Feminism is undeniably one of major themes in her poetry. The following essay will also be discussing the feminist writing style of Sylvia Plath, specifically as presented in her poem – “Mirror”. An ambitious woman writer, Sylvia Plath was living in an era that defined a woman’s role in a male dominated society. She felt imprisoned in this society. The styling that has led to the continuity of her art and its relevance to society can be attributed to many factors and techniques common among her poetry (SAT, 2008).
“Plath has been considered a deeply honest writer, whose ceaseless self-scrutiny has given a unique point of view to psychological disorder and to the theme of the feminist-martyr in a patriarchal society.” (Liukkonen, 2008)
“Mirror” emphasizes on a number of aspects and issues such as women go through despair and loneliness. Freedman discusses Plath’s use of the mirror as a symbol of female passivity, subjugation, and Plath’s own conflicted self-identity caused by social pressure to reconcile the competing obligations of artistic and domestic life.
“Mirror” narrates the interactions with a narcissist woman. However the woman is probably Sylvia Plath herself as at the first stanza, first sentence of the poem; it states clearly that “I am silver and exact.” (Plath, 1961). Silver is the ambiguity of Sylvia. This woman also keeps on searching her reflection whether in the mirror or the lake. The “Mirror” boasts, “I have no preconceptions.” (Plath, 1961). The first five sentences of the first stanza are to proclaim that the woman in the poem is always that truthful as well as faithful. It is related with Plath’s background story. For instance, Plath could have accepted the fact of Ted Hughes’ unfaithfulness and have blamed herself for the declining of her beauty. As a result, she wrote “Mirror” to describe the pain of an aging woman from the liars of guys and the feeling of a beauty-declining woman.
The “Mirror” then reports what it usually does: it reflects the “pink, with speckles” on the “opposite wall.” (Plath, 1961) Here, Plath uses a pink colour wall to represent her young age. Joshua also agree with this statement, where he comments about “”It is pink, with speckles”, and a connection to a freckle-faced child is apparent, implying blemish-free freshness and the mirrors own youth” (Newtown, 2009). Normally, green would be used instead to represent young. Anyway, the “pink” might come from term of “pink of health” and this colour has represented the femininity. This is justified because in the next line ‘I have looked at it so long I think it is a part of my heart’ (Plath, 1961), it mentions that it has gazed at that wall for a long period. It is saying that in her entire life, she has been expected to act like a female and she has been doing it for so much so now she thinks it must be part of her. “She is the woman as male-defined ideal or as the ideal manqué, the woman who desires to remain forever the “young girl” (Freedman, October,1993). The preceding lines “Faces and darkness separate us over and over.” (Plath, 1961), has expounded the despair of loneliness and misery of her come-and-gone relationship, which she never acquire the fruition of a soul- satisfying true love.
In the second stanza, again the woman search for her reflection from the lake. But this time, it portrays a phenomenon where woman denies the reality about her physical appearance. The poem says: “Now I am a lake. A woman bends over me. Searching my reaches for what she really is.” (Plath, 1961). The woman is unhappy with her appearance and evades from it as she could not accept the reflected appearance of her. It is further explained where it says:” Then she turns to those liars, the candles or the moon.” (Plath, 1961). She keeps herself away from truth of the reflection but preferred to believe the sweet talks and the praises of the moon or candles. In this case, moon or candles might refer as those people who deceive her, praising how gorgeous she is, but in fact she is no longer. However, she is still enjoyed living in those liars or should say she choose to believe those lies. Here arise another feminist issue, which is woman always chooses to accept what is fake but as long as it is worth to believe, rather than to face the reality, the truth or the facts. Just like Sylvia Plath, she refuses the fact that in her time where women were still need to do those traditional roles which were cook, clean, and care. Eventually, she has caused too much stress and tensions in the fighting of her rights, and eventually she committed suicide in 1963.
Anyhow, the woman is always being reflected “faithfully” for which the lake would expect gratitude. However, it is often rewarded with “tears and an agitation of hands” (Plath, 1961). This clearly shows how reluctant, dissatisfy and helpless for a woman to accept the faithful report, yet the mirror or lake is still very important to her. “Mirror” discusses the importance of itself in a woman’s life. In “Mirror” for instance, we find a poem of two stanzas where the entire second stanza preoccupies itself with a woman and her relationship to her mirror, which we come to see is really the woman’s relationship to the view of herself.(SAT, 2008) Freedman stated that for many women writers, the search in the mirror is ultimately a search for the self, often for the self as artist (Freedman, October,1993). “I am important to her. She come and goes.” (Plath, 1961), this sentence shows that Plath was always looking into the mirror to search for herself. She struggled from an identity crisis of sorts and while gazing the reflection in the mirror, it could have to deal with her searching for herself. Another point of view will be: the woman indulges herself with hope that she wishes to see herself to appear young and beauty again in front of mirror or lake, that why she keeps on “coming and going”. However she has disappointed again and again. It clarifies that women do care about their appearance a lot. Joshua also agreed with this statement, where he wrote “The mirror is important to the woman, and yet recognizes that she comes and goes as she pleases” (Newtown, 2009).
This idea is further explained when darkness invade into the woman’s life. “Each morning it is her face that replaces the darkness.” (Plath, 1961). As mentioned above, the darkness represents the depressions, the loneliness. As day passes, her youth declines and the figure of her age increase. The woman is despair and unhappy with her life. This is because she has no one to love her and her life is at the end point where she realizes her youth is passed and yet she got nothing but a failure marriage. In short, the idea here is the feeling of a woman with a series of unsuccessful love who had poured in so much time; so much hope but eventually never obtains a fair output whereby she also lost her beauty. It is rather a complicated feeling for a woman when she could not get justified with her efforts in maintaining the relationship.
The idea is explored further in the last two lines, where it says, “In me she has drowned a young girl, and in me an old woman / Rises toward her day after day, like a terrible fish” (“Mirror” 633). The woman in the poem is no longer a young, beautiful woman; she is aging, and in the woman’s eyes that is a “terrible” thing. (SAT, 2008) The woman in the mirror is no doubt ageing and it is believed that the mirror has accompanied her since young age, observing her growth, and reflecting her withers and languishes to an old one. The last line which describes the woman: “rise towards her day after day like a terrible fish” (Plath, 1961) could hint to the woman is very anxious as she is now like a terrible fish. A terrible fish could be further explained as a woman who has lost her value and no one will concern about her just like a dead fish and the feeling is pretty terrible. The phrase “like a terrible fish” further enhances the idea of rebellion. Women’s psyche does not merely deal in fairness and beauty; it will be “terrible” when their rights are trampled with no consideration.
In conclusion, Sylvia Plath started her feminist writing because, in her time, the society treated women as objects as if they had no mind. Besides, she was very oppressed by men or more specify her husband. With this “Mirror” she reflected her despair feeling, the unfairness of the society where women were always dominated by men and also grieves with her declining beauty. With her unique literary style, she often has the themes of feminist criticism in her poetry and “Mirror” is no exception to the body of her work that remains a relevant part of our literary heritage today. (SAT, 2008)