Mirror by Sylvia Plath Summary

Mirror is a wonderful poem by Sylvia Plath. Mirror notes and summary for BA English Notes of BBMKU University. BA English Semester 3 notes for BBMKU and VBU university.

Mirror by Sylvia Plath Summary

Mirror Summary

In this poem, a mirror describes its reality and its proprietor, who grows older as the mirror watches.
The mirror first defines itself as “silver and exact.” It forms no judgments, merely swallowing what it sees and reflecting that image without alteration. The mirror is not cruel, “only truthful.” It views itself as a four-cornered eye of a god, which sees everything for what it is.

Most of the time, the mirror looks across the empty room and meditates on the pink-speckled wall. It has looked at that wall for so long that it describes it as “part of my heart.” The image of the wall is interrupted only by people who enter to look at themselves and the darkness that comes with the night.
The mirror imagines itself as a lake. A woman looks into it, trying to distinguish who she is by staring at her reflection. Occasionally, the woman prefers to look at herself in candlelight or moonlight, but these are “liars” because they mask her appearance. Only the mirror (existing here as a lake) gives her a faithful representation of herself.

Because of this truthfulness, the woman cries and wrings her hands. However, she cannot withhold from seeing the mirror over and over again every morning. Over the years, the woman has “drowned a young girl” in the mirror and now sees in her reflection an old woman raising older by the day. This old woman rises toward her out of the mirror-like “a terrible fish.”

Mirror Critical Analyze

In this brief but cherished poem, the narrator is a wall mirror in what is probably a woman’s bedroom. The mirror is personified; it is blessed with human qualities. It can recognize monotony, remarking on the commonness of the wall that it reflects most of the time. Additionally, while it does not offer moral judgment, it can observe and understand its owner (the woman) as she grapples with aging.

This poem is relatively easy to analyze compared to others in Plath’s corpus. Though the speaker is a mirror, the subjects are time and formation. The woman toils with losing beauty, admitting that she is growing older daily. Though the woman sometimes dupes herself with the flattering “liars” candlelight and moonlight, she repeatedly returns to the mirror for reality. The woman needs the mirror to provide her with an objective, sober reflection of self, even though it is often embarrassing, causing her “tears and an agitation of hands.” The mirror is well aware of how necessary it is to the woman, which evokes the Greek myth of Narcissus, in which a young man grows so transfixed with his reflection that he dies.

Some critics have guessed that the woman is irritated by more than her changing physical appearance. They posit that the woman observes her mind, soul, and psyche stripped of deceit or obfuscation. By seeing her true self, she becomes familiar with the difference between her external and internal lives. In other words, she might be meditating on the difference between a “false” outer self of appearance and a “true” inner self. After Plath’s suicide in 1963, many critics examined the writer’s different facets, contrasting her put-together, polite, and proper outer self with her raging, explosively-creative inner self. Possibly Plath is exploring this dichotomy in “Mirror.”

The critic Jo Gill writes of “Mirror” that even as the mirror describes itself as “silver and exact,” it feels compelled to qualify itself immediately. Gill writes, “as the poem develops, we see that this hermetic antonym may be a deceptive facade masking the need for communion and dialogue.” The mirror dominates and interprets its world and thus has much more power than it suggests. It does not simply reflect what it sees but also shapes those images for our understanding. Gill remarks that the poem is catoptric, meaning that it describes while it represents its structure; this is done through two nine-line stanzas, which are symmetrical and indicate opposition.

The second stanza is essential because it, as Gill describes, “exposes…the woman’s need of the mirror and the mirror’s need of the woman.” When the mirror has nothing but the wall to stare at, the world is truthful, objective, factual, and “exact.” Still, when the woman comes into view, the world becomes messy, unsettling, complicated, emotional, and vivid. Thus, the mirror is “no longer a boundary but a liminal and penetrable space.” It reflects more than an image – it reflects its desires and understanding of the world.
Overall, “Mirror” is a melancholy and bitter poem that exemplifies the tensions between inner and outer selves and indicates the preternaturally feminine “problem” of aging and losing one’s beauty.

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