The Challenges in Accepting the Truth in Sylvia Plath Poem Mirror and Facing Your Own Traumatic Past in the Movie Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind

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Accepting cruel truths is one of the most challenging things a human can do. The poem Mirror by Sylvia Plath is a timeless and valuable piece that shows the value of truth in its cruellest form.

Writer’s context

Sylvia Plath grew up in Boston, Massachusetts. She was born in October 1932. Plath grew up in a strict household, her father being especially harsh on her. Her family life influenced many of her poetic pieces. Growing up, Plath had shown that she was very passionate about writing from a young age. She kept a journal in her adolescence and published several poems in newspapers and magazines.

Sylvia Plath grew up in a time where women were expected to be housewives and have children, opposed to achieving their goals and ambitions.

In college, Plath struggled with depression and had attempted suicide. She struggled with these issues for a large part of her life. Despite this she managed to graduate in 1955.

She moved to England and met her husband, famous English poet Ted Hughes. They were married in 1956. Sylvia’s crumbling marriage and mental health was her influence behind many of her poems.

Historical context

Many of Plath’s poems are directly inspired by events at the time, such as the second world war, the women’s rights movement, grief, problems with her marriage and the overall misery she was experiencing.

The poem ‘Mirror’ opens up the idea of truth and times changing. A few possible historical connections this poem may have had were:

That the definition of being a woman was shifting in a new wave of feminine culture. At the time, women were just starting to understand their potential and fighting to achieve their dreams. Many people were having difficulties accepting this change, including women themselves. ‘Mirror’ also talks about the beauty standards of the 1950s. Many women were struggling to maintain their image and constantly felt pressured to be perfect and proper.

Mirror Overview

Mirror was written in 1961, about two years before Sylvia Plath’s suicide. Mirror is written from the perspective of a Mirror in a woman’s bedroom. It hangs on the wall and waits for the woman every day. It observes her each time she visits. The mirror in the poem shows the viewer exactly what they are with no bias, no preconceptions. The woman never seems satisfied by what she sees. As previously stated, Mirror is about the plain truth, projecting exactly what it sees. The mirror is not evil, not cruel but unbiased and honest.

This hurts the woman because she wants to see a lie. She spends so much time in front of the mirror, she could possibly be hoping something new will happen and she will be beautiful. Instead a young woman becomes old and this depresses her. She struggles to accept the truth of who she is.

There a several themes and ideas in this poem. But the theme that stood out to me the most was truth and how it can be concealed or accepted. Truth when it is raw and real is when it is at its harshest. Many people attempt to sway from the truth or cover it up and bury it away.

“A woman bends over me, Searching my reaches for what she really is. Then she turns to those liars, the candles or the moon. I see her back, and reflect it faithfully. She rewards me with tears and an agitation of hands. I am important to her. She comes and goes.” This quote from the poem means that the woman looks for a better, more dishonest truth by using the soft, flattering light from the candles or the moon to see a more beautiful version of herself.

But she knows that this is not the truth and she is only covering it up with lies. The mirror knows this too, but the mirror knows the woman will always come back to it. The line ‘She rewards me with tears and an agitation of hands.’ is emphasizing the fact that the woman is unhappy with what she sees.

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Literary techniques

Mirror’s most notable literary technique is personification. A mirror cannot typically think or feel. In the poem the mirror speaks in a first-person point of view and tells the story from its perspective. It observes the woman like a “little god”, which is a metaphor for being able to see all but having limitations to this.

This is because the mirror is still stuck to the wall, with no way of directing a situation or scenario appearing before it.

Imagery is an obvious technique in this poem. It describes the woman, the reflectiveness of a lake, her bedroom and the mirror itself.

Why is it timeless

Mirror is a timeless piece because it can relate to our modern-day issues in society. Social media can help people project themselves in a way that makes it seem like their life is perfect, but this is not the truth. Mirror can also be compared to other films and art pieces because it has a theme that re-occurs in many modern texts.

Second text overview

My second text is the film “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.”, Directed by Michel Gondry. Eternal Sunshine is set in 2003-2004, in gloomy New York. This film is about two characters named Joel and Clementine who meet and fall in love. They are happy for a while.

But the couple eventually break up, fighting over small things and not being able to communicate or understand each other anymore.

Their separation is painful and especially hard for the character, Joel, to accept. Clementine is overly spontaneous & reckless and wants to move on and forget as quickly as possible. She decides to have a procedure done where all existing memories of Joel are erased.

When Joel discovers this, he is heartbroken and lost. He can either accept the truth of what has happened and try to move on, or he can hide the truth and bury it where he can no longer find it.

Joel decides to do the latter and also get the procedure done. He feels his only option is to pretend it never happened, rather than face his problem. Joel decides he wants to live a happy, unknowingly dishonest life.

The film shows majority of its scenes in flashbacks through Joel’s memory whilst he is unconscious and being operated on. Joel lives through these memories again during this time and realises he does not want to forget Clementine, he wants to accept it, although it is too late. Joel wakes up with no memory of Clementine ever existing.

The film is in the drama category as it focuses on love and tragedy. Eternal Sunshine and Mirror are both pieces that appeal to older rather than younger audiences. They handle harsh, scary topics that we face in our reality every day and are easier to relate to when you have had more life experience and pressure put on you.

One of the most noticeable film techniques in this movie is colour. Throughout the film we see Clementine’s hair change colour many times. This represents her spontaneous and unfixed nature. Although never actually mentioning this in the film, the colours are metaphors for Clementine’s state of mind. In Joel’s memories her hair is brightest and most vibrant when she is her happiest and content with life. We see it begin to fade once things go downhill and eventually her hair becomes blue, symbolising that theme that occurs both in Mirror and Eternal Sunshine that is misery and loss.

The film is considered an art piece and uses many unique and powerful scene transitions as well as music, weather and of course, the characters, to set the tone of the scene.

I chose this film because it is different and not like any other film I had seen before. It explored the scary parts of life in a metaphorical, artistic and beautiful way. The film ends with the couple finding each other again and learning about the truth of what happened between them, but instead of running away scared from this truth or trying to cover it up, they decide to face it head on and try again. On the surface, you may not understand why and how this film could relate to Mirror by Sylvia Plath. But see it like this:

The ‘mirror’ in Eternal Sunshine is Joel’s memories. They do not show only the pleasant aspects of his relationship with Clementine, but also the most hurtful and upsetting challenges they endured. A spotless mind is an obliviously blissful mind… but there is no truth in a spotless mind. There is no covering up the bad stuff, our memories show it to us vividly. Like a mirror shows flaws.

Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind is an important film that artistically appeals to many audiences and should be viewed by anyone who wants to see life in a new perspective.

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