What Does the Mirror Symbolize in Speak – Examining the Importance of Reflection

When we look into a mirror, we see ourselves as we truly are, but what about the deeper symbolism behind the mirror? In the novel “Speak” by Laurie Halse Anderson, the mirror is more than just a reflective surface; it is a powerful symbol that reveals the true struggle of the protagonist. Throughout the novel, the mirror serves as a constant reminder of the trauma Melinda experiences, and her inability to face it head-on.

As Melinda navigates through her high school years, she finds herself increasingly isolated from her peers, and the only solace she finds is in the bathroom stall. Here, she finds herself constantly staring at the reflection in the mirror, trying to find a way to confront the painful memories that haunt her. The mirror, in this sense, symbolizes the protagonist’s inner turmoil and the struggle she faces to come to terms with the sexual assault she suffered.

The mirror is an ever-present reminder of the trauma that Melinda experienced and the guilt she feels for not speaking about it. As the novel progresses, we see Melinda’s journey of self-discovery as she learns to confront her fears and finally find her voice. The mirror serves as a catalyst for her transformation, pushing her to confront the inner demons that have been holding her back. In this sense, the mirror is not just a symbol of pain but also of hope, as it represents the protagonist’s inner strength and her ability to overcome the obstacles in her path.

The Symbolism of Mirrors in Literature

The use of mirrors as symbolism in literature is not a new concept. Mirrors have been utilized to convey a variety of meanings and represent an array of themes throughout history.

In the novel “Speak” by Laurie Halse Anderson, a mirror plays a vital role in the protagonist’s development. The protagonist, Melinda Sordino, is a traumatized teenager who struggles to find her voice after being raped. Throughout the novel, Melinda uses the school bathroom as a safe haven where she can escape from her problems and look at herself in the mirror.

The mirror represents Melinda’s inner turmoil and her inability to confront her trauma. In the beginning, Melinda avoids looking in the mirror and only sees a reflection of her pain and shame. Eventually, as she makes progress in her healing process, she begins to see snippets of her true self in the mirror.

  • In “Speak,” the mirror symbolizes:
  • The reflection of Melinda’s inner self
  • The physical space where Melinda can confront her problems
  • A barrier between Melinda and others

Mirrors in literature can have different meanings, depending on the context in which they are presented. For example, a mirror could represent vanity and narcissism if a character spends excessive amounts of time admiring themselves. Alternatively, a shattered mirror could symbolize brokenness or the fragmentation of the protagonist’s identity.

Overall, mirrors as symbolism are versatile tools for conveying themes in literature. They can represent a character’s inner conflicts, foreshadow events, and serve as a visual motif throughout a story.

Looking at ourselves in the mirror is something that most of us do multiple times a day. It is fascinating to think about how this simple action can hold such deep meaning and symbolism in literature.

The Psychological Significance of Mirrors

The mirror has been a symbol of reflection and self-awareness for centuries. Its significance has been explored in literature, art, and psychology. Here, we delve into the psychological significance of mirrors and how they can affect our self-perception.

The Mirror as a Tool for Self-Reflection

  • The mirror is a tool that enables us to see ourselves as we are, and as others see us. It allows us to examine our appearance, emotions, and behaviors. This can be an effective way to increase self-awareness, which is an essential step in personal growth and development.
  • Mirrors also provide a way to confront and deal with our flaws and shortcomings. They enable us to face our fears, weaknesses, and mistakes, and work towards correcting them. The process of self-reflection can be uncomfortable, but it is necessary for personal and emotional growth.
  • Using a mirror can also facilitate the process of self-acceptance. When we confront our flaws, we can also learn to embrace them and accept them as part of who we are. This can lead to greater self-love and self-esteem.

The Mirror and the Self

According to psychological research, the way we see ourselves in the mirror can affect our self-perception and behavior. Here are some ways in which mirrors can influence our self-perception:

  • The “mirror self” is the image we have of ourselves based on what we see in the mirror. This image can have a significant impact on our self-esteem and confidence.
  • Studies have shown that people who spend more time looking at themselves in the mirror tend to have higher levels of anxiety and self-consciousness.
  • On the other hand, research has also shown that people who use mirrors to focus on positive aspects of themselves and their behavior tend to experience greater self-love and self-acceptance.

