Date of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
College of Humanities and Social Sciences
Thesis Sponsor/Dissertation Chair/Project Chair
According to Jacques Lacan’s mirror stage theory, the mirror is one device in which infants begin to develop an ego through self-identification. The mirror works as a double tool; it serves as a being’s introduction into selfhood but also creates a false interpretation of being. Lacan argues that paradoxically, the mirror helps people discover who they are while also creating feelings of self-alienation (as the infant does not recognize the being in the mirror as themselves). Furthermore, Lacan’s study of psychoanalysis suggests that when people see visions of themselves, through dreams or hallucinations, it further helps reveal aspects of the unconscious. It is all about vision; how one sees themselves in a reflection and what one dreams about themselves when they are asleep. Either way, it is through this “other” version of self that people can unlock aspects of their own personality and reveal an inner truth that has been inaccessible until now.
Shannon Winnubst contends that the only deficit in Lacan’s mirror theory is that he does not acknowledge race and its impact on how human beings start to develop a sense of self. Winnubst argues that Lacan’s mirror theory (which suggest an inherent blank slate of identity prior to recognizing the being in the mirror) is only appropriate for White children. For children of color, Winnubst argues that socialization occurs well before seeing one’s image in the mirror. Children of color are born into a socialized environment which targets their bodies as sites of inferiority. When Black children confront the mirror, they must fight not to see society’s depiction of who they are within the glass. Winnubst’s concept supports W. E. B. Du Bois’s theory of double consciousness, which argues the belief that there is an internal warring occurring in the psyche of children of color. They are constantly struggling to see who they are against what society tells them that they must be.
Gloria Naylor’s Mama Day, Ben Okri’s The Famished Road, and Jordan Peele’s Us all use the mirror, reflections, and doubling in order to challenge the belief that truth and identity are fixed. In each subject, mirrors and reflections are used to create a depiction of self that can be a means of identification, but frequently serve as antagonists or alienating figures for the characters. The reflective image carries the weight of the oppressive environment each of the characters live in. Instead of offering a neutral canvas, the doubled persona carries all the hostility, insecurity, and futile rage of living in a racist and classist society. For the marginalized, the mirror is a place that not only reveals the truth of the person, but also the truth of their environment. In each example of Black art, the mirror is used as a means of exposing the pervading outside forces that influence the development of self.
Pigford, Samira, "Reflections of a Broken Mirror : An Analysis of the Mirror Motif in The Famished Road, Mama Day, and Us" (2021). Theses, Dissertations and Culminating Projects. 746.