fate.

The foil Hatta shares with Cath also acts as a vehicle for this theme. Hatta’s attitude toward Cath runs hot and cold throughout the novel, and the reader doesn’t learn why until the very end: Like Cath, Hatta is in love with Jest. Hatta’s and Cath’s shared affection for Jest place them in competition; this positioning naturally encourages comparison. How Cath and Hatta react to their fates is one of the most significant aspects of their foil: both are desperate to escape their fates, yet neither does, and both face horrible consequences of their actions. The scene between Cath and Hatta in Chapter 52 particularly underscores their foil. There, the characters are wretched mirrors of each other, each laying the blame for their shared grief at the other’s feet, all the while moments away from declining fully into their prophesied destinies. However, Hatta ultimately does what Cath cannot—he accepts his culpability, and with it his fate: “‘I know it is [my fault], and I will pay for it with my sanity, just as the Sisters said’” (435). Like Cath, Hatta cannot outrun his destiny; however, his character arc suggests that the responsibility to determine fate does indeed rest in the individual’s hands.


Peter Peter is the owner of the pumpkin patch, and Lady Peter is his wife. At the beginning of the novel, Peter Peter has recently been knighted, following the landslide victory of his wife, Lady Peter, at the recent pumpkin eating contest. Readers later learn that Lady Peter, who often appears sickly, was transformed into the Jabberwock as a result of eating an excessive amount of tainted pumpkins at the contest. Readers are first introduced to Peter at the King’s ball, when he and his wife approach Cath and Mary Ann. Peter is “as intimidating as a troll [...] He had frizzing red hair that was in need of both a washing and a comb, and a brow currently stuck in a scowl,” while his wife has “a back that seemed permanently hunched—from work, not age, Cath could guess—parchment-white skin and stringy blonde hair” and appears perpetually ill (37). Peter is surly and uncouth, often reacting explosively to innocuous gestures from others, such as when Cath tries to purchase pumpkins from him in Chapter 24. At the beginning of the novel, Peter is also characterized as potentially abusive toward his wife, as he speaks to her sharply and forcibly drags her away from anything pumpkin-related. Peter’s suspicious and domineering behavior prompts the reader to perceive him as an antagonist.

Once the climax unveils Peter’s true motivations, however, it’s difficult to read him as such. Peter’s actions were motivated by his desperation to protect his wife; if he seemed possessive when vehemently denying Lady Peter pumpkin, it was only because he feared that any more would condemn her to her condition for good. While he allowed his wife to eat people as a Jabberwock, he did so only because he believed he could cure her. Peter’s motivations make up an important part of the Love as a Destructive Force theme.

Like Cath, Peter’s characterization communicates the Escaping Fate theme—and in more ways than one. Peter’s self-confirming bias toward others leads him to make unfounded assumptions. For example, Peter is hostile to the courtiers in Chapter 5 because he believes that they all look down on him; the reader isn’t given enough information to evaluate the veracity of this claim, but it is untrue on Cath’s part. Cath is polite to Peter and Lady Peter, only becoming disgruntled when Peter is incessantly rude to her. By proceeding from bad-faith assumptions, Peter provokes the attitudes he presumes in others. This is an early indication of how Peter seals his own fate, just as other characters do their own.

This negative outlook of Peter’s comes into play to devastating effect during the climax in Chapter 47. When Peter catches Cath in his pumpkin patch, she at first tries to reason with him and explain that she’s only come for Mary Ann, but Peter refuses to believe her. His subsequent attack on Cath instigates the climactic confrontation in which Lady Peter is killed. In the end, Peter’s arc, like Cath’s, Hatta’s, and Raven’s, interrogates individual responsibility for outcomes. If Peter were not proceeding from a self-confirming bias about others’ intentions, might he have listened to Cath and avoided the conflict that resulted in his wife’s death? Similarly, despite Hatta’s wrongful influence, Peter still chose to hide his wife’s condition and allow her to devour innocent people—if he had chosen differently then, might there have been a different outcome for Lady Peter as well?


The Three Sisters are not directly inspired by any characters in Carroll’s works but resemble the Three Fates of Greek mythology. The Sisters also recall a certain Greek sensibility of tragedy; the Sisters are like a chorus, prophesying the characters’ doom and tracking the characters’ progress through the story with knowledge of how their actions influence their fates. As such, they are personifications of the Escaping Fate theme.

