A brief analysis of a poem by Sylvia Plath.
Plath doesn’t use any particularly verbose or sophisticated diction, but what is most notable about Plath’s Diction is that everything is packed with subtext and connotations. The syntax is not very complex, as said above, most likely because she is targeting an audience of younger women.
This poem is absolutely loaded with imagery. The poem is taken from the point of view of a mirror, supposedly observing the narrator’s angst objectively. The choice to use the image of a mirror provides a visual example of the central theme of struggle with self-image. The mirror describes its own personality as impartial, exact, and not cruel, only truthful. Whereas the outside world is full of pressures and judgment, the mirror attempts to represent a non-judgmental source of truth. Explaining what the mirror is not shows two things. First off, this emphasizes the mirrors personified perception of itself as truthful. Secondly, by Plath explaining how the mirror sees itself as “not cruel, only truthful,” she acknowledges the cruel nature of the outside world. The purpose of the first half of the poem is mainly to establish the mirror’s perception of itself as objective. After line 10, a shift in imagery as well as subject occurs. The second half of the poem supplies the imagery needed to understand the relationship between the mirror and the woman. Now the mirror is a “lake.” We are provided with the image of a woman bent over the lake, searching “for what she really is.” This is an allusion to the Greek myth of Narcissus, who died because he fell in love with his reflection in a pond. This image and its narcissistic implications lay down a focal point of “Mirror.” Also important is the image of the limited scope of the mirror’s perspective. This image of a small and square shaped piece of glass reflects its own lack of true understanding, both of the outside world, and of its true nature and purpose. It may think itself “the eye of a little god,” but in reality it is merely a reflection of the woman’s narcissistic capacity. You could say that the mirror itself in narcissistic and self-important.
The poem deals with themes of the importance of image, emotional aging, and the inevitable pain that comes with slowly losing our youth and beauty to age in a society holding such gender-role expectations concerning youthfulness and beauty. It is a portrayal of a woman’s struggle with her inner self, told from the point of view of her mirror. The entire poem is dedicated to a woman’s reflection and her perception of herself in a mirror. It could be argued that, to some degree, her own image is all she cares for. We see the mirror explaining how it is “important to her,” implying that what this woman thinks herself to be lies merely in her appearance. This expectation (and importance) of feminine self-image is perpetuated by our culture and its patriarchal institutions. The impact of such a state of mind is revealed at the end of the poem, where the irony of the mirror’s purpose is exposed. The mirror maintains that it is “not cruel, only truthful,” yet the mirror itself is ignorant of reality. The mirror knows only of what little it can see. The mirror’s ignorance is apparent in that it fails to understand that it is meaningless to her. The mirror is wrong when it explains how it is so very “important to her.” The mirror is not important to the woman, she is important to herself. All that matters is her own self-image, her beauty, her narcissism. The mirror is only “truthful” to the level that the woman deems it to be, it is just a tool through which she can perceive her ugliness.
Style: The tone is intense, heart-gripping, and personal, particularly to women because it is a theme that hits close to home. This seems to be targeted at a female audience, particularly young women. The poem itself is about a young woman struggling with self-image, a subject every girl can relate to. All women have been in a similar situation and felt similar emotions at some point in time, so this poem would be particularly striking and engaging, emotionally, to females. I think the fact that she is targeting mainly an audience of young women also fits her decision to avoid elevated language, so a girl at who reads this poem at any age can relate to it.