Bhawani Shankar Adhikari (Ph.D.)
Lecturer of English (Nepal Sanskrit University,
Valmiki Campus, Exhibition Road, Kathmandu,
This research has explored the role of fear and its outcome in the quest for beauty in Sylvia
Plath’s poem “Mirror”. Beauty has been defined as the source of power as well as the cause of
the annihilation of the entire civilization. Internal beauty has a superior role to external beauty.
The persona of the poem has been found engaged in the quest for external beauty even in her
old age which is unnatural and worthless. Extreme fear has acted negatively and devastatingly
to ruin the life of the persona of the poem. It has led the speaker of the poem to the horrified,
terrified, scared, and depersonalized condition which compelled her to commit suicide.
Whatever the search it maybe with fear, it must be focused on the balance form of fear to
maintain and achieve the goal in life. Otherwise, fear’s role and its effect tend to be detrimental
and destructive to reaching the destination of keeping beauty, peace, and harmony in life. It has
been analyzed how fear has acted and affected the life of Sylvia Plath due to extreme fear in
beauty’s quest in old age.
Keywords: depersonalized, fear, detrimental, quest, suicide
Fear is defined as a psychological instinct. It is a natural one. Animals have fear in its natural
form which is different from human fear. Birds and other animals reflect their fear via their
body’s selection as birds fly through the human voice. Sensational knowledge is found in
animals’ fear. However, fear emerges through Psychology in human beings. in this
sense, man is directed, conducted, and controlled by psychological fear as it is
claimed:” life is directed, conducted and controlled by fear (Subba, cover page)”. Fear is
identified through Consciousness and knowledge in day-to-day life. fear is the outcome
of knowledge and consciousness.” fear exists only with knowledge” (Subba-47). Fear
functions in different roles in day-to-day life. Fear is the main cause of making errors
and conquering fear is the path to gaining wisdom (Russell 1373). There are various
kinds of fears- fear of Gods, fear of ghosts, fear of committing sins, fear of superstition,
fear of making mistakes, fear of losing health, fear of lacking beauty- and a person does
not like to lose beauty. Sylvia Plath doubts personal beauty and seeks it with different
objects. Beauty is power and it is of two kinds- internal beauty and external. Internal
beauty Is character, excellence, skills, and knowledge. Internal beauty helps us to
survive and to become successful in life. It is a kind of power to enhance the inner
quality of life. Internal and external beauty will be rare to achieve. It is called ‘inside’ and
‘outside’ beauty. (Sontag 300).
Beauty is not always taken from the positive side. Helen of Troy caused 10 years of
battle and brought disaster to the world. Padmini, the most beautiful woman of the
Rajput family had to burn down herself after the war was developed from her side.
(Devkota, 332-338) And she had to go to the Muslim king but she burnt herself to death.
Helen of Troy’s Trojan War and Padmini's Battle have generated fear in the psyches of
all in the world. In this sense, beauty lurks and hides the fear within its quality. The war
took place due to Helen’s and Padmini’s beauty being captured them. The power of
beauty invites risk, death, danger, and misfortune as has been displayed in the life of
Helen and Padmini. Likewise, Medusa, the chief of the three Georgian sisters was the
most beautiful one in the great mythology. The lesson states that she was the most
beautiful maiden, especially famous for her hair but she violated the temple of Minerva.
she was arrogant in her beauty and was Kicked in the temple. As a result, she was
transformed into a serpent and made her face so terrified that whoever looked at it
turned into stone. She was assassinated by Perseus. Her face retained its power of
turning anything into stone, even after her death. Her dead body with hissing serpents
was placed in a temple as a punishment for her beauty’s pride. The poem “Medusa” has
described the scenes which ended the mortal life of Medusa Who has pictured as
sympathetic in its description of the beautiful legendary girl Medusa who was caused
and charged into an ugly and horrible woman. (Bogam 380-81). This plight of Medusa
reveals that the power of beauty leads to disaster, destruction, horror fear, and
humiliation. Hence, beauty must be taken with care, awareness, and effectiveness with
the vision of its pros and cons. Fear dwells and hides in the traits of beauty.
Regarding Halen, “In the Homeric poems, she is the surprisingly beautiful wife of Menelaus, and
her abduction by Paris led to the Trojan war (Lohani 338)”. It displayed the disaster of Helen’s
beauty to draw the Trojan war for 10 years.
