Sample questions and sample answers Part B) Read the following poem and analyze it following the sequence of analysis you were shown in class: “Mirror” Part C) Read the following passage from “The Lady in the Looking Glass: A Reflection.” With reference to the text, comment on the author’s presentation of appearance vs. reality in the story. Sequence of Analysis: The poem, “Mirror,” by Sylvia Plath deals with themes of appearance vs. reality, vanity and depression. The speaker in the poem is a mirror hanging on the wall of a bedroom. Even though the mirror is “faithfully” reflecting the image of the girl it’s trying to describe, the girl despises what she sees in it. We can see the girl’s frustration after the point of view changes to that of a lake, which the girl “rewards” with an “agitation of hands” and “tears.” The tone of the poem seems objective and is definitely omniscient. We get the feeling that the words of the speaker, in this case a mirror, are going to teach us a lesson or tell us a story that is worthy of remembering. The imagery in the poem is straightforward and obvious to us as the language is quite simple. We get a sense of sadness in the line that reads “I am only truthful” because it seems to us that regardless of what the mirror does, it can’t change the way this woman sees herself. It doesn’t make us see a beautiful woman, actually it leaves the image of the woman herself open to interpretation. Nevertheless, the language the mirror uses to describe itself is gallant and noble. It proclaims to be a “truthful,” “little god” that “faithfully” swallows whatever it sees “immediately.” It is also coloured “silver” which could represent unconditional love. We also get a sense of permanence and perhaps consider the god-like qualities the mirror has between lines 5-9. In these lines we learn that the mirror meditates “on the opposite wall” that happens to be “pink,” a color often associated with femininity. However, the colour “flickers” and “faces and darkness” separate the mirror from the subject of the poem “over and over.” In these lines we get an image of an almost immortal narrator who has seen so many different faces and so many colours “flicker” on the wall that it invariably reconnects with the subject, a conspicuously unidentified woman, as time goes on. The image of the subject is therefore linked to what might possibly be different people it has encountered over the years. The simile used in line 18, “like a terrible fish” also affects us with its negative imagery. In this comparison, the fish represents something disgusting and ugly. It makes us feel as though this girl’s obsession with her looks will only result in one thing – inevitable ugliness. The images leave us depressed and feeling hopeless for the unnamed woman about whom the reflection speaks. In terms of auditory elements of imagery. The frequent caesuras help us to extract deeper meaning in the words of the narrator. Throughout the poem we can see many examples of caesura, most notably in line 15, when the reflection explains how important it is to the girl: “I am important to her. She comes and goes.” In this line the caesura makes us feel depressed because we can see just how trapped in her own appearance this vain young woman is. In terms of structure and form, the poem also has a great effect on us. The poem is written in Free Verse. The absence of a set rhyming pattern or a set meter within the lines is off-putting. The message is therefore cold and concrete. We are uncomfortable in reading the poem and are forced to deal with the jarring thoughts that such an atypical structure lends to us. Interpreting Selected Prose: “At last there she was, in the hall. She stopped dead. She stood by the table. She stood perfectly still. At once the looking-glass began to pour over her a light that seemed to fix her; that seemed like some acid to bite off the unessential and superficial and to leave only the truth. It was an enthralling spectacle. Everything dropped from her – clouds, dress, basket, diamond – all that one had called the creeper and convolvulus. Here was the hard wall beneath. Here was the woman herself. She stood naked in that pitiless light. And there was nothing.” In this selection we can see the woman from the story, Isabella, coming into her house from the garden outside. The passage comes at the end of the story and gives us the climax, or truth we have been speculating about all along. The passage is indicative of one of the major themes of the story, which is appearance vs. reality. When she is outside she is straightening roses and is seen by the world to be perfect. However, as she comes closer to the mirror we can see how the narrator describes her as becoming “larger and larger.” This is the first time in the story that the woman comes close to the mirror, the same place from where the narrator tells the story, as we can see when the narrator writes, “At last there she was.” It is clear that the narrator has been waiting for the woman to come close to the mirror for the duration of the story. We can feel this, too, because the narrator has made many assumptions about the woman’s life based on the lavish furniture and expensive clothing she wears and we want to see what she is like when she comes into the house, away from the public eye. Mirrors typically represent a window to one’s soul in literature, and it is apt to describe this mirror as looking into this woman’s soul from the inside-out. The at once speculative and objective narrator tells the whole story from the perspective of this mirror and sets up some rich symbolism in doing so. The outside of the house can be seen as Isabella’s outer appearance whereas the inside of the house can be interpreted to represent her thoughts and private emotions. At this point in the story, when she returns from her gardening outside, she stands in front of the mirror which pours “over her a light” that seems like “acid,” stripping away everything “superficial” leaving “only the truth.” It is at this point we are told that all the letters, relationships and love this woman must have possessed are actually mere assumptions. We learn that she is just a old, aged woman with nothing inside of her heart like we were led to believe based on her outer appearance. The story also finds strength in the theme of appearance vs. reality when we look at the life of the author herself, Virginia Woolf. Virginia Woolf was a complicated figure who wrote many complex works in her lifetime. The story is often seen as a fictional rendition of her own life as it is seen by others. People loved to assume and speculate about the nature of her work and about her private life, which was very annoying for her. Thus, we can assume that the woman, Isabella, is an alias for Virginia herself and the troubles she had with her depressing reality. Points to Consider: -Language from the piece is incorporated into the author’s own interpretation. -Showing knowledge about author background, so long as it is relevant, is encouraged as it demonstrates your fuller understanding of the themes and purpose. -Modal verbs, ie., could, may, might, can, are used to soften an opinion and display a writer’s objectivity (There are many different ways to interpret literature, yours is not the only correct way). - Groups of similar thoughts are separated into different paragraphs. If you start describing something in a paragraph that messes up the sequence of analysis, don’t worry about it. The sequence is merely a road map to help organize and present your ideas.