The poem, “Mirror” by Sylvia Plath shows the horrors of aging that exist and demonstrates the shallow value of physical appearance. In an age where physical appearance is so important, the idea of growing old terrifies people. Emphasis on physical appearance is everywhere, including in the movies, on television, and in magazines. Many people are convinced that being young and attractive gives you the power to get ahead in this world. This is true in many ways. We see the daily success of supermodels and actors who rely completely on their looks to gain money and popularity. Years ago growing old was looked upon as gaining respect, maturity, knowledge, and wisdom. Today, growing old is looked upon as having wrinkles, aching bones, sickness and memory loss. The woman in this poem shares these fears and therefore is afraid to look into the mirror and face the reality that she is no longer a young girl. When she does finally look into the mirror it candidly reveals this reality to her.
The poem is told in the first person by a mirror as it watches a young girl turn into an old woman. Plath personifies the mirror with the qualities of being emotionless, truthful and critical, not cruel. It does not flatter; it faithfully shows whatever looks into it. Utilizing imagery, Plath stresses the physical aches and emotional pains one suffers in aging. The narrator is a mirror that reflects what it sees, thereby being a reflection of its environment. Utilizing metaphor and imagery, Plath describes a metaphysical “reflection”, the mirror is a lake with the image of a young girl, one who is aging right in front of him. The mirror describes the aging of the woman by saying, “in me she has drowned a young girl, and in me an old woman / Rises toward her day after day…” (lines 17-18). It observes a young girl mature and metamorphose into an elderly woman. The mirror is witness to the woman’s “tears…” (14) and to her “agitation of hands” (14). It realizes that this woman is suffering and that her body is growing worn. The woman is hurting physically, as well as emotionally.
Plath again uses metaphor to compare the woman to “a terrible fish” (18). The fish lives in the lake like the woman lives in the superficial world. The fish represents the reality of her true nature even though she has turned to “the liars, the candles or the moon” to escape it. By referring to the woman as a “terrible fish” (18), the mirror is giving a negative image of growing old. The adjective “terrible” describes the view of aging and how it is looked down upon. Therefore the poem agrees with the shallow truth that physical appearance and youth is so highly valued.
Plath describes the mirror as being godlike by saying it is “the eye of a little god” (5) and compares it to a lake. The mirror is godlike because it reflects life as it truly is and sees the reality of it while it rejects superficial truths. It reflects the face we keep to ourselves and never show to the world. It is also godlike because it holds a certain power over the viewer. It forces the viewer to show their true face. It is impossible for the viewer to hide who they really are like it is impossible for us to hide who we really are from God. The mirror is all seeing as God is all knowing.
By reading a critical source on this poem my analysis was expanded. The critic’s explanation of the poem helped me in helping me in forming my analysis. The author discusses the literal description of the mirror. She discusses the possibilities of what kind of mirror the poem is about. Since the poem is so metaphorical the reader does not think about the physical appearance of the mirror. The critic suggests that the mirror is adjustable, therefore it can be both horizontal and vertical to reflect the images described in the poem. This fits in with the implication “that a mirror adjusts to the viewer and becomes what she makes of it” (Richardson 194).
The author also discusses the imagery of