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Inquiry Paper

In: English and Literature

Submitted By cindywww
Words 2028
Pages 9
Question: To what extent is literature like a mirror?
Inquiry paper In Ovid’s Metamorphosis, Narcissus is a handsome young man who saw the reflection of his face in the waters of the Styx River. He became so captivated by his own reflection, that he sat looking at himself until he died and a small flower grew in his place. After the manufacturing and widespread existence of mirror, human have became obsessed with the reflections of themselves. Literature provided us with a unique type of mirrors. It helps us to discover the perfection of ourselves but at the same time, grab our eyes on the defectiveness as well. Just like Narcissus, we never stop seeking for self-identification and self-conscious through the way we look at our own images. An examination of the books I read, I found literature to be like a mirror to a great extent in many ways. The Secret daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda, is a book that compares the treatments of females in two different families - one in India and one in America. The book begins with the unforgettable birth of a baby girl named Usha in a remote Indian village on the eve of monsoon. In a culture where females’ infanticide is rampant, Kavita, the baby’s mother sent her daughter to an orphanage in order to save her life. Dr. Somer, an American woman who adopts Usha (they call her Asha) after the discovering that she can never have children of her own. The two women mirror each other in the sense that they both make difficult decisions to save and maintain a life. The play Hamlet by William Shakespeare demonstrates the recklessness of Hamlet is the main cause of his death. Hamlets’ character flaws mirror my own. The novel Girl With A Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier, is based on the girl named Griet in Vermeer’s painting. Griet is the protestant daughter of a tile painter Delft who has lost his sight in kiln accident. In order to make a living for her family, Griet works as a maid in a famous painter, Vermmer’s house. Her only release is when Vermeer, recognizing her artistic talent, secretly takes her on as a studio assistant. Griet is overjoyed both to work with her intriguing master and to find an outlet for her talent. However, problems arise when Vermeer's most valued customer demands Griet be the subject of the artist's next painting. As Griet becomes part of her master's work, their growing intimacy spreads disruption and jealousy within the ordered household and ripples in the world beyond. Like mirror, literature is reflective. It reflects the current status of the society and allows us to realize the hidden part of human conditions and understand a better world. Mirror helps us see the details that we may not have realized in our daily life. It helps us to see whether we have dirt on our faces or holes on our shirts, things we may have ignored if we did not see the reflections of ourselves in a mirror. Similarly, literature enlightens us of details of those societal issues that otherwise we may have overlooked. The novel Secret Daughter describes the panic of Kavita when she has to give her child away, describing in the novel, “She did not dare ask what had happened to her baby. Whether she was drowned, suffocated, or simply left to starve, Kavita hoped only that death came quickly, mercifully… Like so many baby girls, her firstborn would be returned to the earth long before her time” (7). Kavita could not embrace the happiness of giving birth to her child. She immediately lost all the hope when she realized she has birthed a baby girl. Kavita’s situation stimulated my feelings of sympathy and grief for her. Next, I felt anger with the sudden realization that sexism is a serious issue in many countries, not only in India. With more thought, I realized I have observed countless instances on sexism, although they are not as serious as what the book describes, they are personal. In the country where I was born, China, males are believed to be superior to females due to gender roles and expectations that has resisted through time. In China, there is the ‘One Child Policy’ implemented to control the population size. Many female feticides are appeared to allow families to have male children. Our fast-paced world blurs human morality with gives for materialism and venality. Many of us are blinded from the inequalities of society in which we live. We do not lack consciousness of social wrongs, but because they are so common that we simply ignore their existence and impacts in our daily lives. Besides sexism, discrimination between different social statuses is also reflected through literature.
Literature can reflect social stratification much like a mirror reflects our “good and bad days”. In the novel Girl With A Pearl Earring, we see the different roles among the social classes. For example, Griet, a dedicated maid, through circumstance and opportunity, begins to break out of her low social status. This upsets Maria Thins, the elderly mother of the famous painter Vermeer, according to Maria, “ ‘Have you been listening behind doors, girl?’ the old women asked ... ‘It is about time I caught you doing things maids are not meant to do. Next you’ll be stealing silver spoons” (134). Although Griet did not bring any trouble to the household, her status as a maid, supportably speaks about her nature. She was assumed to be untrustworthy and of ill character. In this society, people born into a low class family are not respected. Nowadays, in some countries, poor families are provided with benefits from their government and charitable organizations, their wealth dictates whom they interact with. People usually befriend with people who have the same class because they in that way. They can have opportunities to interact with them. Griet’s situation made me aware of a similar classism in my home country. In China, it is socially acceptable that before people get married, the suitor visits their potential mother-in –law. The mother-in-law then learns of his background, if the boy does not come from a wealthy family, mother-in-law may refuse his proposal to marry his daughter. Although the society we live in has developed, traditions from the past are still evident. Coming from China to Canada, seeing people coexist with different cultures and races, I suddenly ignored the magnitude of the social issues. At this time, literature stepped out and showed me the reflection of the truth in our world. It is like a mirror that widens our horizon to see the world in a perspective that have not realized or understood before.