The Sisters appear as very young children, all identical to each other: “She was ghostlike, not more than six years old, with white-silver hair that cascaded down her back and skin the color of milk thinned with water. Her eyes, in contrast, were coal black and far too big for her face” (366). They are ethereal beings, almost contradictions of themselves, for even though they seem to be children, they “carry the sadness of an old crone” (366). This characterization reinforces their role as personifications of Fate, as it conveys a sense of unfathomable knowledge beyond any of the other characters’ control or understanding.

The Sisters also have alternate forms wherein they don representative animal masks, which characterize the Sisters by way of their associated traits: the fox, sly; the owl, wise; and the raccoon, a trickster. This reinforces the association with a Greek chorus, as the masks connote a sense of performance or obscured identity and likewise enhance the mystery that surrounds the Sisters.

As personifications of Fate itself, the Sisters act as a passive driving force for the story. It is the Sisters who first tell the characters their fates in Chapter 43, motivating them all the more to avoid them; it is also the Sisters who literally bring about the eponymous heartlessness in Chapter 53 when they take Cath’s heart from her. While the narrative emphasizes each character’s role in bringing their respective fates to pass, the Sisters’ role in each circumstance makes them a background driving force—exactly as Fate would be.


Raven is Jest’s constant companion and fellow Rook from Chess. Although Raven prefers his raven form, as a human he wears a black hooded robe and carries a curved axe, remnants from his time as the White Queen’s executioner. Cath first encounters Raven when she meets Jest in the King’s rose garden in Chapter 6; she glimpses Raven in his true form before she passes out but does not realize it’s him until Chapter 47, when she sees Raven in his human form for the first time.

Raven’s symbolism both as a raven and as an executioner foreshadow his role at the end of the novel. Ravens symbolize death or ill omens; the foreboding mood established by Raven’s executioner form reinforces this. Cath takes Raven as a literal symbol of death because of the Sisters’ prophecy, wherein Raven is the “murderer,” and accordingly she deliberately separates him from Jest. Like Cath and Hatta, Raven does not escape his fate, and his character arc reinforces the Escaping Fate theme by questioning to what degree he influenced his own destiny. Raven’s fate was prescribed for him at the beginning of the novel, by virtue of the symbolism encoded by his dual forms; ultimately, however, like Cath and Hatta, Raven’s own choices determine his fate. Raven chooses to accept his appointment as Cath’s executioner in Chapter 54, and as he swings the axe down on Peter’s neck, he brings the Sisters’ prophecies to completion.


Mary Ann is Cath’s best friend and maid. She shares Cath’s dream to open a bakery but is more practical. Cath calls Mary Ann her “brilliant, oh-so-logical business partner” (13), as Mary Ann helps the dreamier Cath think through the business logistics of opening a bakery.

In some ways, Mary Ann mirrors Jest. Like Jest, she supports Cath’s dreams and has Cath’s best interests in mind; she is someone else with whom Cath can be her true self. After Jest’s death, however, Mary Ann becomes the focus of Cath’s ire, and through this she mirrors Jest’s role as an “innocent death.” Cath uses Mary Ann as a scapegoat for Jest’s death because she needs something external to fault for the events at Peter’s patch. Mary Ann is not truly to blame for what happens, and certainly not for Jest’s murder, but like Jest, Mary Ann is punished for the actions of another. Cath kills her friendship with Mary Ann in the face of her grief for Jest, just as Peter killed Jest to compensate for his wife’s loss. This parallel reinforces the evil Cath has given into in the wake of losing her love; subsequently, Cath’s cold treatment of Mary Ann is a symbol of Cath’s descent. Mary Ann could have been someone to whom Cath turned for help processing her grief; instead, Cath rejects Mary Ann and isolates herself within her rage. The parallel of Mary Ann’s wrongfully denied friendship with Jest’s innocent death prompts the reader to consider how Cath actively chooses villainy.


The Marchioness’s primary objective in the novel is to see Cath married to the King for the status that it will grant their family. She is critical of Cath, urging her to fit the expectations of society and imposing her own desires on her daughter. The Marchioness urges Cath to ignore all her own desires and pursue a marriage proposal from the King, criticizing Cath when she feels Cath has fallen short of this goal. Cath’s relationship with her mother somewhat prefigures Cath’s own disintegration; Cath’s mother is “all cooing and delighted one moment and screaming at the top of her lungs the next. Despite her tiny stature, she had a booming voice and a particular glare that could make even a lion’s heart shrivel beneath it” (15). This description is nearly identical to how the Queen of Hearts is characterized in Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. This connection highlights the contrast between Cath’s character at the beginning of the novel and the conclusion of her arc at the end and suggests the Marchioness’s role in it.

