Where one writer and observer of the human condition shares what she’s reading, writing, and thinking…
And since you know you cannot see yourself
So well as by reflection, I your glass
Will modestly discover to yourself
That of yourself which you yet know not of.
– William Shakespeare (Julius Caesar)
There is no denying the appeal of reflective glass to humans. From the time we are old enough to recognize our own image, we are fascinated with the likeness of the self reflected in shadow, still water, and other flat, reflective surfaces. Pausing at traffic lights, we peer hastily into our car’s rear view mirror to check our appearance. Passing storefronts as we walk down the street, we glance sideways to catch our reflection in the glass. The urge to reconcile self-awareness and self-deception comes naturally to us, and we respond innately to the lure of the mirror. While there is undoubtedly a measure of vanity in gazing at one’s own reflection, we look more to become oriented with the elements of our countenance. We look to see the physical matter of our face and body and assess how we appear to the world, to confirm that our form and distribution of features are as we believe them to be in our minds, and to ensure all is as it was the last time we looked. We look for signs of our hidden carnal nature and to see if the wicked secrets and sinful desires we harbor have emerged from deep within to belie our observable moral surface. Subconsciously, perhaps, we look for assurance of our continuity and existence.
“Looking glass, what do you see?” I murmured. My neck was as white as the swans of Castelfiore and I breathed deeply, to cause the exposed area of my clavicle to lift and promote my breasts. “Do you see the corrupted heart of a sinner or the soul of a saint in the making?”
“I suppose it only sees what you show it,” said Don Vicente.
“Shall I show it more?”
But the mirror wouldn’t let her alone. Try as she might, shroud it in black lace from Seville, blow out the candles in the room, close her eyes – the mirror still gripped her. At last she could take no more, and she positioned herself in front of its harsh eye, and demanded the truth of it.
– Gregory Maguire (Mirror, Mirror: A Novel)
The allegorical complexity of mirrors and mirror imagery provides no limit to the mirror’s usefulness as a literary device. Gleaming brightly with the clarity of awareness and self-knowledge, blurred to suggest a distortion of truth or delusion, cracked to convey calamity or a tragically fractured identity, or horrifyingly empty to reflect a relinquished or lost soul, the mirror has served the imagination of writers for centuries. In nearly every genre of literature, the mirror has remained an intricate representation of identity and self-consciousness and has reflected oppositional themes of reality and illusion, candor and deception, logic and disorder, narcissism and self-loathing, symmetry and imbalance, and flattery and harsh indifference. Through mirrors we see our cognizant, social, “better” self and the natural world in which we live, while also glimpsing, and sometimes succumbing to, the darker, depraved image of our subconscious “second” self and the frightening, otherworldly realm in which it resides. It is these richly complex, magical, and often contradictory aspects of the mirror that continue to make it an irresistible and poignant symbol of identity intact and identity in crisis in tales of fantasy and fiction. Whether you accept, reject, fear, or embrace the mirror and what is reflected therein, it is possible, as E. T. A. Hoffmann’s narrator in “The Sandman” suggests, that “you will come to believe that real life is more singular and more fantastic than anything else and that all a writer can really do is present it as ‘in a glass, darkly.’”
Excerpts from “Masks, Manipulation, and Madness: The Imagery of Mirrors and Reflection in Literature”
by Michelle Arch
English 547: Topics in Comparative Literature
Presented at the 2010 Sigma Tau Delta International English Convention, St. Louis, MO
mirror – quotes and descriptions to inspire creative writing
If I could draw a rectangle upon the lake and raise it up to the sun, it would be the most perfect mirror for you.
The mirror is the original instant photograph, one that asks us to value the passing moment.
The mirror had a pretty patina upon its bronze frame, the glass made all the more charming by its black-freckles.
The mirror invites you to love yourself, to learn how inner beauty creates your most attractive self.
In the light of day the mirror made art from life, showing in its reflective motion the beauty of the everyday.
The prettiest of mirror images, as transient as any moment, shows the eternal beauty of your soul.
The mirror asks you to see your soul and the condition of your heart, to look past physical features. How do you look?
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