Mirrors allow us to see the reflection of ourselves; it provides with a clear image of ourselves. Like mirrors, literature enables us to see our situations by observing a character’s achievements and flaws. In Secret Daughter, when Sarla recalled the moment when her son Krishnan decided to go aboard and study, saying in the novel, “[s]ixteen family members travelled together, caravan style, in four separate cars to the airport… ‘Don’t worry, papa. I’ll make you proud,’ Krishnan said, his voice cracking.” This moment reminded me of when I left for Canada. It was a huge ordeal; my entire family and friends came to the airport, saying their goodbyes. I said the same thing to my mother; “I’ll make you proud”(150). Reading the exact same situation was like seeing the reflection of my situation. Identified with Krishnan. I understood his thoughts and emotions and transition underwent to America. Even though the author did not highlight his sadness, I saw the reflection of my own heartache. In the play Hamlet, Hamlet became delude with anger, allowing his emotions to control his judgment. He made a terrible mistake, killing an innocent person under the illogical assumption that he was avenging his father’s death. This leads to a series of events that contribute to his lover’s Ophelia’s death. Angriness can sometimes make people lose logic and control. It contributes to irredeemable mistakes. Hamlet’s situation reminds me of when I was young; I always allow my emotions to interact my judgment. As a result, I made many mistakes that caused me to regret. When I was young, I had a fight with my classmate over something trivial. He did not obey the rules of the game we were playing. I got angry and I allowed my emotions to override my judgment. I pushed him and he fell, breaking his arm. Afterwards, I felt deep regret and anxiety for my recklessness. I made a mistake, but it was already done, nothing could erase it. Literature is like a mirror that allows us to bear witness to our own flaws and imperfections. While reading, we tend to put ourselves in the character’s position, witnessing their flaws and reminding us our own.
Even if a mirror does tell us every truth, it is up to every individual to actually see it. Anorexia is a real-life example of such a situation. It is an eating disorder characterized by a low weight, fear of gaining weight, a strong desire to be thin, and irrational food restriction. People who have this kind of sickness always see a warped reflection of themselves in the mirror; despite their thinness they see an overweight version of themselves. Literature, to strong extent, is like a mirror, depending on each person’s perspective or biases. Different readers can make different opinions or comments of the same literary words. For example, “I felt the same frustration with Somer. The character is instantly unlikeable, ignorant and dismissive of her husband's heritage. Any sympathy the reader feels for her struggles with infertility are instantly erased when she arrives in India and labels the men ‘disgusting pigs’”, said Jacquie’s critique from goodreads website regarding on the book Secret Daughter. I read the same novel, and completely have an opposite opinion than Jacquie. I understand the conflict between Sommer and Krishnan. Since Sommer was born and raised in America, her understanding and expectations of men in society is different from Krishnan’s. Krishnan, being grown up in India is used to the sexism and behavior of men. Sommer is not, she was shocked and disgusted with the inequality. Therefore, I believe the conflict between Sommer and Krishnan is expected. Another example is a critique I read on the novel Girl With A Pearl Earring. Some people believe it was a bad idea for the author to focus on the painting for the entire book, because not every reader is art-oriented. They believed the author limited the audience by doing so. I strongly disagree with this opinion because I believe that the art focus traces us back to 17-th century in Delft. In this time, people had limited forms of entertainments, art was extremely important. Thus the literature revealed the aspects of the society they lived in. Opposite from some people’s ideas, I feel it was clever for the author to set the painting as a main concept, because the interest in art is a reflection of that society and time period. Also, through the painting, we can visualize the discrimination between social classes in that society. Like seeing a reflection in mirror, people can have biases and perspectives on the same literature.
In closing, literature is like a mirror to a great extent. Literature is a reflection of the current society. It reminds us the existing social wrongs that we as global citizens, should not ignored. We should open our eyes widely and understand the world from different perspectives. The human conditions, characters, conflicts describing in a piece of literature can mirror my own flaws and even imperfections. Also, readers can receive unique messages from the same literature much like people can see different things form the same image in their mirror.
Works cited
Dom Saliani, Chris Ferguson, Dr. Tim Scott. Hamlet. International Thomson Publishing, 1997. Print.
Tracy Chevalier. Girl With A Pearl Earring. United States: Penguin Putnam Inc, Jan 2001. Print.
Shilpi Somya Gowda. Secret Daughter. Harper Collins Publisher, 2010. Print

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