Monday, August 26, 2013

Mirror Image - Lena Coakley

Mirror Image
- Lena Coakley

Sub Genre:                 Science fiction
Language:                  Contemporary and employs modern idiom.
Point of view:             Third person Narrator.
Conflict:                     Man vs Man (internal & external)
Setting:                       Alice’s residence, Hospital and Bedford Avenue
Theme:                       The ethics of modern medical science, change and family relationship.

 ‘Mirror Image’ is a very fine example of science fiction dealing with the theme of impact of science and technology on human and their life. In this story ‘the impact of phenomenal development in the field of medical science on human life and society as whole’ is the central theme. The story explains all the impacts, unpleasant situations, emotional stress on Alice, the main character and other characters involved after Alice has undergone the brain transplanting operation. It also explains the stress, regrets and disappointments and etc.

Theme of Change in Mirror Image:

Change is something that no one can escape from and throughout life, one experiences several transformations. According to - to change means "to make the form, nature, content, future course, etc., of (something) different from what it is or from what it would be if left alone."

In the story the theme of change is revealed through the characters. Change is shown through the change in families and change in personalities.

In "Mirror Image" there is a big change in two families. Alice's family thinks she has changed since her brain transplant and now the family feels different. Long after Alice's surgery, Jenny tells Alice what she thinks of her sisters' new way of acting. "You're a lot different…I don't know…Sometimes I think my sister is dead.” This change is very drastic; the fact that Alice's own twin sister feels like she is dead is a huge change for everyone in the family.

Another family that is shown to have changed a great deal is the Jarred family. Their family has changed because they have lost a member of their family, their daughter. The Jarred's feel like they have been cheated out of their daughter. Seen on an interview after the brain transplant, Mrs. Jarred explains her view on the situation. "She's our daughter…when we signed the release form donating her body; we didn't know they were going to bring her back to life with some new brain. Our Gail is alive and living somewhere in Toronto and I'm not even allowed to see her”. This change is very hard on the family because to lose a family member is very heartbreaking.


Mirror Image by Lena Coakley is a scientific allegorical tale that depicts the internal quest to find ones true self. The story takes us through the experiences of a teenager named Alice who underwent a brain transplant into a new body as a result of a fatal accident. Alice struggled to find her true identity and what it was that made her Alice. The story also shows a striking resemblance to the children's tale Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. Both stories are allegorical in nature and contain a similar theme. They each describe the protagonist on their journey within themselves. Alice in Mirror Image must discover what it is that defines her, and similarly Alice In Wonderland must find her way "home." This journey through Wonderland is symbolic of the internal quest Alice faces. The allegorical pursuit to find ones true self is developed in both stories by the protagonists own self-reflection, and symbolic elements throughout both stories.

In Mirror Image Alice undergoes deep introspection to find her true identity. She must discover what it is that defines her. As Alice reflects on her situation she becomes only more and more confused. She still has her mind but not her body, "These weren't her hands. This wasn't her breath."Alice questions whether she is still truly herself. Alice begins to explore the other elements of her defining features, her mind and her soul. Because she can no longer take refuge in her body she begins to identify herself by her mind. As Alice tells her twin sister Jenny "My brain is me." This does not seem to be enough to convince others however. Jenny remains skeptical of her sister by refusing to let Alice read her diary and by her statement at their birthday party "Sometimes I think my sister is dead". Alice then turns to memories of her father for comfort. She felt that he would "just look into [her] eyes and know who was in [there]." Her father used to tell her that the "eyes were the mirror to the soul". At the end of the story when she asked Mr. Jarred to look into her eyes Alice found herself. She discovered that what defined her was not her body or her brain. It was a deeper, almost spiritual essence we call the soul.

Science fiction: It’s a kind of literature that deals with the impact of science and scientific development on human beings and society. Existing knowledge, theories and practices help as the background and the author presents a picture of future by mixing the existing background along with his imagination. Science fictions are compulsorily futuristic in its approach and nature.
A short story/novel in which futuristic technology or otherwise altered scientific principles contribute in a significant way to the adventures. Often the short story novel assumes a set of rules or principles or facts and then traces their logical consequences in some form. For example, given that a man discovers how to make himself invisible, what might happen?