Padmini was a beautiful Rajput queen, A Mewar, wife of Ratna Singha. Enchanted by the talks
of her beauty, Alladin Ahilji attacked Mewar in order to achieve her. The Rajputs were defeated
and Padmini burned herself to death, before falling into the hands of the Muslim king
(Lohami338). Padmini’s beauty became a kind of curse in her life. Her beauty ruined her and
she turned out to be the victim of her own charming personality.
Beauty has been regarded as the source of power and glamour in mortal life. The research is
A. What is the effect of beauty in the personal life of Sylvia Plath reflected in the poem ‘mirror’?
B: How has fear acted in the poem “Mirror”?
The general objective is to discuss the role of beauty in life but the specific objective is:
A: To explore the effect of beauty in the personal life of the poetess Sylvia Plath as revealed in
the poem “Mirror”.
B: To investigate the fear’s role as it has acted in the poem “Mirror”.
The research has been carried out in the detailed analysis of the poem “Mirror” by Sylvia Plath.
Fearism has been adopted as the lens to analyze the poem. ’Mirror’ is taken as a primary text.
The secondary sources are taken from other journals, magazines, and articles as supporting
Significance of the Study:
The significance of the study dwells to create awareness and consciousness in dealing with fear
and beauty. It has shown the connection between fear and beauty in which the role of fear has
opened how beauty has to be dealt with. Beauty has not turned out to be always positive since
it hides risks and fear. The invisible aspects of fear lead to the entire annihilation of life if the
beauty is mishandled.
This research has been confined to the textual analysis of the poem ‘Mirror’ by Sylvia Plath. It
has only been observed from the perspective of fear and its role seen in the poem.
The poem “Mirror” by Sylvia Plath has been studied through psychoanalysis. It has been
interpreted as the reflection of the emotional condition of the speaker in a metaphorical
personification, imagery, and ironical form. (https://www./csue.org). It has presented that the
speaker herself has become a mirror reflecting the truth. In Ariel, the female's awareness is
transformed into a hall of mirrors, the frames of which are built in babyhood. These mirrors
eventually cut the woman off from any romanticized memories of the past, reflecting a Sleeping
Beauty painfully awake or asleep. Irreversibly dead. As in Plath's earlier story "The Wishing
Box," the theme of Sleeping Beauty's transformative rest is converted into a never-ending
awakening. (McCort 148) Plath used the children's book, as both a frame and a layered fraction, as a
mirror to sustain her own experience, making it an essential method within her devotional poetics for
trying to enter her childhood past and pondering the past's influence on her present. Plath's life story is
often framed by the mirror of children's literature, which provides a key to restarting her own mindset
and comprehending the manner in which she assimilated the frameworks of her society from the pages
of those children's books she loved and admired ((McCort 156). She has reflected on her own position as
a child in her poems.
Plath illustrates how connected the past and the present are in female experience, how profoun
dly females’ perceptions of their identities are grounded in the tales which have been told
them as girls, and how widely the self can be regarded as a continuously revisable tale (McCort
156). She reveals her own identity through the identity of children’s fiction and poetry.
Contradictions flow in both ways. Plath's individual demon is the truly horrible fish, the woman under
the water who has accepted her depersonalization and passivity and yearns for the numbing it promises
(Freedman160) The image suggests that the mirror includes the fish and that underneath it lurks a
monstrosity. However, the same picture may also suggest that a two-dimensional image of the angelic is
a type of monstrosity. In other words, the monster in the depths is also the beast on the surface, or,
maybe more precisely, the monstrosity of mere surface and lack of depth ((Schwartz 72). Accepting the
role of the mirror implies indirectly accepting the male-proscribed image of woman and mother
(Freedman 165). Aggression triumphs over tenderness in Plath's "Mirror," as well as many of her other
poems about motherhood and trapping. As a result, a woman who adopts the reflecting role has
become cruel, especially to herself, (Schwartz 72). The poetess has been reflected as the fish seeking her
beauty in the lake. The study intends to draw attention to Plath’s serious depression and identify the
mental disorder as a result of patriarchal and societal stereotypes. The outcome demonstrates that
hysteria symptoms such as depersonalization limited her existence and drove her to commit suicide
(Ghlib, 2593) The poetess’s depression has been reflected in her poem and it has
demonstrated how she has been forced to commit suicide.
“The Mirror” poem demonstrates that a life managed strictly by the false reality is not life
but, but an unbearable death -in-life that only be conquered by dying to that life (Kroll
1978). It displayed how the persona of the poem has been victimized inwardly and how
she has been seeking her own identity in the poem. The mirror shows the kinds of
traumas that, like Sylvia Plath’s, were hidden behind a tight and imprecise composure
designed to project an idealized picture.
