Style and Technique
Carol Shields uses the central symbol, the mirror, to show meaning in a marriage that the story’s details make seem typical. The piling up of mundane details about the ordinary characters contrasts the revealing details from the characters’ contemplation of mirrors and the mirror-free state.
The details the man and woman remember of their thirty-five years of married life portray the couple as extremely ordinary. They are political moderates and members of the middle class. The lack of names for the characters leaves them with a type of anonymity that suggests that they could be anyone. Even the location of the summer home—Big Circle Lake—has a generic sound. The location is left vague so that this story could take place anywhere in Northern America.
The contrast of mundane and revealing details shows not only that meaning can be found in people and events that could be easily overlooked because they are so common but also that the most ordinary lives are filled with meaning. The man’s thought that most of his friends have sacrificed something suggests that each has a story filled with significance.
The second-person point of view contributes to the generic feel of the characters and keeps the reader from forming an emotional connection with those characters. The direct address of the narrator to the reader accentuates that a story is being told and that the narrator and the reader are interpreting the information provided. This use of point of view separates the reader from the characters in the story by reminding readers that they are not being given direct access to the characters’ thoughts but are instead having their access to material mediated by the narrator.
Although both the husband and the wife reflect on mirrors and on marriage, they never discuss their thoughts with one another. Their separate but parallel reflections support the theme of marriage containing mystery and secrets at the same time as it allows couples to mirror each other.
The notion of reflection, in both its literal and figurative forms, is explored through the characters’ thoughts. The story’s name, “Mirrors,” suggests that it itself is a type of reflection of the events it records.