The Mirror in Society

Mirrors have played a significant role in society, both as a symbol and as a practical tool. Here are some examples:

Symbolism Practical Use
The “mirror stage” in psychoanalysis, where an infant recognizes its own reflection and begins to develop a sense of self. Mirrors in art, fashion, and design – used to enhance beauty, create illusions, and reflect light.
The “mirror of the soul” in literature and mythology, where the mirror represents truth, wisdom, and self-knowledge. Mirrors in medicine – used for diagnosis and surgery.
The “two-way mirror” in law enforcement and surveillance – used for observation without being detected. Mirrors in architecture – used for decoration, illusion, and reflection.

Mirrors will continue to be an important symbol and tool in society, as they provide a way to explore ourselves and the world around us.

The historical evolution of mirrors as a symbol

The mirror has been used as a symbol for centuries, featuring prominently in religious texts and literature alike. Its symbolic meaning has evolved over time, taking on new significance in different cultures and eras.

  • Ancient cultures: In ancient cultures such as Egypt and Mesopotamia, mirrors were believed to possess magical properties, able to reflect the soul or reveal hidden truths.
  • Middle Ages: During the Middle Ages, mirrors were associated with vanity and materialism. They were often depicted in artwork as a symbol of the sin of pride.
  • Renaissance: The Renaissance brought a renewed interest in classical beauty and the human form. As a result, mirrors began to be used as a tool for self-reflection and self-improvement.

However, the mirror’s significance goes beyond its role in cultural history. It also holds a prominent place in psychology and literature, particularly in the context of identity and self-reflection.

The mirror is often used as a metaphor for self-examination, as it reflects back to us not just our physical appearance but also our innermost thoughts and feelings. This idea is explored in literature ranging from Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” to Sylvia Plath’s “The Bell Jar.”

Time period Symbols associated with mirrors
Ancient cultures Magical properties, reflecting the soul, revealing hidden truths
Middle Ages Vanity, pride, materialism
Renaissance Self-reflection, self-improvement, classical beauty

Overall, the mirror has undergone a rich and varied history as a symbol, reflecting the cultural values and beliefs of the time. Its significance has only continued to evolve, making it an enduring symbol of self-examination and personal reflection.

The cultural differences in the interpretation of mirrors as a symbol

As a symbol, mirrors have different meanings and interpretations depending on the culture. In some cultures, they are considered to have spiritual significance, while in others, they’re viewed as a tool for vanity and self-grooming. Here are some of the cultural differences in the interpretation of mirrors as a symbol:

  • In Japanese culture, mirrors are believed to be a gateway to the supernatural world and a representation of the soul. They’re used in several traditional rituals, such as the New Year’s Eve ceremony where they’re used to reflect the first light of the sun. Mirrors in Japan are not just a tool for reflection, but rather a powerful symbol of self-discovery and spiritual awakening.
  • In Chinese culture, mirrors have a more practical use, primarily for grooming. However, they also have deep symbolism in Taoist and Confucian beliefs. Mirrors represent clarity and enlightenment, and they’re also used to ward off evil spirits and negative energy.
  • For ancient Greeks, mirrors held great symbolic value. They believed that mirrors could reveal the true nature of a person and reflect their innermost qualities. This is why they considered it bad luck to break a mirror as it would shatter one’s reflection and potentially bring misfortune.

Another interesting cultural difference in the interpretation of mirrors as a symbol is their significance in the African and Native American cultures. In many African tribes, mirrors symbolize the opening of a path between the physical world and the spiritual world. They’re also used in divination rituals to communicate with the ancestors. In Native American culture, mirrors represent the connection between the natural and spiritual worlds. They’re used in various rituals, including vision quests, where they provide a window into the subconscious and aid in self-exploration.

Overall, the significance of mirrors as a symbol varies among cultures. Some view them as a practical tool for self-grooming, while others see them as a powerful tool for spiritual awakening. Regardless of their interpretation, mirrors hold a special place in human culture and psychology.

The use of mirrors in visual arts and film

Mirrors have been a recurring symbol in visual arts and film, often used to symbolize different themes and ideas. The reflection of oneself in a mirror can represent self-discovery, transformation, and identity. Below are some examples of how mirrors have been used in visual arts and film:

Mirrors in Visual Arts

  • The painting “Las Meninas” by Diego Velázquez portrays the Spanish royal family, with the painter himself included in the composition, standing in front of a large mirror. The mirror reflects the image of the king and queen, who are not visible in the painting, creating an illusion of space and depth.
  • The surrealist artist René Magritte often used mirrors in his paintings to subvert reality and create a sense of disorientation. In his work “Not to be Reproduced,” a man is seen looking into a mirror, but instead of seeing his own reflection, he sees the back of his head.
  • The contemporary artist Anish Kapoor created a series of mirrored sculptures, including “Cloud Gate” in Chicago, which reflects the city skyline and creates an inverted image of the viewer.

