The poem “Mirror” by Sylvia Plath presents the concept of the simple household object from an unusual angle so that the reader gets a glimpse of the feelings and ideas that a mirror can have. This stylistic device is called personification – the presentation of inanimate objects as if these are human beings. The mirror is in this case only a pretext to convey some ideas about human life, not an attempt to engage in an in-depth analysis of the world of things. The mirror can also be regarded as a metaphor for some broader notion.
To understand what the metaphor stands for, let us examine the nature of the object depicted in the poem. The mirror apparently has a character. It prides itself on its objectivity and impartiality, stating that it is “exact” and has “no preconceptions.” In spite of its ambition at objectivity, the mirror does not hesitate to give emotional comments, for instance comparing the woman who looks into it to “a terrible fish.” The mirror even has a heart, as it states that the speckles on the opposite wall have become “a part of … heart”. In the very attempt to underscore the objectivity of presentation, the mirror reveals its pride in being such a truthful presenter.
There is something that makes the reader believe that it is to some extent a truthful vehicle. The mirror insists: “Whatever you see I swallow immediately just as it is, unmisted by love or dislike.” Its very focus on fair portrayal convinces the reader that it is to some degree possible to reflect what is going on in human lives truthfully and objectively. The mirror is attentive to the minute details like the speckles on the wall, which once again underscores the objectivity of the presentation.
The metaphor of the mirror, therefore, can refer to the objectivity of the material world as compared to the illusion that reigns in human life. The woman comes and goes, reacting to the image in the mirror “with tears and an agitation of hands.” This underscores the struggles of the human world that make it difficult for people to achieve the same level of truthful presentation and objectivity. Humans are always in the state of agitation, which makes it difficult for them to see the ugly truth. They are often tempted to chase an illusion that will console them from the terrible images posed by their aging looks and minds. The mirror, on the contrary, is something stable that is there merely to reflect an image – and capable of making this picture follow specific rules of reflection. The mirror is thus permanent, while human life is fleeting and uncertain.
The relationship between the woman and the mirror is then one of dependence, meaning that the woman is dependent on the mirror. The looking-glass is aware of that, stating: “I am important to her.” This importance stems from the role the mirror plays in the woman’s self-identification. In the uncertain world of human endeavors, appearance plays a big role, often defining the status of the humans concerning others. It is especially true for women, for whom the whole destiny often depends on the ability to attract and hold men. To gain a realistic perception of one’s looks is under these social pressures like getting a compass that will lead a person through the woods. The mirror then acquires vital importance in the woman’s life: she is constantly “searching [its] reaches for what she is.”
Thus, the mirror is essential to the woman, but she does not see it as a friend or supporter. Instead, it is connected to the unpleasant emotions, signifying an unwelcome change in her life. In this poem, Plate seems to portray old age as a decline, almost a descent into the abyss. The mirror states: “In me, she has drowned a young girl, and in me, an old woman rises toward her day after day.” It makes the mirror an unpleasant companion. The only reason why it still survives in the woman’s room is its absolute importance as an objective presenter, although the reader can envisage that at one point the woman can rebel against aging, and smash the object on the wall to smithereens. The relationship between the two is thus of dependence and distrust.
The poem “Mirror” by Sylvia Plate is thus an attempt at the juxtaposition of the stable and precise world of things to the unsure and fleeting human existence. The woman and the mirror exist in close interrelationship, yet their attitudes do not carry a trace of friendship and support.
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