In contrast to his wife, the Marquess is timid and less critical of Cath. He often defers to his wife and does not contradict her when she harshly criticizes Cath. Deep down, however, he shares his wife’s values and need for status: In chapter 38, he threatens to disown Cath if she embarrasses the family by marrying Jest instead of the King. This moment is shocking for Cath; even if she didn’t expect her father to oppose her mother, Cath at least expected that he would treat her more kindly than the Marchioness. This moment is a stark reminder to Cath of how little both her parents care for her true heart.

Collectively, Cath’s parents represent a failure to help Cath honor her true heart, reinforcing the theme of Being True to Your Own Heart. Just before her wedding to the King, Cath’s parents ask her if this will truly make her happy, and Cath responds, “How different everything could have been if you’d thought to ask me that before” (428). Up until this point, her parents have shown little regard for Cath’s feelings; to have them do so now is too little, too late. The suggestion that their negligence is partially culpable for the tragedies that followed signifies the grave consequences of ignoring others’ true feelings. Cath’s relationship with her parents indicates the importance of having one’s heart listened to; with her parents’ support, Cath might have been able to escape societal pressures and listen to her heart, avoiding the anger and grief that turned her into the Queen of Hearts.


The King is a foolish, largely childish figure; he is “a happy king made for a happy kingdom” with a sweet tooth (26). He is dogged in his pursuit of Cath as his bride, but Cath sees the King as not just a fool but also a coward; he is hesitant to disrupt the status quo and unwilling to confront challenges. The King does not take action when the Jabberwock terrorizes Hearts; instead, he throws endless parties. In Chapter 35, it is Cath who slays the Jabberwock and protects the people at the theater, while the King is “as pale and whimpering as any of his subjects” (304). The King provides a contrast to Cath’s strength of character and potential for leadership and underscores the shallowness of Hearts’s nobility.

Like the King, the rest of the Hearts nobility prefers to avoid difficult topics. Cath notices that no one talks seriously about the Jabberwock attacks because no one wants to face the situation’s grim reality: “Overheard bits of conversation bustled with news of the Jabberwock, though they talked of it more like a long-passed fairy tale than a recent horror, which was the way of the people of Hearts” (74). The characterizations of both King and nobility reinforce the theme of Being True to Your Own Heart; superficial as they are, none of them can understand Cath’s true heart, which highlights her as authentic and special by virtue of her dreams and passion.

Heartless Themes


The narrative is haunted by the reader’s knowledge that Cath will become the Queen of Hearts. Her journey is not an ascent but a descent into the eponymous heartlessness and cruelty that characterize Lewis Carroll’s original character in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. The narrative is overshadowed by this foregone conclusion and the fate that awaits its characters. However, at the same time, the narrative explores the question of whether a person can escape their fate, and how responsible they are for sealing their own fate.

In the novel, Cath is not the only one haunted by her future. Hatta is equally haunted, perhaps even more so, because he’s aware of his fate. In fact, Hatta is the one who first introduces the theme of escaping fate; in Chapter 31, he tells Cath of his history and his desperation to escape mental illness and reveals that the key to avoiding his fate is merely to stay ahead of Time. Hatta’s primary motivation throughout the narrative is to avoid the mental illness in his family history; his character, then, represents a race against Time and a battle against Fate to be allowed to determine his own destiny.

The narrative examines the influence of individual choices versus contrived circumstances in determining fate. The Three Sisters of the treacle well, as explicit characterizations of Fate, communicate this. When they present their prophecies to Hatta, Raven, Cath, and Jest in Chapter 43, they represent the events as simultaneously immutable and avoidable. They tell Cath that the prophecies are “written on stone, but not in it” (373) and that they are “fate, and fate is inevitable” (373). This implies that there are still factors that can influence outcomes but introduces the question of whether fate is determined not by a supernatural governing force but by the characters’ entrenchment in their own habits and behavioral cycles. This is reinforced when the Sisters advise the group to not go through any doors so the prophecies will not come to pass but then address Cath as “Your Majesty” as she leaves (376), implying that at least Cath’s fate has already been decided. The question remains whether the Sisters foresee how Cath’s inclination to take certain actions inevitably leads to her becoming Queen or whether she simply has a predetermined destiny.