Mirrors in Film

In film, the use of mirrors can be used to represent a character’s split identity or inner turmoil. Below are some examples of how mirrors have been used in film:

  • In the film “Black Swan,” the protagonist, a ballerina, becomes increasingly obsessed with her art and starts to lose touch with reality. Mirrors are used throughout the film to show her transformation and to create a sense of confusion and disorientation.
  • In the classic film “Citizen Kane,” mirrors are used to symbolize the protagonist’s inner turmoil and his search for identity. The final scene features a room filled with mirrors, creating a maze of reflections and representing the complexity of the character’s psyche.
  • In the horror film “Candyman,” mirrors are used to create a sense of fear and tension. The main character, a graduate student studying urban legends, becomes obsessed with the story of the Candyman, a vengeful spirit who can be summoned by saying his name five times in front of a mirror.


The use of mirrors in visual arts and film has been a powerful tool for artists and filmmakers to explore themes of identity, transformation, and self-discovery. Whether used to create illusions or to reflect inner turmoil, mirrors have played an integral role in visual storytelling.

The mirror as a metaphor for self-reflection and self-awareness

The use of a mirror as a symbol for self-reflection and self-awareness can be traced back to ancient times when mirrors were considered objects of divine power. In the novel Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, the protagonist Melinda Sordino uses a mirror to symbolize her journey towards self-awareness and acceptance.

  • Through her reflection, Melinda is able to confront the truth about herself and her situation. She is forced to see the physical and emotional scars caused by her trauma and begins to understand the power she has to heal and take control of her life.
  • The mirror also represents the concept of perception versus reality. In the beginning of the book, Melinda sees herself as ugly and worthless, but as the story progresses, she realizes that the way she sees herself may not be the way others perceive her. This realization helps her to develop more empathy and understanding towards others.
  • Additionally, the mirror can be seen as a metaphor for honesty. By facing her reflection, Melinda is encouraged to be truthful with herself and others. She learns that honesty may be painful, but it ultimately leads to healing and growth.

Overall, the mirror serves as a powerful visual tool in Speak, representing Melinda’s journey towards self-acceptance and understanding. It reminds readers of the importance of self-reflection and the power of honesty in achieving personal growth and healing.

As Tim Ferriss states in his book Tools of Titans: “Self-awareness is like great sex: everyone thinks they have a ton of it, but in reality, no one knows what the f%*# they’re doing.”

The mirror acts as a reminder that true self-awareness requires honesty, vulnerability, and the willingness to face uncomfortable truths. It is a symbol of the ongoing journey towards personal growth and acceptance.

Symbolism Explanation
Mirror Symbolizes self-reflection and self-awareness, confronting the truth about oneself and reality versus perception
Reflection Encourages honesty and vulnerability with oneself and others
Journey Represents the ongoing process of personal growth and acceptance

The mirror in Speak is a powerful symbol of self-reflection and self-awareness, highlighting the importance of honesty and vulnerability in achieving personal growth and healing.

The Motif of Shattered Mirrors in Literature and Film

The mirror has long been a symbol of self-reflection and self-awareness in literature and film. However, when the mirror is shattered, it takes on a deeper meaning, reflecting the fragmentation and destruction of the self. Many authors and filmmakers have used this motif in their works to convey a sense of the characters’ mental and emotional states.

The Use of Shattered Mirrors in Literature

  • In William Shakespeare’s play “Richard II,” the protagonist looks into a mirror before being dethroned, and the breaking of the mirror symbolizes his shattered identity and loss of power.
  • In “The Picture of Dorian Gray” by Oscar Wilde, the shattered mirror reinforces the theme of the fragmented self as the protagonist confronts the consequences of his corrupted morality.
  • Similarly, in Sylvia Plath’s poem “Mirror,” the shattered mirror represents the narrator’s fractured sense of self-esteem and identity.

The Use of Shattered Mirrors in Film

Filmmakers have also utilized the shattered mirror motif to visually convey mental instability and emotional distress. One example is in the film “Black Swan,” where the main character’s reflection shatters as she descends into madness and paranoia.

Another notable example is in the film “American Beauty,” where a character throws a plate against a mirror, shattering it and symbolizing the collapse of his façade of perfection and self-delusion.

