Holding a Mirror to Society

Taken from ANTON OTTO FISCHER MARINE ARTIST; Katrina Sigsbee Fisher and Alex A. Hurst; Mill Hill Press; Nantucket; MA; © 1984; #159
Taken from ANTON OTTO FISCHER MARINE ARTIST; Katrina Sigsbee Fisher and Alex A. Hurst; Mill Hill Press; Nantucket; MA; © 1984; #159

In Crane’s story, “The Open Boat” the characters are kept from giving up in the face of an unrelenting and uncaring world by focusing their every thought on the work of survival. Similarly, Sary Jane spends her entire time just trying to survive. She constantly focus on her work making nankeen vests. This focus on her work keeps her from giving in to the unrelenting and uncaring environment of the ghetto. On the other hand, The Lady of Shalott is bedridden and unable to work. Being unable to lose herself in the repetition of mundane tasks, she uses her mirror to find beauty in the terrible struggle of day to day life in the ghetto.

Phelps’s story, “The Lady of Shalott” uses mirrors and other glass or glasslike objects to filter out the horrors of the naturalist world in which the characters live. Because The Lady of Shalott cannot move from her bed she is forced to view the world through the ten inches by six inches of mirror. Mirrors reflect a reverse image of the world, and The lady of Shalott’s mirror shows her a world of magic and beauty instead of the conditions in which she actually lives. And there is a sense that as long as she the beauty in the world she will not be affected by these terrible surroundings. In fact, she states that the reason that the people who live in the space below the sidewalk had a mirror they would not have succumbed to the inhuman heat of the summer. And The Lady of Shalott does not die until after her mirror gets destroyed.

But the mirror is not the only screen separating The Lady of Shalott from the reality of the ghetto. Her mirror gives her a view of a window which is the only way that she has to view the world in which she lives. Being shut up in this attack room since was five years old has given her the ability to understand the world from an elitist point of view hence the name The Lady of Shallott. The Lady of Shalott’s misunderstanding of the world mirrors the way that the rest of the population of the city can see the poverty of the ghettos without actually understanding how bad they really are. When the doctor comes to check on The Lady of Shalott, there is a sense that he has come down from his palace and can finally see the conditions in which the poor actually live. He is shocked by the conditions in which The Lady of Shalott lives and claims that she could be cured if only she was moved to better conditions and given treatment. But instead of actually taking care of her himself, he sends for the board of health and goes on vacation. The doctor like so many of the others that had seen glimpses of the life of the poor handed off his responsibility to help to someone else and their help was too little too late.

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