Womens Quest For Identity in Sylvia Plaths "Mirror".

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Yukie Kwok

Suzanne Wong

ENGE 1320

27 Feb 2013

Women’s Quest For Identity in Sylvia Plath’s Mirror

        No matter who you are, where you are from and how old you are, you have that burning desire to find your identity and self-understanding, because you want to know your purpose and what you want in life. You may run into various difficulties and hindrances during the search for the true self. Plath’s Mirror displays a woman who tries to figure out “what she really is” by looking at her reflections from an honest household mirror and a reflective lake. Not only does she see her own reflection from the mirror, she also sees how the society, men, and most importantly herself get in her way in search for her identity and self-definition.

        The society suppresses women’s urge to figure out their identities in two ways: the overemphasis on physical beauty and the imposition of domestic role on women. It is well perceived that the younger and the more beautiful the woman is, the more worthy and valuable she becomes. However, when a woman starts to grow old and lose her fairness, her value decreases as well. In the poem, beyond merely looking at her reflection, the woman “has drowned a young girl” in the lake. The “young girl” refers to the younger self of the woman and the death of the young girl symbolizes the loss of her beauty and youth. A woman’s loss of beauty and vibrancy also symbolizes the loss of the ability to find her true self. The woman in the poem is simply trying to satisfy the society-defined ideals but not looking for her true identity. When the woman looks at her reflection, she realizes that she ages and she is not as pretty as she was. She feels worthless and distressed and “rewards [the lake] with tears and an agitation of hands” as she is taught that looks alone constitute to one’s position and identity in the society. In her reflection in the lake, “an old woman/[r]ises toward her day after day, like a terrible fish”. The poet uses the image of “a terrible fish” to invoke a shock in readers since such image is dehumanizing as the society only associate one’s identity with the superficial idea of physical beauty. The use of “terrible” also creates a dark and monstrous quality to it. The “old woman”, possesses wrinkly skin and an ugly appearance similar to the “terrible fish”, clings to the past. The “terrible fish” which opens its mouth at the lake surface and gasps for air resembles the woman who struggles to leg go of her long lost youth and beauty as they are both looking for something outside the lake. The social expectation of woman’s unchanging beauty and eternal youth erases the true meaning of women’s identity and life goals.

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         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 ...

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