Mirror is a poem written by Sylvia Plath, in 1962, with a purpose of questioning and thereby attacking the patriarchal hegemony around her along with the dominating presence of her husband, and her father, over her mind. By doing so, she relates her own experiences, with worldwide events, which give the poem a sense of feminism as well. Plath’s father, whom she loved dearly, had died when she was at a tender age, and so, Plath could never stop thinking about her father, and this eventually led to Plath’s father dominating her thoughts. In 1962, Plath and her husband had divorced, after she found him cheating on her. Both these events led to hatred against the father in her mind, and her husband, and led her to believe that these men (who dominated her) were responsible for all her misfortunes, and so, through this poem, attacks these men, for dominating her life.
The poem itself is a speech from the mirror, describing itself, the wall, and then the girl who comes in between itself and the mirror each day. The poem is static, and there is nothing dynamic taking place in there. There is only excessive amount of descriptions, made by the mirror.
The first 5 lines, of the first stanza, are used, for the mirror to describe itself, and it states “I am silver and exact. I have no preconceptions. Whatever I see I swallow immediately Just as it is, unmisted by love or dislike. I am not cruel, only truthful- the eye of a little god, four cornered”. These lines effectively raise some queries, the most prominent of them being: how can a mirror define itself? The mirror is an object, and therefore should not be able to speak, let alone judge itself. Another interesting point, is the word ‘swallow’ is used, instead of the expected ‘reflect’, and the term swallow suggests that there whatever is seen by the mirror, is processed by the mirror, to some degree, as well. This brings a doubt over the statement “just as it is, unmisted by love or dislike’. These contradictions make the readers doubt the mirror, and question the mirror, and exactly how truthful it is. The words ‘silver and exact’ and ‘the eye of a little god’, immediately expose the hierarchy made by the mirror, and the mirror lies atop the hierarchy. The lines ‘I am not cruel: only truthful’, make the mirror sound defensive, and when combined with the doubt over the mirror’s honesty, also brings the idea that the mirror values itself greatly, and seems to be enforcing its view, upon the woman who is later mentioned in the poem.
The last 4 lines of the first stanza are “most of the time I meditate on the opposite wall. It is pink, with speckles. I have looked at it so long that I think it is a part of my heart. But it flickers. Faces and darkness separate us over and over”. These lines show some amount of fondness and affection that the mirror has for the wall and again serve to contradict the initial stance taken by the mirror, when it stated that all its views were unmisted by love or dislike. Through this, Plath tries to make the readers question what is usually unquestionable and often blindly believed.
The first 7 lines of the next stanza introduce the woman, who is described with the words, “Now I am a lake. A woman bends over me, Searching my reaches for what she really is. Then she turns to those liars, the candles or the moon. I see her back her reflect it faithfully. She rewards me with an agitation of hands. I am important to her. She comes and goes. Each morning it is her face that replaces the darkness.” The words “searching my depths for what she really is, suggest that the mirror (now a lake), is deep, and the deeper a lake, the more obstructions there will be, and the murkier the water can be, giving an extremely inaccurate reflection. This compliments the thoughts projected in the first stanza, where the mirror seems to have “processed” the woman’s reflection. There is a revelation made here, that the mirror is not the only option, that there are the alternatives (the moon and the candles), giving the women a different reflection of herself. The way that the mirror describes the candles and the moon, indicate that the mirror wishes to be only option, for the lady, and despises the fact that the woman relies on the moon and the candles. The agitation of hands, suggest that the woman does not accept the reflection the mirror provides to her, and when combined with the doubt the readers have over the mirror’s honesty, the thought that the woman too, has doubts over the mirror’s honesty, arises, and her agitation, and the reliance on other sources, are explained. Yet, the mirror is correct on the fact that it is important to the woman, as despite her agitation, the woman does still return to the mirror, every morning. This hints that the mirror is perhaps omnipresent, meaning that the woman has to rely on the mirror, in order to see herself, despite the fact that the woman knows that what she sees, is probably a processed and a false reflection.
Along with this, the structure of the poem also supports the notion of all not being as it seems, as both the stanzas, are found to have 9 lines, and 9 sentences, giving the illusion of perfect symmetry, where each line is a sentence, creating perfect balance, yet, this is not the case. this compliments the notion of the imperfect mirror, as readers initially presume, that being a mirror, it will reflect everything perfectly, and hence, believe each word the word of the mirror’s, initially, but soon come to understand that the mirror is not as truthful and unbiased as it seems.
The last two lines, of the second stanza, go as followed:” In me she has drowned a young girl, and in me a old woman rises toward her day after day, like a terrible fish”. These lines serve to explain how the woman begins approaching age, and perhaps her final days, still unable to completely avoid the mirror, and how she eventually dies, trying to reject the reflection in the mirror. the words “rises towards her day by day, like a terrible fish”, suggest, the woman is like a fish rising in the water, implying that it is dead. through this, Plath seems to convey, that while not accepting the view provided by the mirror and the lake, the woman dies, still trying to (unsuccessfully) completely reject and avoid the mirror’s reflection.
In conclusion, the mirror represents the patriarchal hegemony, which was the dominant society, and though other groups existed, like the candles and the moon, those were not as strong as the mirror (the patriarchal hegemony). The reflection that the mirror provides, represents the role definition that the hegemony, or the males in her life, give her. The woman in the poem represents Plath herself, as Plath rejected the role that the patriarchal hegemony was enforcing on her, like the woman did, with her agitation of her hands, yet, both the woman and Plath, couldn’t avoid the mirror, as it was omnipresent, being the most dominant group. the walls, could represent all the events that keep the woman (and Plath) trapped inside, and force them to rely on the mirror, for their own identity. The final lines, give the insight that even though the woman doesn’t accept the views of the mirror, she still can’t reject and avoid the mirror altogether, because of its power. the woman dies trying to free herself from the views of the mirror, still unsuccessful in freeing herself from the stranglehold of the patriarchal hegemony.