Form and Content
Voices in the Mirror is a full-length autobiography of an African American who achieved spectacular success in a number of fields that had previously been open almost exclusively to whites. Gordon Parks distinguished himself as a photographer, a painter, a journalist, a poet, a novelist, an author of nonfiction books, a musician, a composer, and a motion-picture director. He received more than fifty honorary doctorates and awards, including the National Medal of Art, which was presented to him by President Ronald Reagan in 1988.
Parks’s autobiography reads like an exciting novel, because he had such an eventful life, rising from the depths of poverty to the heights of fame and fortune. Because Parks was a photographer and a painter, he could not help writing in a visual, metaphorical style, with many vivid descriptions of people, places, and things. His book consists largely of a string of anecdotes intended to highlight different periods of his life.
The twenty-six chapters carry the reader in steady chronological order from Parks’s earliest childhood up until the death of his son Gordon Parks, Jr., in 1979. In an epilogue written when he was in his late seventies, Parks states that he still has a passion for living and still retains big dreams about future accomplishments.
The book that Voices in the Mirror most closely resembles is The Autobiography of Malcolm X (1965). Parks, like his eloquent and charismatic friend Malcolm X, grew up in poverty and lived in slums as a youth. He could easily have become a dangerous criminal, like the young Malcolm X, were it not for the fact that Parks possessed unusual artistic talent. After flirting with a criminal career, which he describes in interesting anecdotes, he became interested in photography.
The camera proved to be his salvation. It not only became a means to earn a good living and to achieve social status but also served as a “weapon” against the forces of racial bigotry and economic discrimination. Parks paints vivid word-pictures of conditions in the black ghettos during the 1930’s and 1940’s, when African Americans were restricted to the most menial occupations and could not even aspire to be taxi drivers or elevator operators, much less policemen, firemen, or construction workers.
In the epilogue to his autobiography, Parks writes that all his life he has been called “Mr. Dreamer,” “Mr. Striver,” and “Mr. Success.” These three nicknames characterize him effectively. Because of the strength instilled in his character by his devoted mother, Parks has exhibited an amazing degree of courage and self-confidence. He relates many anecdotes about his enterprising behavior. For example, without having any experience in fashion photography, he asked for a job taking pictures of the latest gowns for one of the most prominent designers in New York—and, largely because of his cockiness, he got the job.
Parks did all kinds of work with a camera during his long career. The biggest turning point came when he managed to get a job as the first African American ever to become a staff photographer for the...
(The entire section is 1296 words.)