Sylvia Plath

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What is the main theme depicted in Sylvia Plath's "Mirror"?  

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physics223 eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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I believe that the central theme of this poem is about senescence. The beauty of this poem is that Plath uses personification through the mirror as a reflection of one's age. The mirror is unbiased:

I am silver and exact. I have no preconceptions.
Whatever I see I swallow immediately
Just as it is, unmisted by love or dislike.
I am not cruel, only truthful‚

The passage of time is shown by Plath in the following 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 part of my heart. But it flickers.
Faces and darkness separate us over and over.

Faces can only be seen when there is light, and darkness only appears when it is night. Countless days have passed as the mirror merely reflects what passes across it.

The mirror then reflects a woman looking at herself, assessing her countenance. As she ages, she relies on candlelight to hide her imperfections, as people view other people bathed in yellow light more favorably due to the phenomenon of color constancy. The moon, on the other hand, obscures her imperfections in darkness—but not from the mirror.

The woman in this poem is fixated with her own image:

I am important to her. She comes and goes.

She cannot, however, escape her own aging or her own death, and that is where the poem ends:

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

This chilling poem reflects the fixation many of us have with our own inescapable mortality.

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accessteacher eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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This is an excellent poem and one I always give to my AP English Literature and Composition group to analyse at the beginning of each year. To put it simply, this poem is about aging and its inevitability. However, what makes this poem unique is the novel way in which Plath explores this issue by assuming the persona of a mirror that is looked into by its owner as she follows the process of her aging. Note what the mirror tells us about its owner:

She rewards me with tears and an agitation of hands.
I am important to her. She comes and goes.

Note how the persona of the mirror speaks in a detached, curtailed and precise way, using short sentences that reflect the mirrors self-professed objectivity. It also presents us with the way that, for some people, we obsess over our appearance so much that we become slaves to our own reflection and process of aging.

Another aspect of this tremendous poem is the closing simile that represents old age as a "terrible fish":

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

Note here how this poem comments on such obsession: the danger of focussing so much on our aging is that we, like the woman in the poem, "drown" ourselves whilst young because we are not able to enjoy our youth whilst we have it, and we end up living a life dominated by the fear of the inevitable, pictured in the "terrible fish" of the old woman that she knows she will become.

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