The Significance of the Number Seven

In many works of literature and film, the number seven appears in conjunction with the shattered mirror symbol. This could be because seven is considered a mystical number with various symbolic meanings, such as completion and perfection.

Examples of the Number Seven in Literature and Film:
“Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”
“The Seven Samurai”
Seven years of bad luck for breaking a mirror
Seven reflections of the same character in shattered mirrors in “The Broken Mirror” episode of “The Twilight Zone”

Thus, the motif of the shattered mirror and the number seven can work together to heighten the symbolic resonance and meaning in literature and film.

The Role of Mirrors in Fairy Tales and Myths

The mirror has a rich history of symbolism in various fairy tales and myths from different cultures. It has often been used to represent self-reflection, perception, and truth. In the story of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the magic mirror held by the Evil Queen is a tool for her vanity and obsession with beauty. The mirror delivers the famous line, “Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?” The mirror ultimately leads to the Evil Queen’s downfall as it reveals Snow White’s beauty and she plots to kill her.

Similarly, in the Greek myth of Narcissus, the reflection in the water represents the protagonist’s obsession with himself and ultimately leads to his tragic demise. The mirror in the story symbolizes the dangerous temptation of self-absorption and disregard for others.

However, the mirror can also have positive connotations in fairy tales and myths. In the Japanese folktale of Tsuki no Usagi, the Moon Rabbit uses a mirror to help the Emperor realize his own flaws and strive for improvement. The mirror in this story represents the importance of self-reflection and growth.

The Role of Mirrors in Fairy Tales and Myths

  • The magic mirror in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
  • The reflection in the water in Narcissus
  • The mirror in Tsuki no Usagi

The Role of Mirrors in Fairy Tales and Myths

In addition to individual stories, mirrors have also played a broader role in fairy tales and myths as a symbol of truth and justice. In European folklore, mirrors were believed to have a divine power of revealing the truth, and it was common for supernatural beings to use mirrors to help humans see the truth about themselves or others.

Some cultures also have customs of covering the mirrors in a home after a death, as it is believed that the mirror can trap the soul or be a portal for negative energy. This practice demonstrates the belief in the mirror’s ability to reflect not only physical appearances but also spiritual significance.

The Role of Mirrors in Fairy Tales and Myths

Mirrors have had a lasting impact on fairy tales and myths, serving as a powerful literary device for conveying themes of self-reflection, perception, and truth. From the magic mirror in Snow White to the reflection in the water in Narcissus, mirrors continue to captivate our imaginations and encourage us to look deeper into ourselves and the world around us.

Story Mirror Symbolism
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs Obsession with beauty and danger of vanity
Narcissus Self-absorption and disregard for others
Tsuki no Usagi Importance of self-reflection and growth
Various fairy tales and myths Symbol of truth and justice

The diversity of mirror symbolism in fairy tales and myths demonstrates the power of this object to represent profound themes and lessons that continue to be relevant to our lives today.

The use of mirrors in psychological therapy

One of the most prominent symbols in the novel Speak is the mirror. The main character, Melinda, is constantly drawn to her reflection in the mirror, yet struggles to truly see herself. In psychological therapy, mirrors are also commonly used as a tool to help patients gain self-awareness and improve their mental health.

  • Mirror therapy: This technique is often used in physical rehabilitation, but can also have benefits in psychological therapy. Mirror therapy involves using a mirror to create an illusion of a reflection of the unaffected limb or body part for patients with conditions such as phantom limb pain or body dysmorphic disorder. By observing the reflection, patients can learn to retrain their brain and alleviate their symptoms.
  • Mirror exposure therapy: This technique is used to treat patients with anxiety disorders such as social phobia or panic disorder. It involves the patient being required to look at themselves in the mirror for an extended period of time, often while discussing their fears with a therapist. This can help patients gain self-awareness and challenge negative thoughts and beliefs about themselves.
  • Self-reflection: In more general psychological therapy, mirrors can be used to encourage self-reflection and mindfulness. Patients may be asked to observe their facial expressions, body language, or posture during sessions to gain insight into their emotional state and behavior.

Mirrors can also be used symbolically in therapy, as a reminder for patients to reflect on their thoughts, feelings, and behavior outside of sessions. They may be encouraged to keep a mirror in their home or workplace as a reminder to practice self-reflection and become more self-aware.

In Speak, the mirror symbolizes Melinda’s struggle to confront her trauma and come to terms with her identity. In psychological therapy, mirrors can be used as a tool to help patients gain self-awareness and improve their mental health, both physically and emotionally.

