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Atwood’s Tricks With Mirrors as a Declaration of Female Independence

Atwood’s Tricks With Mirrors as a Declaration of Female Independence

Relationships are complex things, with ever-changing dynamics. Some traditional roles are always played in the constant search for balance between giving and taking in relationships. Women have historically and stereotypically played the role of “giver” in male-female romantic unions. In recent years the gender laws of relationships have been changing and evolving, but even as recently as the 1970s and 1980s women have been restricted to the role of complacent giver in their relationships. Their freedom of thought and even private speech have been impossible to repress, however, and through broadening that communication, things have been forced into change. A perfect example of this form of communication as an attempt to change the role-playing games of relationships is Margaret Atwood’s 1974 poem, “Tricks With Mirrors.” Through the use of poetic devices such as metaphor and tone in “Tricks with Mirrors,” Atwood attempts to explain and break free from the restrictions of these traditional dynamics in relationships.

In Part I of the poem, Atwood uses a seemingly vague introduction to the subject matter, but gets straight to the point. Within five lines, she distinctly identifies her role as a mirror as she says, “I enter with you / and become a mirror,” (lines 4-5). She gives the impression that she is merely an object in this relationship – she is a mirror through which her self-absorbed lover may view himself. “Mirrors / are the perfect lovers,” she states (lines 6-7). They show a constant and loyal reflection to whoever may stand in front of them. She is objectifying herself as she tells her lover to carry her carefully up the stairs and to …

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…She uses her tone of voice and the metaphors of mirrors and pools to make her case for freedom. Atwood’s speaker is merely an object trapped in a relationship in which she serves only to reflect her lover to himself – and she no longer wishes to remain as such. She is seemingly ever patient in her endeavors, and continues to give throughout her quiet rebellion. All her lover ever does is take from her what he pleases – a faithful reflection of what he wishes to see in himself. Atwood defines these traditional roles in relationships while forming her opposition to the nature of these unfair dynamics. “Tricks with Mirrors” is almost an anthem for the oppressed woman – a statement that calmly explains a situation that needs to be changed. A deeper message may be found in the poem, however, as she conveys her detached unhappiness – do not become a mirror, she tells us.

Comparing Steppenwolf and the Teenaged Girl

Parallels Between Steppenwolf and the Teenaged Girl

To be a teenaged girl means many things in this modern society. There are numerous expectations set for the average sixteen year old female: she must be pretty, popular, thin, preferably intelligent, but not too intelligent, and she must subjugate her will to the group. This world has a tendency to shun females who are too independent, who seek too much power, and who attempt to break from the stereotypical female mold. I have personally experienced this spurning, especially from my peers. There exists a dichotomy somewhere in my own soul, a rift between that which I am expected to be and who I really am. Harry Haller, in Hermann Hesse’s novel Steppenwolf, experienced a similar predicament. He was torn between the life of a socially acceptable, “decent” man, and the primal, lupine nature of the Steppenwolf. I find myself caught between wanting to be a socially acceptable, “popular” girl, and being the independent, intellectual, and strong person that I actually am. There are a number of parallels between Haller and I, each further proving that the dichotomy of the Steppenwolf and the division within myself, the teenaged girl, are of the same essence.

Often in my life I have felt trapped by the boundaries and expectations that those around me have set for how I ought to behave, think, and feel. Here in suburban America, these boundaries are often set by peers and family, as well as by the media and celebrity figures. The expectations that they have set often dictate ideas that, deep down, I greatly disagree with. One of the most prominent of the ideas is that my worth is reflected in my outward physical appearance. In this world which has declared war on th…

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…conditioned self and the true self. She both wishes to be accepted and to be set free from the group’s expectations. She wants the perfect body and face and yet realizes the lack of importance therein. Harry Haller, in the end, could not completely understand the game of life, but understood that the willingness to play and the eagerness to sort through the inner self are what really matter. I have realized that, in the end, I must learn the same lesson. The road ahead will not be easy, just as Harry’s journey was long and arduous. Fear and fleeing are no longer options, though. It is an archetypal, inherent knowledge within each human being that self-knowledge is key to a true existence, and both the Steppenwolf and the teenaged girl realize the importance of this expedition.

Works Cited:

Hesse, Hermann. Steppenwolf. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1990.

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