Sylvia Plath worked tirelessly all through her life to reconcile her inner and outer selves
(Schwartz 20). She has turned out in a dilemma of internal and external conflict in her life. The
researchers have revealed the poetess’s mental disorder, personal conflict of inner and outer
selves, a metaphorical reflection of the condition of her youth turning into a mother and her
attempt to escape from her earthly life. But the role of fear and her search for beauty for her
existence has not been analyzed yet as this research has attempted to fulfill the existing
The poem “Mirror” has got two stanzas in which the first describes the condition of the
mirror as the narrator in the room and the second stanza imagens the mirror as the lake to
reflect the decaying beauty of the woman who does not trust to mirror and goes to the lake
to seek her true and factual facial appearance through the image reflected in the lake.
The woman laments the loss of her beauty, admitting that she is getting older day by day.
She has got the fear of losing her beauty and she has struggled of maintaining her beauty.
She does not long to lose her charming personality and she has put a mirror on the wall of
her bedroom. And the narrator is the mirror of the personified one. “I am silver and exact. I
have no preconceptions (Plath)” is the first line of the poem. The mirror is made up of silver and it says
that the mirror has not got any discrimination or preconceptions to reflect the condition of the owner
exactly what she is. ” Whatever I see I swallow immediately Just as it is, unmisted by love or dislike
(Plath)”. The extracted line is presented in two lines in the poem and the mirror narrates that she
swallows immediately whatever comes in front of it and the mirror does not have any discrimination of
like and dislike and love and hate in revealing the truth. The mirror demonstrates the fact in unmisted
form but the owner of the mirror is the poetess herself and she has doubts with the mirror whether it
has reflected the truth about her beauty. She is scared of being ugly and she does not long to vanish her
beauty. The woman in "Mirror" is Plath's mother as well as Sylvia, who expresses her gloomy fears that
one day she will become her mother (Conway 42). When a girl is young, she has no need to consult the
mirror; she has no idea that the mirror will become so important. So, the woman has got lurking
longings of keeping her prettiness and charming image, and attractive personality.
The narrator is kind and true to anyone who comes to seek their image. “I am not cruel, only truthful ‚
The eye of a little god, four-cornered (Plath)”. The mirror’s eye has been considered the eye of the little
god in revealing the truth without being cruel to the visitors and objects of the four corners of the room.
It does not alter while reflecting the visitors. The mirror describes its existence and its owner, who grows
older as the mirror watches and finds the owner is scared of becoming old and losing her beauty.
almost all the time the mirror meditates on the opposite wall and it has stared at it
for so long that the mirror thinks that the opposite wall has become its heart. Faces
of visitors and darkness separate the mirror and the opposite wall (Plath). The image
of the wall is interrupted only by people who enter to look at themselves and the darkness that comes
with the night.
The mirror imagines itself as a lake in the second stanza of the poem. The mirror utters:
“Now I am a lake. A woman bends over me,
Searching my reaches for what she really is (Plath)”.
A woman comes to the lake and bends over it to get her beauty. she is seeking her true position and
facial appearance in the lake. It conveys that she is unfaithful to the mirror on the wall and she has not
become contented with what the mirror has got reflected. She has turned out old and lost her beauty
and she is frightened by the loss of her charming appearance reflected in the mirror. She is cynical about
her external appearance in the mirror and has gone to the lake to know what she really is. The poem
“Mirror” reflects not only the plight of women in Plath’s position but also the
predicament of all women who believe they must continue to stay young and
attractive in order to be regarded as relevant. In “Mirror”, the mirror proclaims
the woman a failure. Mirrors aren't necessary for a really successful woman (Conway
44). It shows that the mirror’s reflection has become troublesome and the woman has
feared her ugly appearance. She has not found what she exactly is and she has to go to
the lake in search of her beauty. the mirror changes in the poem’s second section with
the declaration, “Now I am lake”. A lake, like a mirror, represents and has depth, and
both portray a woman seeking for herself, maybe like Narcissus. This woman could
also portray Plath and women in general and they are unable to deal with what
they observe in the mirror and they are turning to those liars like candles. Lighting
candles and moonlight represent the feminine and they cast shadows that
disguise and expose. They can misrepresent while the mirror maintains its original
shape, mirroring precisely what is in front of it. In the poem, the mirror says. “I
see her back and reflect it faithfully”. Even though it horrifies and scares her as
the woman is drawn to it and goes to the lake. Plath’s use of glass imagery also
represents the packing of the authentic self. In the poem, “Mirror”, for example,
glass both conceals and reflects the person’s authentic identity and she has gone
to the lake. She has got the fear of concealing and reflecting the authentic identity
of her beauty. Plath depicts an internalized counterpart of the going-to-watch
awareness in the poem and she is narrating a life span of conversations with a
nameless, faceless woman who sees signs of aging as mutilation. She investigates
the impact of time, age, and the waste of youth using a mirror. Although the
speaker of the poem is the mirror, the true hero is the woman as an object who
observes oneself both in and as a mirror (Schwartz 70). The speaker as a female reveals her
inner fear that is being lost day to day because of old age she does not trust in the reflection of the
mirror and she seeks her beauty in the lake.
