Sylvia Plath's "Mirror" is a poem which deals intimately with the idea of women searching for distinctions between the real self and the false. It uses the titular mirror as its central symbolic device.
Many of Plath's poems deal with the complexities of defining womanhood and existing in a female space. "Mirror" confronts this issue directly, dwelling on the challenges posed by every stage of a woman's life and by the intimate relationship between femininity and the mirror as a symbol of introspection.
Symbols illustrative of the themes of "Mirror" include:
- The mirror as water in reference to Narcissus.
- The imagined power of the mirror to judge and assess.
- The projection of past and future states on a current reflection.
In investigating the self through the medium of reflection, Plath confronts the idea that much of female self-assessment is distorted by frameworks erected by society. Her narrator fears what the future will bring, comparing the arrival of her future self, her old age and the loss of her youth, to a great and terrible fish rising toward the surface. The mirror's surface is a barrier between the woman and self-knowledge.
Plath's poem also deals with the human desire to reverse the aging process. It makes reference to lighting and setting as a way by which humans fool themselves into believing that they can maintain their youth.