Sylvia Plath’s Poem ‘Mirror’ Essay Sample
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Sylvia Plath’s Poem ‘Mirror’ Essay Sample
In today’s day and age, it seems that some would do anything to erase a crease in their forehead, or a crinkle on the outskirts of an eye. Because time is something that we can never get back, growing older is an idea that many try to deny, especially in today’s society. Told from a mirror’s point of view, the mirror in the poem witnesses the truth of what it means to age. Sylvia Plath’s poem, Mirror, is a poem that deals with the truths and lies in the struggle a woman goes through when grasping the reality of aging. The poem is appealing due to the ways in which Plath successfully uses personification, figurative language, and diction in her writing to emphasize this idea, as well how the concept of keeping up appearances and aging are relevant topics for many women in modern day culture.
One of the many literary devices Plath utilizes in the poem is the reoccurring use of personification to a mirror. The entire poem is told in the perspective of a mirror and what is has been like for this mirror to watch a woman age. It is a great way to capture the reader’s interest and in addition, focus on the truth of the physical aspect of aging. Beginning in the third line of the poem, the mirror says “What ever I see I swallow immediately / just as it is, unmisted by love or dislike” (2-3). The mirror is personified by saying it swallows what it sees, meaning that it takes everything in because mirrors reflect all the things surrounding them. The mirror is again personified because it is given the feeling of not loving or disliking something. This line effectively demonstrates how the mirrors personality is untainted by looks or pre judgments. This quality of the mirror should be greatly appreciated by the woman of the poem because as we go on to read, the mirror only sees the woman superficially, whether that is good or bad, the mirror passes no judgment, it only sees what is right in front of it.
Unlike in today’s society, people often are inclined to base a considerable amount of their opinions on outward appearance. Take movie stars for example, the hours and hours that go into hair, make up, or outfit choice. It seems that the stunning actors and actresses of Hollywood constantly battle it out for ‘who wore it best’ or which actress really does have the most flawless skin? In the end, they are all either glorified or scrutinized by the general public based on his or her appearance. It’s refreshing that the mirror of the poem lacks the desire to even judge the woman outwardly, and instead, focuses on the honest truth of what it sees. The idea of truth is again seen when the mirror says, “I see her back, and reflect it faithfully” (13). Plath gives the mirror a characteristic of loyalty to the woman it reflects.
One may argue that although the mirror is said to be faithful, how is it a reliable confidante for the woman if it offers no advice when she searches the mirror for who she has become on the inside. From another standpoint however, this allows for individual soul searching and forces the woman to come to conclusions on her own. The technique of personification in Mirror is successful in showing how the mirror is not critical of what is in its’ reflection in any way, and views the woman in her most honest form.
Not only is personification used to reflect the truth of aging in the elderly woman’s image in the mirror, but Plath uses figurative language to confront the lies of aging as well. The usage of figurative language in the poem demonstrates how false deceptions are created and growing old is rejected. In line 10, the mirror says, “Now I am a lake. A woman bends over me / Searching my reaches for what she really is” (10-11). The metaphor of a lake is perfect for defining the truth and lies of aging. A lake has many different levels. The surface of a lake it what is seen initially. The sun’s reflection bounces off the surface, and swimmers relish in the warm water on a hot summer day. What is not initially seen of a lake is the depth to the very bottom. The bottom of a lake is cold and dark. Just like a lake, a mirror only exhibits what is on the surface. As the woman has aged, she no longer likes what she sees in the reflection of the mirror, and although it is the cruel reality of life, Plath’s metaphor of a mirror being a lake can be appreciated because to look inside one’s soul is of essence in deciphering who one is.
Another metaphor that can be found in the poem starts on line 12 when the mirror states, “Then she turns to those liars, the candles or the moon” (12). This use of figurative language of the poem addresses how growing old can be disguised for some time. The light that surrounds both candles and the moon is typically either dim or completely dark. Shedding light upon a subject means to shed light upon the truth and to see everything for what it truly is. If one chooses to stay in the dark, one objects him or her self to be sheltered from reality, just as the elderly woman shelters herself from the reality of aging. This metaphor can be appreciated because here again, Plath’s poem relates to today’s culture. Women especially seem to fear growing old. In order to counteract any signs of aging, many women turn to anti aging creams, or even the occasional (or not so occasional in some cases) Botox injection.
