What are the most significant features of Sylvia Plath's "Mirror"?

The most significant features of Sylvia Plath's "Mirror" are the revelations of two important themes. The first is that a woman's fixation on her physical appearance enslaves her in a lifelong search for the fountain of youth. The second is that a woman's tendency toward self-deprecation results in the waste of any happiness she could have found in her own life.

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The most significant features of Sylvia Plath’s “Mirror” are the personification of the mirror; the metaphor in which that mirror compares itself to a lake, something that also reflects but which has a physical depth that a two-dimensional mirror lacks; and dramatic irony, created by the mirror’s absolute misinterpretation of the woman’s behavior and feelings.

The mirror is the speaker of the poem, and it has clear ideas about who it is. It is impressed by its own truthfulness and its lack of preconceptions, and it describes itself as “The eye of a little god, four-cornered” (line 5). The mirror even believes that it has a heart. All of these abilities—to think, to speak, to compare itself, to have a heart—they are all examples of personification.

In the second stanza, the mirror compares itself, via metaphor, to a lake, and it describes the woman who comes to look at herself day after day as “Searching [its] reaches” to figure out “what she really is” (11). The mirror continues to pride itself on its “faithful[ness],” and the mirror believes that the woman “rewards [it]” for this fidelity “with tears and an agitation of hands” (13, 14).

The mirror thinks that it is important to the woman because she values it for its truth-telling; in reality, however, the woman’s tears and wringing hands are likely the result of seeing herself growing old in the mirror and being upset about it. Because we understand this while the mirror, a character, does not, dramatic irony and tension are created.

The mirror describes the woman as having “drowned a young girl” within it—meaning that the young girl the woman once was has slowly receded from view as she ages—and the mirror says that “an old woman / Rises toward her […] like a terrible fish” (17–18). These descriptions seem, unbeknownst to the mirror itself, to convey the woman’s real feelings about the mirror or, more specifically, the truthfulness of the reflection she sees within it. She is not happy, and she returns to the mirror again and again not because she loves it, but because she hates what she sees.

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Sylvia Plath's poem "Mirror" reveals the dichotomy between women's need for self-acceptance and their tendencies toward self-deprecation. In its two stanzas, the personified mirror and its counter-identity, the lake, reveal their attempts to honestly reflect their female viewers, only to discover that women are never satisfied with their own personal appearances.

As is its duty, the mirror reflects exactly what it sees, assuring the viewer of its skills in accurate presentation without judgment of any kind.

I am silver and exact. I have no preconceptions.
Whatever I see I swallow immediately
Just as it is, unmisted by love or dislike.

However, the face that breaks the monotony keeps returning but never seems satisfied with what she sees. The mirror refers to itself as a lake into which her visitor stares deeply and with false hope:

A woman bends over me,
Searching my reaches for what she really is.
Then she turns to those liars, the candles or the moon.

Unable to accept her loss of beauty and youth, the woman prefers the safety of the false images produced by softer light. Unfortunately, the woman returns over and over again but never sees what she wants to see.

She rewards me with tears and an agitation of hands. ... In me she has drowned a young girl, and in me an old woman
Rises toward her day after day, like a terrible fish.

Her disgust at what she continually sees ultimately causes her downfall. The woman, representing most women, cannot accept the natural process of aging, of losing the physical glory of youth. As a result of her refusal to accept herself, what remains of her life is mired in sadness.

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Plath's "Mirror" has been widely studied for several literary devices including metaphor, personification, allusion and imagery. Each give suggestion at meaning.

Personification takes it's form in the direct metaphors of "I am silver and exact(alluding to a mirror)" and "Now I am a lake". In both objects, she choose to be reflection. As each metaphor develops, the mirror tends to reflect judgmental truth ("The eye of a little god"), while the lake seems to have the ability to change her:

In me she has drowned a young girl, and in me an old woman/Rises toward her day after day, like a terrible fish.

The malability of the lake shows the affect of time on the aging woman.

Imagery occurs in these lines:

Most of the time I meditate on the opposite wall.

It is pink, with speckles. I have looked at it so long

I think it is a part of my heart. But it flickers.

Faces and darkness separate us over and over.

It is important to remember that the speaker here is a mirror. Readers get the visual image of the non-stop image that the mirror sees because of its position in the room, yet faces  and the darkness of night appear highlighting the course of time which may feel monotonous.

Allusion to Plato's The Republic occurs in the line "on the opposite wall". This references an image of cave-dwellers who could see shadows on an opposite wall because of the light of fire.

The content of the poem is another aspect all together. When taken as a whole, these descriptions of mere objects are so intense and so specifically chosen that readers cannot help but notice the Narcissistic concept at work. Plath relished in the beauty of her poetry, but the intensity of a mirror's power to the human mind is something that must have struck her personally. When people look in mirrors they either grow conceit for the beauty they see in themselves, or the disappointment of imperfection. The latter is more likely Plath's perception with the convictions of truth she alludes to in the phrases "just as it is", and "only truthful" as she characterizes the mirror.

Furthermore, we see time at work in the end of each stanza which might mean she was anticipating the end of life. All of Plath's poetry is considered highly autobiographical and this poem is consistent with her life.

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