Summary

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“Mirrors” is told in second person. The narrator explains to the reader the thoughts of a man and woman about their thirty-five-year marriage. Their contemplations center on the symbolic meanings of mirrors and what banning them from their summer home has meant over the years. The action consists of the revelations of the characters. The story includes many details about what has happened to the couple over the thirty-five-year period but does not contain any action beyond their memories and observations.

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The story opens with the husband thinking about how many of the people he has known have sacrificed something—television, sugar, neckties. His friends have the idea that making a sacrifice will improve them in some way. He and his wife have sacrificed mirrors in their summer house; for two months of the year, they have rejected what the husband perceives as a basic human need to observe themselves. The wife even removes the mirror from her compact when they go to the house.

When asked by friends how he manages to shave, the man replies that he does it by feel. The woman does her hair and makeup by feel also. The man has watched her put on her lipstick so many times that he sometimes wants to stretch his mouth the way she does when he is watching her; this is one of many details in the story that show the husband and wife mirroring each other in both literal and figurative ways.

The man’s meditation on his life is triggered by his retirement a week earlier from his management consulting company. His wife has been a housewife and volunteer, and they are described as being extremely typical except for their rejection of mirrors for the summer.

After the introductory material sets the scene, the story jumps back in time to explain how the man and women decided not to have mirrors in their summer home. The couple bought the cottage when they were newlyweds and childless. They spent weeks cleaning and fixing it. After shopping for a mirror and not finding one they liked, they decided to go without. The decision was, then, made somewhat by chance.

Although the two thought they knew each other well before marriage, working quietly together on the cottage helps them get to know each other better. The husband has a moment when he wants to tell his wife that working hard all day and waking up in the morning with her is just what he has always wanted. At the end of the summer, they see their reflections in a mirror at a restaurant. They are surprised not to recognize themselves but are pleased by what they see.

The story then jumps to a later summer, when the children are six and eight. The daughter looks for a mirror before remembering that there are none in the cottage. This incident triggers for the wife the thought that at one time new purses contained rough mirrors wrapped in tissue paper. She thinks they were like good luck charms or like compasses for finding yourself.

During a later summer, the husband is glad there are no mirrors. He has had an affair and is too ashamed to see himself. His wife contemplates mirrors while worrying about her husband’s possible infidelity. She is reassured by noting the simplicity of mirrors—only glass and silver are required to make one. Because the construction is so simple, a mirror can be constantly renewed. If the glass breaks, it can be replaced. When the mirror gets old, it can be resilvered. Like a mirror, a marriage, also made of two parts, can be renewed.

Returning to the story’s present time, the husband reflects that his children seem to envy him for having such a settled life with a long marriage, old friends, and a paid mortgage. However, his life is not as settled as it seems. He and his wife sometimes seem like strangers to each other, and he still has doubts about many things. For example, he wonders about going without mirrors. He finds this sacrifice, made on a whim, to be inconvenient and even childish.

The story ends with the husband and wife looking at each other, seeing themselves in the other’s eyes, and, as the narrator perceives it, becoming each other for a moment; each is the mirror of the other.

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