“She rewards me with tears and an agitation of hands.
I am important to her. She comes and goes (Plath)”.
These two lines of the poem depict how much sad she is by the loss of her beauty. she is terrified and
scared so much that she can not see her own face reflected in the lake and she weeps and cries over the
lake. She is with the river of tears dropping into the lake and she is even agitating with her hands. Lake
has become essential for her to know her true beauty and she regularly visits there. Her fear is beyond
her control and she has turned out to be conscious of her beauty as it is said consciousness and
knowledge are the main causes of fear (Subba 47). If she did not have knowledge about the loss of her
beauty with age, she would not go to the lake as a routine. Hence, she is fear-stricken and feels restless.
“Each morning it is her face that replaces the darkness (Plath)”. She reaches the lake each morning and
bends over it to know how much ugly she is seen as reflected in the image of the lake. Her face replaces
the darkness in the lake by eliminating the sunlight and the light of the morning.
“In me she has drowned a young girl, and in me an old woman
Rises toward her day after day, like a terrible fish (Plath)”.
The mirrors are the best friends of those who are conscious about the beauty and attractive images they
wish to deserve as the speaker in the poem does. The woman has drowned in the mirror from a very
young age when she was a girl and even now when she has become an old woman. She visits the lake in
her old age day after day. She has been found like a terrible fish. It indicates how she has scared,
terrified, horrified, and afraid of losing her beauty in her old age. It has conveyed that she has been too
much scared and it has troubled her own physical health. She could not balance her fear within its
limitation. She did not have to be scared as much as she did. Her extreme fear led her to depression and
she became the victim of her own unnecessary fear. So, she committed suicide and fear has acted
negatively in her life. Plath became the victim of her extreme fear. The question is, what does she see in
the mirror that keeps her returning, fascinated day after day despite how unhappy she is by it? What is
it that she sees in the depths of the mirror that scares her? It could be age, inevitably transforming her
into a fish. Metaphorically, the fish occupies both the depths and the spirit, which may be what Plath
was drawn to but could not admit(Schwartz 71). The mirror in the poem represents the image of a
woman as a reflector of the other to itself. Plath’s double image of herself as a colorfully silvered surface
discloses a devilish form in both the mirror and the fish as represented in it. The mirror is the
magnificent persona Plath showed to the world as both a woman and a poet, the strict and firmly
disciplined performer who glitteringly completed all anticipations, a perfect mirror of obtained parental
and social standards of elegance, charm, and success. It is her social cast; artistic, frozen in a Cover Girl
smile, a perfect glimpse of the feminine ideal (Schwartz 71). The role of beauty-seeking tendency
became self-harming and deteriorating for the speaker herself in the poem. Beauty cannot be ever-
lasting and the search for beauty in old age and its extreme fear led her to take her life herself.
The poem’s first line reveals the consequences of a woman going to spend all of her
time in front of a mirror; she has wasted her youth, and drowned it in the depths of her
own reflection, much like Narcissus. One of the poem's main points is that being thrown
away into narcissism is a waste of time and energy. Mirrors do not make a judgment,
but simply "swallow," implying that whatever is reflected in them is irretrievable and lost
forever. Furthermore, the mirror is designed to reflect a wall. The woman has become a
non-entity as a result of her non-being and lack of self-definition for so long. She is
insignificant, a part of the various faces as well as the darkness that differentiates them.
It has been advised that extreme fear does not have positive outcomes. It can rather
tend to be self-destructive and detrimental to life.
