Test Sample Answers

Sample questions and sample answers
Part B) Read the following poem and analyze it following
the sequence of analysis you were shown in class:
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
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.