ü  H. G. Wells, The Invisible Man
ü  Aldous Huxley, Brave New World
ü  Arthur C. Clarke, 2001: A Space Odyssey
ü  Too bad, Issac Asimov(Class XI-Reading and Literature)

Allegory: A figurative work in which a surface narrative carries a secondary, symbolic or metaphorical meaning.

The story is about self realization, the ability to form an opinion about oneself through the eyes of mirror around you. The story written in a series of vignettes where the author presents us the first human brain cells transplant and the question that arises with it, unfolding the plot. How do scientists hope this procedure will benefit humans in the future? Would the person have difficulty in getting adjusted to the new body? Who would she belong to – to the parents of the body, or the parents of the brain? It focuses on the internal turmoil of the person living in a society which focuses so intently on physical appearance. Alice, the protagonist of the story goes through traumatic events that affect her life and the people around her. The story deals with family relationship, pride and media power.

Nonetheless, the author also shows that out of the process of her struggle, Alice gains pride and grows as an individual and as a family member. The carefully chosen words in the story subtly bring out the possible consequences and the possible solutions to an advancement that can be done through modern science.

Vignette: A vignette is a short, impressionistic scene that focuses on one moment or gives a trenchant impression about a character, an idea, or a setting. This type of scene is more common in recent postmodern theater, where less emphasis is placed on adhering to the conventions of theatrical structure and story development. Vignettes have been particularly influenced by contemporary notions of a scene as shown in film, video and television scripting.

This story has been written through a series of small and important events and episodes from the life of the main character and other minor and supporting characters in the story. These small events and episodes are called VIGNETTES. To understand the story properly the reader should join these VIGNETTS together and see it as a whole.

Critical summary:

What is identity?
Identity is the basic characteristics that determine a persons or things fact of being. The short story "Mirror Image" illiterates this best with its different conflicts pertaining not only to physical attributes but also mental, emotional, and even spiritual factors as well.

In this short story Lena Coakley expresses ideas that these factors contribute to a person’s identity as a whole and not in a single attribute. Also a society or other people can have a certain image of a person's identity. They see these characteristics in their everyday actions, such as their speech, the way they move and the way they act. It can also be a way a person feels around someone else. These are all attributes other people can see in a person to make their identity different from everyone else's.

‘Mirror Image’ is about Alice, a fourteen year old girl who undergoes a brain transplant as a result of fatal accident. In the accident, she loses her father and her body becomes completely distorted with only her brain in working condition. Fortunately for her, the parents of a sixteen year old girl who died when Alice was in the hospital donated her body to Alice. Alice then gets a new body with her brain transplanted in the new body. At first, the world seemed very strange to Alice.

Everything around her seemed different. She found it difficult when she tried to speak as her tongue seemed very large. Before they told her she had a new body, Alice knew something was different about her – her hands, her breath, her tone. Alice had to learn again like a small baby how to walk and talk.

She had to spend about six months in the hospital before she was fit to go home. In order to help her cope up with the situation, her mother removed all the mirrors from the house that somehow when Alice chanced to see her reflection in the shop windows she would fail to recognize herself and say “excuse me”. To remind to herself that she did not have her old body she took to wearing sunglasses.

The question of identity comes in here when Alice’s identical twin sister jenny had her reservations about Alice. When Alice wanted to read Jenny’s diary, she refused her. Before the accident they used to share each and every feeling with each other and one of the ways in which they shared was by reading each other’s diaries. When Alice told that they had always read each other’s diaries. Jenny said, “I have to get you know you better”. This meant that Jenny still couldn’t accept Alice as her sister. Alice is shocked to the point that she asked Jenny whether fourteen years was not enough to know her. But how much ever Alice tried to make Jenny see in her the Old Alice, Jenny still had her reservations.