The study intends to draw attention to Plath’s serious depression and identify the mental disorder as a
result of patriarchal and societal stereotypes. The outcome demonstrates that hysteria symptoms such
as depersonalization limited her existence and drove her to commit suicide (Ghlib, 2593) The
poetess’s depression has been reflected in her poem and it has demonstrated how she
has been forced to commit suicide.
The effect of fear in beauty has been found devastating, detrimental, and life-taking. The
speaker of the poem “Mirror” has explored the poetess, Sylvia Plath herself though the mirror
has been presented as the narrator in the poem. The mirror is the poetess’s own persona and
she has reflected the pain and fear in the process of seeking her beauty both in the mirror of
her bedroom wall and in the lake in the first and the second stanzas respectively. As the
poetess has found her beauty getting vanished with her old age, she has developed a kind of
doubt with the mirror concealing her factual identity and she has attempted to trace out her
real appearance in the lake. However, she has found no difference in her facial appearance and
beauty even in the lake and she has been found in the depth of her mental agonies and her
melancholic situation led her to depression. As a result, she has found no alternative solution of
replacing her beauty except committing suicide. Her fear turned extreme and it has been found
beyond her control and she has been victimized by her own extreme fear. The persona of the
poem has found that her conflict between the inner self and outer self, guided by fear led her
to mutilate herself. Fear horrified, traumatized, scared and led her depersonalized condition to
the persona of the poem and she became restless in maintaining her beauty in society even in
her old age. It was beyond her capacity as a mortal being and it must have been realized as the
natural process of life. Fear has acted rather dreadfully and negatively in the life of the persona
of the poem “Mirror” and it has compelled her to take her own life in vain. Hence, it has given
the message that fear must be within a balanced form rather than the extreme one for a
meaningful, worthwhile, and successful life. Otherwise, extreme fear acts to ruin the entire goal
and life itself as it has acted in the life of the poetess, Sylvia Plath. She has been found seeking
external beauty rather than internal one and it has been found unnatural in old age. Internal
beauty is gained with learning skills, enhancing knowledge and wisdom but external beauty is
natural and innate but it fades away with the passing of time. To fear such perishing external
beauty ruins life. So, it has to be accepted what nature has bestowed on mortal beings.
Bogan, Louise “Medusa” Creative Delights. Compiled and edited by Shreedhar Lohani and
Rameshwor Adhikari. Ratna Pustak Bhandar, Kathmandu. 1997.pp 380-381.
Conway, Cathleen Allyn. Through the Looking Glass: A Discussion of Doubling in Sylvia Plath's "Mirror",
University of Greenwich, London. file:///C:/Users/USER/Desktop/FEAR%20IN%20BAEUTY/4672-
Devkota, Laxmi Prasad. “The lunatic” Creative Delights. Compiled and edited by shreedhar,
Lohani, and Rameshwor Adhikari. Ratna Pustak Bhandar, Kathmandu.1997. pp.332-338.
Freedman, William. "The Monster in Plath's 'Mirror'." Papers on Language and Literature 108.5 (1993):
Ghalib, Atef, et al. Turkish Journal of Computer and Mathematics Education Vol.12 No. 11 (2021), 2592-
2597 Research Article 2592 Sylvia Plath Revisited in the Lens of Depersonalization. Thi-Qar University,
https://image,slidesharecdn.com (a poem by Sylvia Plath)
Kroll, J. Chapters in Science of Mythology: The poetry of Sylvia Plath. New York: Harper &Row. 1978.
Lohami Shreedhar and Rameshwor Adhikari. Creative Delights. Ratna Pustak Bhandar,
McCort, Jessica. Sleeping Beauty Awake: Sylvia Plath through the Looking-Glass.
Russell, Bertrand “Keeping Errors at Bay,” Flax-Golden Tales: An Interdisciplinary
Approach to learning English. Compiled and edited by Moti Nishani and Shreedher
Lohani. Ekta Books, Kathmandu. 2008. pp.373.
Schwartz, Susan. Disenchantment, Disillusion, and Dissolution in the Poetry of Sylvia Plath.
Schwartz, Susan E. Sylvia Plath: A Split in the Mirror.
Sontag Susan:” Beauty”: The Creative Delights. Compiled and edited by Shreedhar
Lohani and Rameshwar Adhikari. Ratna Pustak Bhandar, kathmandu. 1997. pp.300.
Subba, Desh. Philosophy of fears: life is conducted, directed, and controlled by fear.
Xlibris. 2014. pp.47.