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Classic and Contemporary Poetry: Explained

GOOD MIRRORS ARE NOT CHEAP, by             Poet Analysis     Poet's Biography


"Good Mirrors Are Not Cheap," penned by Audre Lorde in 1970, offers a nuanced critique of self-perception and societal norms. In the poem, Lorde explores how mirrors-and by extension, society-can distort our self-image, thereby shaping how we navigate the world. Mirrors here function both literally and metaphorically, capturing not just physical reflections but also deeper, existential inquiries into selfhood and authenticity.

The poem opens with a declarative statement, asserting that "It is a waste of time to hate a mirror / or its reflection." Here, the mirror serves as an intermediary between the self and societal norms. It reflects what society conditions us to see, but it also throws back at us the "shape of your error," our own perceived flaws or inadequacies. This leads to a destructive cycle where we either blame ourselves or shatter the mirror in a desperate bid for a cleaner, more "truthful" reflection.

Interestingly, the poem emphasizes the subtle distortions made by the glassmaker, "that makes glass with distortions / slight enough to pass / unnoticed." These distortions subtly implant in us feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt over time. While these societal norms and expectations might not be overtly harmful, their influence is insidious. This underlines a larger cultural issue, in which people are set up to conform to unattainable ideals-whether of beauty, masculinity, femininity, or success.

When read in the context of its time-1970 America-the poem also conjures the turbulent landscape of civil rights movements, feminist discourse, and the fight for queer rights. The "merciless light" under which we inspect ourselves can also be considered the harsh glare of society's judgments and prejudices. The distortions could relate to racist, sexist, or homophobic perspectives that make individuals question their worth or their identity.

Another compelling layer is the way the poem delves into interpersonal relationships. The line "and if I am beside that self / you destroy me" suggests how flawed self-perceptions not only mar our self-image but also impact how we relate to others. If one is obsessed with their own distorted reflection, they risk becoming oblivious to the reality of people around them, which in turn can destroy relationships.

As the poem comes to a close, it leaves readers with the haunting image of the glassmaker who keeps churning out distorted mirrors, "selling us new clowns / at cut rate." This chilling finale points toward the perpetuation of societal norms and distorted self-images, which continue to wreak havoc on individual and collective psyches.

Overall, "Good Mirrors Are Not Cheap" functions as a critique of societal norms, an exploration of self-image, and a warning about the dangers of internalizing distortions. It reminds us to critically examine the 'mirrors' before us, to question who made them and what distortions they carry. Lorde's incisive words serve as a timeless call to awareness, imploring us to break the cycle of self-deception and societal conformity.


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