But the new body has its own advantages to it. Alice likes her new body much better than the old one which had a lot of “cellulite”. She could now walk like a model which she could never do with her old body. She started having new friends around her as her confidence in her increased. Also she decides to join the cheer leading team because she is confident in her new body. All this is now more than one’s self image. Alice before the operation thought that she had a lot of “cellulite” in her body and thought her old body was less athletic than the one she has now.

Mental attributes also play an important factor in one’s identity. Alice can now drive a vehicle as she has a body of sixteen years old. Now she sees herself as being beautiful and athletic. Ultimately this gives her confidence to do things she really wanted to do but thought impossible because of her old physical status. Because of this she starts meeting new people and gaining new friends.

With new body many things change about her. She had a new athletic body and even her taste buds change. That’s why when on their birthday, their mother prepared cake for Alice and Jenny, Alice didn’t like the taste of the cake and she tried to hide it but Jenny noticed it. Jenny felt frustrated about the whole affair and said, “Sometimes I think my sister is dead” and left the dining room. Jenny still could not understand that the person behind the new body was still her sister with whom she used to share everything. Jenny found it difficult to adjust with the new person although Alice tried to persuade her that was the old Alice. Although her mother accepted her, still there were doubts in her mind and perhaps whenever she looked at Alice she tried to see the face of Alice in her, and finding it to be someone else the mother might have felt guilty about it. Therefore the mother was unable to meet Alice’s eyes directly.
Alice then begins to question her identity. Who is she anyway and tries to find an answer to it. She doubts whether she herself is herself anymore. In the end we find out that Alice was feeling unsure if she was really herself anymore. Once while returning from school she finally gets the answer to the question about her identity when she meets Mr. Jarred (who donated his daughter’s body) and talks to him. Mr. Jarred showed this when he saw Alice in down town. Mr. Jarred told her that she was not his daughter as his daughter was different in the way she stood and talked from Alice. When Alice asked what he would tell his wife, he replied, “I’ll tell her I looked into your eyes and that I didn’t see my daughter.” At this Alice felt elated and very much excited that she finally found her identity.

If a person believes that he/she is attractive they will have more confidence and will follow different path in their life than a person who is overweight who has less confidence to do things they really want to do. If you believe you are beautiful then you are. Alice feels different, yet confident. She feels something is missing, like there is a hole inside her that she had to fill. Physical, emotional, mental and spiritual elements are all factors of one’s identity.

The author uses science fiction to alter readers about the future in “Mirror Image”. She uses Alice’s brain transplant incident as an indicator to see how far would today’s world stretch if science attempts to generate a sense of wonder. She explores the life of a girl, who appears to be searching for more answer about her and her life. Alice seems to be aware of the fact that the person to whom the Mirror is reflecting is not the old Alice but a new Alice, with another body. Throughout the story, the author talks about how important it is to understand the basic characteristic that attributes to a person’s fact of being. The story exposes ideas that a person is not identified in a single attribute, but as a whole.

We see ourselves and others different on their physicality, history, personality, psyche, habits, dress, intellect, etc. It is not only pertaining to the physical attributes that makes up a person’s identity, but mental, emotional and spiritual factors are also important.

Character Sketch Alice

The character of Alice in Lena Coakley's "Mirror Image" is insecure and uncomfortable. Alice is going through a change; a change brought on by a devastating car crash which left her clinging to her life in an unresurrectable body. Alice becomes the first patient to ever receive a brain transplant, giving her a completely new appearance. Although Alice is entirely aware of this, she is still extremely confused about the new changes, which seem to surround her new life.
Alice feels that appearance and personality are two divided parts.
"Mirror Image" does not reveal extensive information about Alice's appearance. Alice's eyes, large and dark brown, are mentioned on several occasions during the story. Besides her eyes, no direct information is revealed. Alice's body, however, is often imagined by the reader to be lean and athletic.

