Truth, Illusion, and Examination in Sylvia Plath's The Mirror
Who would be so pretentious as to suggest that they were "silver and exact," and that they "have no preconceptions?" Poet Sylvia Plath dares to "meditate on the opposite wall" in her poem The Mirror to reveal to her reader some of her own insecurities, the theme of this, and several other of her poems. The poet does some introspective exploration in both stanzas; the two carefully intended to 'mirror' each other. It is her use of private or contextual symbolism, her use of symbols to create an atmosphere of truth versus illusion, and her design of the mirror to symbolize her inner-self that make this poem such a vehicle for self-examination. Plath's message is not conveyed as clearly to the reader as her reflection. She encrypts her theme using an intensely private, symbolic vernacular.
The symbols planted throughout the poem cannot be categorized as universal. There are no Biblical, historical, or cultural allusions. Instead Plath communicates the instantaneous miracle of reflection by saying "whatever I see I swallow immediately, just as it is, unmisted by love or dislike." This description alerts the reader to the sense of duty felt by the mirror to stay true to its subject and its unfailing ability to do so. The fault therefore lies in the subject who searches for other devices such as "the candles or the moon" to provide a favorable reflection, however unrealistic. These devices symbolize the many tools a woman might use to ultimately disguise her true appearance, like cosmetics or dim lighting. Lipstick and candlelight can only prolong the effects of aging and the reality of death. They serve as crutches to a hindered spirit that struggles "day after day" with the truth.
The woman in the mirror's reflection denies "the eye of a little god" praise and "rewards [it] with tears and an agitation of hands." The mirror is...