In “Mirror,” who is the speaker? What is the central purpose of the poem, and by what means is it achieved?

In “Mirror,” Sylvia Plath makes the mirror speak for itself in the first stanza. In the second stanza, the mirror becomes a lake but continues to speak. The poem's central idea is a lack of self-acceptance and how it can blind people to the truth that a mirror shows clearly.

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The speaker in “Mirror” by Sylvia Path is, in the first stanza, a mirror hung on a wall. This mirror is exact and shows precisely what it sees. It spends much of its time looking at the opposite wall, but “Faces and darkness separate us over and over.” The idea in this stanza is that a mirror shows what is—nothing more, nothing less. The person who looks in the mirror, the poet implies, is the one who distorts the image according to their own preconceived notions. Further, in this first stanza the interruptions in the mirror's meditations on the opposite wall might suggest the constant distractions and interruptions of life.

In the second stanza, the mirror becomes a lake. Still speaking in the first person, the mirror/lake describes a woman bending over it, trying to see who “she really is.” She is often deceived, the speaker implies, by liars. The speaker, however, again shows only what is; it reflects faithfully. Apparently, however, the woman does not want to see. She cries and tries to disrupt the image with her hands. Yet she keeps coming back, searching for truth. She seems to have been coming to this mirror/lake for a long time, first as “a young girl” and then as “an old woman.” She does not like her appearance now. She sees “a terrible fish,” something ugly.

The poem, then, revolves around the central idea of self-acceptance or even more so, perhaps, a lack thereof. A mirror shows truth, but there is much that blocks people from seeing and accepting that truth, especially about themselves. Shadows and darkness cover the soul and prevent people from seeing clearly. Further, people don't always like what they see in the mirror. They would rather be lied to. They cannot face themselves, and as time passes, they come to despise themselves even more as their bodies change and they grow old.

The technique of using the mirror as the speaker is effective, for it provides a necessary separation and objectivity that allows readers to see the central idea clearly. If the woman were the speaker, her voice would not be trustworthy, for she would be caught up in her own lack of self-acceptance. The mirror shows the truth in the poem just as it does when it hangs on the wall or reflects from the water.

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