Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The husband’s and wife’s meditations on mirrors and on the meanings of living without them raise issues about how people see and define themselves. The husband notes a need people have to observe themselves. However, both the man and woman find freedom in avoiding mirrors. He feels better not having to see himself after having an affair, and she, frustrated with her inability to lose weight, enjoys not catching sight of herself in a mirror in her bathing suit.

Beyond this, the wife notes how a mirror can function like a good luck charm or even a compass for finding oneself. In the absence of such a compass, the man and woman must find themselves in other ways. In the simplest sense, they learn to rely on touch rather than sight, for fixing their hair or shaving, for example. However, ultimately, they find themselves in each other instead. At first, this takes the form of noticing small things that the other cannot know without a mirror, for example when the wife notices that her husband has a smudge on his face for several days. Ultimately, the couple realize that they share some bond, like twins. In the final scene, they see themselves in each other’s eyes, literally becoming mirrors of each other.

Above all, the theme of mirrors is used to fashion the story as an affirmation of marriage. The story’s ending, in which the husband and wife for a moment, looking into each other’s eyes, feel as if they are under the skin of each other’s faces, offers a perspective on the value of marriage in forming the identity of the spouses. Not only is the story, then, about actual mirrors but also is about the husband and wife as mirrors of each other.

However, marriage is more complex than merely an opportunity for the completion and definition of each spouse. This final moment of revelation occurs right after the man has thought about how he and his wife are still sometimes strangers to each other after thirty-five years of marriage. He has lain awake wondering who his wife really is when their eyes meet. Marriage is affirmed not only through what it reveals to the spouses but also through the mysteries that remain between a husband and wife.