Cath herself does not always acknowledge her own influence in affecting outcomes, which in turn affects her perception of her own agency. Cath exhibits a pattern of blaming others for severe losses in her life: She blames Mary Ann for Jest’s near-capture in Chapter 37 and later blames her for Jest’s death, despite the fact that it was Cath’s choice to enter Peter’s pumpkin patch, against the Sisters’ warning. The narrative also explores this behavior in relation to Lady Peter’s situation as the Jabberwock. In Chapter 47, Peter blames Hatta for his wife’s transformation, shouting at Hatta, “Look what you did to my wife” (404). Although Hatta bears some responsibility for Lady Peter’s fate, as Cath reflects, “Peter was the one who had captured Mary Ann. He was the one trying to keep a monster as a pet and feed it innocent lives” (104). Regardless of Hatta’s responsibility in exposing Lady Peter to the cursed pumpkins, Peter Peter still had his own agency in the situation and could have made different choices. Instead, he chose to keep his wife’s condition a secret and become complicit in her terrorization of the people of Hearts. The characters’ perceived victimization by their circumstances directs how they respond to their circumstances, in turn influencing the decisions that contribute to determining their fates.

Significantly, the only one who takes responsibility for his choices is Hatta. In Chapter 52, he acknowledges Cath’s accusations that he is at fault for the whole series of events. This scene between Cath and Hatta calls back to a previous scene in Chapter 31, when each accused the other of having had a hand in the Mock Turtle’s transformation. At that point in time, neither Hatta nor Cath was willing to admit to the possibility that the work they so loved—hat-making and baking, respectively—was dangerous to others. But in Chapter 52, Hatta acknowledges his role in how the events played out and the irresponsibility of his decision to plant the pumpkin seeds in Peter Peter’s patch despite suspecting the consequences it could have. Hatta says that he has “paid for it with his sanity” (435). In this moment, Hatta accepts his fate but retains the awareness that his decisions were responsible for it.

By contrast, Cath still clings to revenge and focuses her grief onto Peter as the target of revenge for Jest’s death. Ironically, Cath’s refusal to accept the events is what leads her to seal her own fate: Her desire for revenge leads her to make the deal with the Sisters to give away her own heart, bringing her prophesied destiny to completion. Ultimately, the narrative suggests that if one’s fate is unavoidable, it is only because one cannot break out of one’s own beliefs and behaviors.


As Cath wrestles with the many factors influencing her development in the narrative, she finds herself struggling between her own true feelings and the expectations imposed upon her by her society. Because Cath is of the gentry, her parents expect her to marry suitably and fulfill the social roles of a noblewoman; this conflicts with Cath’s dream to open a bakery—work her parents consider lower-class. Later, the burgeoning love Cath feels for Jest conflicts with her parents’ desire for Cath to marry the King of Hearts.

The society surrounding Cath often does not understand her true heart; her parents, for example, do not support her bakery dream, but Cath is also out of place in the complacent nobility who would rather throw parties than face the serious things in life, like the Jabberwock attacks. The lack of support and understanding Cath has in her surroundings is reinforced by her mother’s harsh judgments, such as repeatedly criticizing Cath’s appearance and eating habits. This is in stark contrast to Jest, who allows Cath the space to be herself; he even contradicts her mother’s attitudes by telling Cath how beautiful she is when she talks about her passion for baking (Chapter 21). Thus, Cath and Jest’s relationship becomes a vehicle for Cath to express her true self.

However, throughout the novel, Cath also struggles to stay true to her love and her better instincts, particularly when faced with loss or defeat. Power is a minor motif in the narrative representing her struggles in this regard. At certain points in the novel, Cath is entranced by power; in Chapter 38, after Cath thinks she has lost both her bakery dreams and her relationship with Jest, she leans into the idea of being a Queen: “Cath lifted her chin, and, for the first time, dared to imagine herself as a Queen” (336). This leads to her acting “Queenly” at the ball, which for Cath means giving in to her anger and mistreating others; only Jest’s appearance in Chapter 40 restores Cath to her better instincts. Cath’s behavior demonstrates her struggle to stay true to her own heart and gives an indication of how she’s inclined to react when circumstances test her. After Jest’s death, Cath once again reaches for power to cope with loss. At the end of Chapter 50, after Cath has persuaded the King to marry her, she tries to recall her previous horror at the prospect of becoming queen, but “those emotions were far out of reach” (421). In the absence of the love that encouraged her true self and dreams, Cath struggles to sustain them on her own.

