The definition of ‘identity’ is ‘The qualities of a person that makes them different from one another.
‘ Sasha The theme of identity is comprehensively explored in the poem ‘Mirror’, written in 1961 by American poet Sylvia Plath. She was an admired individual who expressed her mental anguish and difficulties in life through her autobiographical work. ‘Mirror’ has two stanzas, each containing nine lines making it somewhat seem symmetrical like a mirror and its reflection. The free verse poem has no rhyme but its simplicity allows it to be read gracefully. And although there is no specific meter used, the use of repetition like ‘over and over’ and ‘day after day’ helps bring a sense of rhythm to the poem. Although there are minimal literary devices used, Plath excelled at using monotonous lines and plain vocabulary to illustrate this sentimental piece. The two stanzas of the poem are set in two different scenes; the first describes a mirror that hangs opposite to a pink speckled wall, and the other illustrates a woman that visits a lake every morning and mourns for her loss of beauty.
The poem begins with an unidentified speaker describing itself, as if creating a riddle for the reader to figure out. Though it is obvious that the speaker is a personified mirror, as hinted by the title, it is unusual for an inanimate object to be given a starring role. Perhaps Plath wanted to show us how powerful and influential this object was in her life. By staring into a mirror, you can see a reflection of yourself and every detail that exists in you, no matter the charming dimples or horrid wrinkles. Maybe it was a search for self; during that particular time, Plath had just had her first child, was in an unhappy relationship with her husband, while suffering from depression.
It was the idea of exploration of uncertain self that inspired her.Personification is used to endow the mirror with human traits. The verb ‘swallow’ gives the mirror creature-like qualities and portrays it in a sinister way.
The determiner ‘whatever’ suggests that it will engulf anything, no matter who or what is in front of the mirror. This emphasizes its monstrosity but also reflects upon the idea that it forms no judgement and treats everyone fairly as it is accepting with no questions asked. Plath accentuates this again when she tells us that the mirror is ‘not cruel, only truthful’. Unlike the people that tell you beautiful lies in the real world, the mirror is not deceived by feelings and emotions as it is ‘unmisted by love or dislike.’ It will confront you truthfully even if the facts are frightening. Although it can be distressing and hurtful, it shows that the mirror is reliable. The idea of the mirror absorbing what it sees without emotion can be referred to women in history that have been forced into stereotypical roles that require beauty but little intelligence. Plath’s social restrictions in life are depicted by this mirror.
The mirror proceeds to declare itself as ‘The eye of a little god’ implying that it has god-like powers and can see the truth through anything. Yet, the adjective ‘little’ suggests that she has little faith. Pink is a playful color that is often associated with girly things.
It hints at the youth that exists in the woman as it is ‘part of my heart’. However, there is a change in tone in the short sentence ‘But it flickers’. Literally, it suggests the visitors that walk by the mirror disrupts the view of the pink wall, but it can be argued that the ‘faces’ are people that come and go in Plath’s life, weakening her connection to her youth. Her inner child has been damaged by her childhood and marriage. ‘Darkness’ indicates night referring to time. This suggests that as time passes by, the girl grows into a woman as darkness separates the mirror from the pink wall.
It can also refer to the loneliness and depression that Plath had suffered. Even through nature, the woman is forced to face reality. Similar to stanza one, the speaker is now a personified lake that can also reflect what it sees. However, through a different dimension, as it is in a liquid state, it is possible to change shapes and bend truths. The speaker’s god-like powers are emphasized as the woman ‘bends over’ just like a servant to its king. She looks at her reflection to see her true identity then ‘turns to those liars, the candles or the moon.
‘ The woman is in denial, so she tries to delude herself by looking in the candlelight or moonlight to mask her true appearance. Candles are associated with romance and celebrations, and the moon relates to promises and dreams. They both fail to create a true reflection due to the diffusion of light leading to a deceptive delusion that can hide wrinkles and hair loss. Soft lighting from the moon also flatters the features of an old person’s face. The ‘liars’ refer to the people who tell her what she wants to hear.
She determines her identity based on what others say about her, instead of forming her own. The woman’s ‘back’ indicates the memories of her past. Perhaps she had wasted her youth on a relationship that went nowhere. She cries helplessly ‘rewarding’ it with tears and tries to cover her face with ‘an agitation of hands’. Although this is a moment of agonizing truth for the woman, the lake is happy to have the tears to replenish its waters as if it is a reward for reflecting faithfully. Despite her sadness and frustration, the woman forms an obsessive relationship and cannot refrain from visiting the lake every morning.
The use of simile suggests that old women are like fish. Fish itself is an unattractive animal which was what the woman might have felt. They depend on water to live much like how the woman depends on the lake as she comes and goes every day.
As fish are wet and slippery, it can be a metaphor for the youth that slipped out her fingers through time. But ultimately, Plath’s most important line in this poem brings out the main message, ‘In me she has drowned a young girl, and in me an old woman rises towards her day after day.’ The woman has wasted her youth through anxiety, worries, and constant self-evaluation so much that as time went by, there is physical change, but her uncertainties remained. She was consumed by her own insecurities.