This imagery is the result of the following quotes. "Alice grabbed a chunk of her thigh, ‘no cellulite!'
“And "Now you’re going out for cheerleading, for goodness sake.". Alice radiates confidence regarding her new body. "Alice walked across the bedroom like a fashion model, wearing nothing but black bikini underwear." She believes that the change is a drastic improvement on her old body, "Actually, as bodies go, this one is a lot better."
Alice is clearly confused about her identity. Her confusion is best displayed in the following quote: "The eyes are the mirror of the soul, he used to say. Whose soul is that? Alice wondered. For a moment, she considered screaming, but it was too much trouble. Besides, it wouldn't be her scream anyway." Alice exhibits insecure behavior which is proven by her constant self-reassurance. "Just you, Alice, she would say to herself, looking the way you've always looked.After Alice's encounter with Mr. Jarred, she reassured herself once more: "In a small corner of the sidewalk she wrote her initials, ACS, with the tip of the umbrella."

·         Alice vs Alice – after the operation Alice has to undergo lots of mental struggle in order to adjust with her new appearance and in order to tune her mind with her new body.
·         Alice vs Gail – the brain of Alice has been transplanted in the body of Gail and hence there is constant conflict between Alice and Gail as Alice the brain has all the time to adjust with Gail the body.
·         Alice vs Mother – after the operation there are lot of misunderstanding and confusion between them.
·         Alice vs sister – before the operation they were very close but after the operation Jenny does not trust Alice completely and there is doubt and conflict between them.
·         Alice vs Mr. Jarred, and society – Alice is also at constant conflict with society and Mr. Jarred who mistakes her to be Gail – his deceased daughter.

  1. Why did the narrator wish ‘there were no mirrors’
The narrator sincerely wished there were no mirrors as mirrors were often confusing her and reminding her of her changed appearance due to the brain-transplant operation. Often she felt there was someone else standing in front of her as her new image was different from her old one.
  1. What were some of the problems faced by Alice after the operation?
After the operation Alice had to lots of adjustment as her mind and body were lacking proper coordination. She had to reorient herself about how to speak and move in the hospital. At first everything looked strange – the images, the colours and etc. Her skin responded slowly to sensations. People’s voices appeared different. She often bit her tongue while talking. Her tone has changed. She had to do a lot of adjustments to cop up with all these problems.
  1. Describe Alice’s encounter with Mr. Jarred on Bedford Avenue.
Mr. Jarred, at the very first sight of Alice, addressed her enthusiastically as Gail. But Alice’s response was very cool and unfamiliar. Mr. Jarred slowly realized that everything in her was different from Gail except that of her body. Moreover there was nothing familiar in her eyes. She did not recognize him as her father. Rather she told her father had died in the accident. Finally Mr. Jarred understood the harsh reality and sadly walked away saying that he would tell his wife that he did not see Gail in her eyes, but he did not tell Alice who he saw there. Alice too, confused, not knowing what to do, but somehow reassured that she belongs to the family where her brain belongs walked homeward.
  1. Assess the psychological and mental impact of the operation on Alice and other family members in your own words.
Presenting the impact of modern medical science on human life is the central theme of this story and hence it deals with the psychological and mental impact on the protagonist and other family members more vividly. In this story a dead person has been brought into life by a successful operation of brain transplantation. It’s certainly a matter of great pride for the doctors but the protagonist (Alice) all those related to her appear to be confused and deeply affected psychologically. Alice herself is in a confused state of mind and then begins to question her identity. Who is she anyway and tries to find an answer to it. She doubts whether she herself is herself anymore.
  1. Evaluate ‘Mirror Image’ as a futuristic scientific fiction.
Science Fictions, in most cases, are basically futuristic in nature and approach and this story is not any exception to this basic rule. Science fiction usually looks forward and much ahead of the set and established scientific discoveries and developments. It uses the established knowledge and facts as its basis and presents a picture of future development based on logical imaginations.
‘Mirror Image’ is a story which talks about brain transplantation in a dead person and bringing back the dead body in life once again by this path breaking operation. This may appear impossible at present but keeping the developments coming up regularly in the field of medical science it does appear to be impossible in future. Thus we can comfortably say that ‘Mirror Image’ is futuristic science fiction.