The importance of being true to one’s own heart is reinforced by the narrative’s conclusion. Just as when Cath thought she had lost Jest before the ball in Chapter 40, Cath gives in to rage to dull her pain; but this time, after Jest’s death, it becomes even more destructive as she fixates on vengeance. Cheshire’s comments in Chapter 52 about Cath being “empty” now signal that Cath has betrayed her own heart in her lust for revenge (425). Then, in Chapter 53, the image of Cath’s physical heart reinforces this: It is “broken, cut almost clean in half by a blackened fissure that was filled with dust and ash” (442). The fissure represents Cath’s grief, and even more so the hate and anger she’s succumbed to; the image of her heart as a dead, burned-out thing emphasizes the utter destruction she’s brought upon herself through her inability to stay true to her own heart.

The final lines of the novel underscore the grave consequences of discarding one’s true heart, as Cath unfeelingly calls for Peter’s execution: “She spoke without feeling, unburdened by love or dreams or the pain of a broken heart” (449). By casting off her grief, Cath has also abandoned the things that made her whole—her hope, her dreams, and her love for Jest. Without these things, Cath’s heart is empty, and this emptiness leads her to become the Queen of Hearts.


The novel is partially structured around Cath’s romance with Jest, and their relationship is a vehicle for her self-expression. However, as Cath struggles to be true to her own heart, another theme emerges: love’s power to be both a constructive and a destructive force.

In the first half of the novel, Cath is conflicted over her feelings for Jest and her sense of duty to her parents and her society. Cath’s relationship with Jest allows her to express her true self, demonstrating that love can be a powerful force for security and self-expression. However, through Cath’s descent into the Queen of Hearts, the narrative demonstrates that love can also catalyze one’s worst impulses. Cath’s love for Jest turns into an impulse for revenge after his death, and in Chapter 49, it is the weight of her grief that motivates Cath to give up her heart to the Sisters. After the Sisters take Cath’s heart in Chapter 53, Cath feels nothing except “the rage and the fury and the desperate need for vengeance that would soon be hers” (443). However, in the following chapter, the loss of her heart also removes Cath’s ability to feel love and compassion, and she mercilessly executes Peter without feeling (449).

Peter Peter’s characterization and its juxtaposition to Cath’s also reinforce this theme. Initially, Peter is characterized negatively; he is rude, hostile, and appears to be abusing his wife. But in Chapter 47, the reader learns that Peter’s actions have in fact been motivated by love for his wife. However, this knowledge has damning implications for Peter: he knew his wife was the Jabberwock but did not stop her from taking the lives of others. After Mary Ann discovers Peter’s secret, Peter plans to feed her to the Jabberwock as well, in order to protect Lady Peter. Although Peter’s actions are all motivated by concern for his wife, his love leads him to take dangerous actions with disastrous consequences for others.

Similarly, Cath’s love for Jest sometimes blinds her and causes her to treat others unfairly. After Jest escapes the King’s guards in Chapter 37, Cath blames Mary Ann for the incident because Mary Ann told Cath’s parents and the King about Cath and Jest’s relationship. Although Mary Ann had perfectly good reasons for doing so—Jest and Cath were not where Jest had said they would be, and Mary Ann did not know what his intentions were toward Cath—Cath refuses to hear Mary Ann and coldly cuts off their friendship. Although these actions are not nearly as grave as Peter’s, they nonetheless demonstrate that prior to the climax, both of these characters made misguided decisions because of their love for another.

At the climax, the foil between Peter and Cath reaches its peak as they are each motivated to vengeance by the loss of their love. Peter’s immediate reaction is to take revenge on Cath by killing the thing she loves most; in turn, Cath’s reaction is to take Peter’s head. This destructive cycle of revenge ultimately spells out each character’s doom: Peter is ultimately executed for his crimes by Cath, whose heart is now empty after selling it to the Sisters in exchange for Peter’s head. The juxtaposition of Peter’s and Cath’s character arcs demonstrates love’s power to be both an illuminator of one’s true self and a force of self-destruction in the wake of its loss.


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