Just like the liars, the candle and the moon, these remedies only trick women into thinking they’ve defeated time itself and are still able to grasp onto their youthful appearance. Plath’s comparison of candle and moonlight to liars is genius. The straightforward honesty in her writing should be appreciated for the truth that it holds. A third example of figurative language found in the poem is a simile starting in line 17. The mirror says, “In me she has drowned a young girl, and in me an old woman / Rises toward her day after day, like a terrible fish” (17-18). The poem ending with the simile of comparing the woman to a fish does a fantastic job of tying in to the metaphor that the mirror is a lake. It should also be appreciated because of the mix of emotions that it evokes from the reader and further proving the woman’s constant battle with aging. When comparing the woman to a fish, it could be thought of as both amusing and a bit depressing.
Fish, to some, are creatures that are gruesome and slimy. It seems humorous, and a slightly over dramatic, to compare a fish to a human being. However, the comparison is also somewhat depressing because it comes across that the woman thinks she resembles an ugly fish in her old age. The figurative language of the poem is clear in describing the many truths and lies in the battle with aging.
The final literary tool that is effective in a positive way in Plath’s poem is her use of diction. Word choice can make a big impact on the way a piece of literature can move, or not move, a reader. The poem Mirror has many examples of diction that stress the anxiety the elderly woman feels in aging, which is a feeling many women can relate to. Plath’s skillful use of diction is seen in the poem in line three when she writes “Whatever I see I swallow immediately / Just as it is, unmisted by love or dislike” (2-3). The word unmisted sticks out because this concept relates back to the idea of the dealing with the truths and lies of aging. To be unmisted by love or dislike means to be untainted by any judgment or preconceived ideas. The mirror is one of the only things that does neither convey the truth of her aging and personality, nor criticize the woman for her outward appearance or her inner personality.
Another word of the poem that stresses this feeling is in line 13, Plath writes; “She rewards me with tears and an agitation of hands” (13). Agitation is a strong word used to describe the anxiety the woman feels due to her old age and withered appearance. Plath’s use of the word agitation can be admired because it gives the reader a vivid image of the elderly woman throwing her hands up in the air, as though time and youth have defeated her. A third word that makes the poem appealing and adds to the woman’s anxiety of aging would be the word rising in the last line of the poem. The mirror says, “Rising toward her day after day, like a terrible fish” (18). The word rise means to gradually get higher and higher, or to come closer and closer. This is a great way in describing how old age is in the process of catching up with the woman.
Gradually and slowly, time is getting the best of her and affecting her external appearance. Just as the diction in the poem all correlates to women and their response to aging, so do many of today’s make up brands and their slogans. Take for example MAC cosmetics, their slogan “Makeup for All. All Races. All Sexes. All Ages.” Focusing specifically on the ‘all ages’ part, cosmetic companies choose their words wisely, in this case to appeal to an older audience. MAC seems to be suggesting that one can be beautiful at any age simply by using their make up. Another example is from the popular make-up brand L’Oréal, their slogan being “Because you’re worth it.” focusing in on the word ‘worth’. A woman’s worth is the value she sees in herself, and because of the fact that the slogan has to do with make up, it seems that in order to feel that she has any worth at all, make up and appearances are essential. These kinds of slogans from cosmetic brands are the exact reasons woman feel agitated with the fact that the affects of aging are slowly rising up, or catching up with them.
The diction used in Sylvia Plath’s poem is only a result of how today’s society tells woman there is something they can do to save their youthful appearance. It is appealing how Plath seems to be relatively candid with her word choice, and her use of honest diction over powers any of the sugar coating that cosmetic corporations employ. Sylvia Plath’s poem, Mirror, is a poem that deals with the truths and lies in the struggle a woman goes through when grasping the reality of aging. The poem is appealing due to the ways in which Plath successfully uses personification, figurative language, and diction in her writing to emphasize this idea. In using the three previously stated literary techniques in a likeable way, Plath persuades the reader to develop an appreciation for the struggles that the elderly woman feels. Not only is aging and appearance an issue for the woman of the poem, but also for women around the world. For many, to be beautiful is to be young. Plath’s poem seems to argue that in everyway possible, enforcing no judgment based on superficial appearances as well as facing the truth of growing old. Readers of the poem Mirror, should appreciate Plath’s idea of looking past outward appearance and accepting that growing old happens.