Furthermore, the social assigned roles on women also suffocate women’s quest for identity. Women, during the 50s, were expected to get married and be a housewife – have babies, take care of the mundane household chores and serve their husbands. Yet, Plath did not want to conform to all these expectations constructed by the society. She yearned to be a writer and such desire inside her is rebellious to the traditionally assigned role of women. The poet draws the similarity between the social expectation on women and mirror’s mistaking the wall as its heart. In the first stanza, the mirror mistakenly believes that the pink wall “is a part of my heart” because “[it] ha[s] looked at it so long”. Here, the mirror represents the woman in the poem while the wall stands for the society. When we “look” at the society longer and deeper, we start to see the society teaches us how we should behave. For example, we were taught that boys should like blue and girls should like pink. Therefore, the mistaken heart is also a symbol of the social imposed identity on women while the true self is the woman’s real heart. The conventional idea of how men and women should act has long been here and sometimes we believe that they are right and true. The traditional image of women turns into an obstruction in the woman’s search for identity, as she believes that ‘housewife’ and ‘child bearer’ are the only titles she owns. Plath believes that only “faces” and “darkness” can “separate” her and the society, in other words, break through these stereotypes. When a woman is given another face, such as a man’s one, she is no longer bounded by the assigned roles of women. Under the circumstance of complete “darkness”, we cannot see each other and hence, all the presumptions of how we should act are gone. By limiting women’s identity only as housewives, it also hinders women from taking a step forward to figure who they want to be.
Another important factor that obstructs women’s journey to discover their identities is men. The woman in the poem does not only search for her identity through her reflection from the mirror, she also “turns to those liars, the candles or the moon”. Candles and the moon are often associated with romance because of candlelight dinner and moonlight walk. Even though both candles and the moon are luminous, they do not give out constant and bright light: candle’s light flickers and the moon reflects the sunlight for its luminosity. Women turn to men, who are portrayed as a figure of authority and power, to search for their identities are in fact looking for men’s confirmation. In the 50s and 60s, people were accustomed to seeing women as men’s property. Most men back then viewed women as object to satisfy their sexual desires. Hence, turning to men only proves women’s sexuality without constructively develop other possible identity of women. According to Plath’s biography, she found out about Hughes’ infidelity and wrote Mirror in 1961. Plath was lied to, hurt and abandoned by Hughes. In such an unhealthy relationship, turning to the deceiving men to figure out your self-definition and self-understanding is not helpful, if not futile.
Last but not least, the mirror and the woman herself also hamper her will to find her true self. The poem portrays the persona as both the mirror and the woman. In the first line of the poem, “I am silver and exact”, the word “silver” is a word play of the poet’s name – Sylvia. Therefore, both the mirror and the woman are the poet herself. By using the mirror imagery, two images or selves are created: the real one and the reflection in the mirror, the true self and the society assigned one. The duality of self in the poem parallels Plath’s double being in her life. “The mirror” is the self she presented to the society. As a woman, she was “exact” – well disciplined and met all the requirements to be the ideal woman. As a poet, she was the “little god” of poetry and “truthful” in reflecting the world through her words. Yet, under the mask of the well put-together Plath lies a creative, autonomy and identity seeking self. The dual images often confuse the woman who is exploring her true self and become an obstacle in her way of self-discovery.
Furthermore, the woman also has a heavy reliance on the mirror for the reflection as she visits the lake “every morning” and the lake is “important to [the woman]”. The mirror claims that it is fair and never judgmental. Nonetheless, it is people who judge themselves all the time. Purely looking at the two-dimensional reflections makes women only focus on their physical appearance and neglects the depth of their inner self. Through only considering her identity in one light – the mirror – and assuming that there is only one true self instead of acknowledging that humans are multifaceted, she is only searching for her true self from one point of view. Therefore, she is also limiting herself of other possible way to pursue her true self.
Overall, the melancholy and bitterness of Mirror illustrates the struggle between the woman’s true self and the external factors that suppress her quest for identity. Her heavy reliance on reflector – the mirror and the lake – symbolizes her desperate desire to look for her true self and her inner psyche. Unlike Plath, many women in the world failed to recognize their identity and only lived a life that constantly fulfilling others’ expectations. In the 21st century where people look for gender equality, women’s quest for true self are not as suppressed as before. Yet, there are still some stereotypes and conventional ideas that women have to follow, hindering them to gain true autonomy and decide what they want to be.