The Scientific Explanation behind Mirror Illusions and Visual Perception

In Laurie Halse Anderson’s novel Speak, the mirror plays an important role in the protagonist’s life and symbolizes her struggle with self-identity. However, mirrors aren’t just a literary device; they are also fascinating from a scientific standpoint. Mirror illusions and visual perception are just some of the concepts that make mirrors a unique and intriguing object.

The Science of Mirror Illusions

  • Mirrors reflect light and create an image of whatever is in front of them, seeming to create a ‘virtual’ world that is not really there.
  • However, looking at a mirror can sometimes give off the impression that the reflection is somehow different from reality. This could be due to the angle of reflection, the shape and material of the mirror, or even the lighting in the area.
  • One example of a mirror illusion is the ‘mirror box’ created by psychologist Vilayanur Ramachandran. By placing a person’s left hand in one part of the box and their right hand in another part, and then using a mirror to bounce the image of the left hand to the right side, it creates the illusion that the person’s reflection is their left hand moving on its own.

Visual Perception and Mirrors

Our perception of what we see in the mirror is not just based on physical factors, but also on cognitive and emotional ones. Here are some examples:

  • Our brains can quickly figure out that the reflected image we see in the mirror is our own. This happens because our brains have learned to recognize our unique facial features over time.
  • Body dysmorphic disorder is a condition where people become overly concerned with perceived flaws in their appearance. Mirrors can exacerbate the symptoms of this disorder because they provide a constant reminder of the person’s perceived flaws.
  • Some people avoid mirrors altogether because of their own discomfort with their appearance, which can lead to issues with self-esteem.

The Psychology of Mirrors

Aside from the science behind mirror illusions and visual perception, mirrors can also have a psychological impact on our lives. Here are some examples:

The mirror can act as a tool for self-discovery. By looking at ourselves in the mirror, we can learn to accept ourselves as we are and even discover new things about our personal identities. However, it can also bring up feelings of self-doubt and low self-esteem, especially if we’re not happy with what we see.

Concept Description
Mirrors and self-esteem Studies have shown that mirrors can have an impact on our self-esteem, particularly in women. Seeing their reflection can trigger anxiety and negative thoughts about their appearance.
The ‘mirror neuron’ theory Some scientists believe that the neurons that fire in our brains when we perform certain actions are the same neurons that fire when we see someone else perform the same action. This could explain why we feel empathy for others or feel the urge to mimic their actions when we observe them in the mirror.

The mirror is a fascinating object that has captured human imagination for centuries. By studying the science and psychology behind mirrors, we can learn more about how they influence our lives and help us become more self-aware.

FAQs: What Does the Mirror Symbolize in Speak?

Q1: What does the mirror symbolize in Speak?

The mirror in Speak represents the main character’s lost sense of self-identity and the struggle to reclaim it as she faces trauma and societal pressure.

Q2: How does the protagonist’s relationship with the mirror change throughout the novel?

At the start of the novel, the protagonist avoids looking at herself in the mirror. However, towards the end, she starts to use the mirror as a tool to face and accept her past experiences and forge a stronger identity.

Q3: Does the mirror symbolize anything else in the novel?

The mirror also symbolizes the societal expectations and norms that are projected onto young women, leading them to feel insecure and inadequate about their appearance and behavior.

Q4: How does the mirror serve as a metaphor in the novel?

As a symbol, the mirror serves as a metaphor for the protagonist’s journey towards self-understanding and self-love, as well as the difficulties she has in recognizing her true self amidst societal pressures.

Q5: What does the broken mirror in the novel represent?

The broken mirror in the novel represents the protagonist’s shattered sense of identity and the difficulties she faces in reassembling it due to the trauma she experienced and societal expectations.

Q6: How does the mirror symbolize the theme of communication in the novel?

The mirror represents the protagonist’s inability to communicate her feelings and experiences to others, leading her to retreat into herself and lose touch with her identity.

Q7: Does the mirror have any symbolic significance in the title of the novel, “Speak”?

The mirror in Speak serves as a symbol for the difficulties the protagonist faces in speaking out about her traumatic experience and finding her voice amidst societal pressure and judgement.

Closing Thoughts

Thank you for reading about the symbolic significance of the mirror in Speak. Through the main character’s journey, it is clear that the mirror is an important tool for self-reflection and self-understanding, but can also be a source of insecurity and pressure. The mirror represents the difficulties that young women face in finding and embracing their true selves amidst societal expectations and trauma. We hope you found this article insightful and thought-provoking. Come back soon for more literary analysis!