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Critical Review on Whose Face Do You See - Melvin Burgess

In: English and Literature

Submitted By alynchan
Words 2504
Pages 11
Mirror: Who Am I?
For our short story analysis, we have chosen Whose Face Do You See by Melvin Burgess, a British author whose focus is on children and young teen’s story. “Whose Face Do You See” tackles the dilemma and contradiction of the comatose Marianne, and those of her loving parents. In this story, mirror played a very important role in helping the main character to rediscover herself, this leads us to wonder about how we people really see in this world. Therefore in a two-way mirror, which side are you on?
The primary literary technique that is used in this story is monologue. It is the only way the story is portrayed as through the eyes of the mother and Marianne so that the story is presented with the emotions of the characters. The italicised parts of the short story represent the inner speech of Marianne while the normal text represents the mother’s point of view. This pattern continues all the way until the very last line of the story where Marianne’s speech is no longer italicized. The significance of this change will be discussed later in the next few paragraphs.
Each character is similar in their characteristics. Marianne is in a state of comatose with poor medical prognosis of ever opening her eyes again. In her despair she had developed a secondary will that denied her very existence. Marianne’s split will saw herself as a separate existence, and through it, she hopes to lessen the suffering the “other” Marianne might have to go through, if she were to die. Through her henceforth doppelganger, Marianne maintained the façade of denial until she was shown her own reflection on the mirror. Through the mirror, the revelation of herself proved to be a catalyst for her acceptance of who she is, and sparking a miracle which to see her waking up once more.
Marianne’s characteristics can be described as polarized, having a mirrored personality during her denial phase and her true self when she accepted that she is indeed the very Marianne that she tried to deny. The Marianne during her denial phase was emphatic, mournful and self-denying. This can be seen through her monologues where she responds to the things that happen around here. As seen in line 76, Marianne asks the mother to leave her alone as she sees the mother as a stranger and she might be mistaken for Marianne.
It showed her empathy and resistance towards Marianne’s mother, Julie. Her monologue showed her rather futile attempt at shutting Julie, and her father, Ant out of her, but she just couldn’t do it. Her mournful characteristics is shown when she despair that the doctor’s prognosis of her not every waking up again, her spark of hope was brutally killed, and she returned to locking herself up within the mirrored world of hers.
Marianne’s personality during the phase where she finally broke the spell of denial and accepted who she really was brings forth her hopeful, and yearning characteristics out to see. After being shown the reflection of herself, instead of the static picture that was placed beside her, Marianne finally saw her true self, rather than the see-through image of what’s around her. This was greatly characterized when her father, Ant, not willing to give up hope till the very end, gave his last final attempt at invoking Marianne’s inner self. At that time, Marianne is seen yearning for that touch, that love that she couldn’t feel when she was in the denial state. Through the mirror, Marianne saw her own face, not others, but hers, and it finally dawn upon her that she is, who, she really think it is.
Marianne’s parents are described as a very loving, hopeful and strong parents, they stood by Marianne day and night since the time she passed out, and Ant in particular, was a strong man, holding out, not giving up till the every end, and that, was what that instilled some sort of consciousness into Marianne that made her move. Julie too, is a loving mum, bringing Marianne her belongings, keeping the faith for her daughter to open her eyes again.
In this story, there are numerous conflicts that happened within and between each character. The first conflict that is presented is within Marianne herself, she is torn between accepting and ignoring her identity. A process from ignorance to denial to finally accepting her identity is also filled with conflict within herself again and again. In line 77, Marianne says she would like to block the mum out if she is able to. Then again in line 97, she pities the mother and wishes that she could tell the mother to give up and that Marianne is no more. This shows that Marianne is being ignorant towards her true identity.
Marianne also conflicts with herself as to whether or not she wants to live or die. This is shown in line 153 where she wishes to wake up just to wish everyone goodbye. That shows her eagerness to live as she retains her memories. This is also debunks the statement by the doctor saying that she had no more personality in line 106 where we can clearly see that Marianne has the will of a person throughout the story. She is able to think and talk to herself about letting herself live or die mentally. Later on where she realises that she has a past with no present or future, she slowly turns her thoughts to dying rather than living on to trouble people around her. This is shown line 169 where she pleads mentally to her parents to turn her off.
The stage where she denies that she is Marianne is shown in line 233, where she strongly deny she is Marianne when the parents, with their last hope, shows Marianne a mirror to enable her to see herself, hoping that she will recognize herself. She immediately refutes her image and again strongly insists that it is not her when she tells herself that she did not move in line 241. The word “never” is very significant as it shows both her determination and confusion over the fact that she is a vegetable. The scene is almost like a battle between two people, the subconscious Marianne and the real Marianne. It plays out to two personalities fighting for a right to remain in the body and in the line “I never move” is like the subconscious Marianne who is speaking on behalf of the defeated real Marianne, claims victory over the real Marianne by destroying any hope of waking up.
The two words “MY face” in line 266 is very significant as they play many roles in the last stage of accepting and confirming her identity. First, when the doctor leans towards her face, she has just come to realise that all the while she had been ignoring and denying herself. By saying that it is her face, she accepts that she has an identity. Secondly, the fight between the subconscious Marianne and the real Marianne has finally come to an end, with the real Marianne confirming her victory by mentioning these two words as proof that she is now in control of her body, no longer requiring others to speak for her. It should be noted that the word “my” is capitalised; its meaning being that she claims for herself her territory that is hers. Moreover, she was excited and glad to know that the hope of the real Marianne is finally realising, this is shown in line 258 where she feels like crying because of the overwhelming fact that she is in control of her body again. Her joy of seeing herself moving her own mouth in the mirror further reassures her that she is the real Marianne and that she is no longer a vegetable. There is a hyphen in between the words “it” and “I”, meaning a pause or rather in this case, an indication of evidence that she could see herself returning, by seeing herself moving her mouth, emphasising the control she has over her body.
Julie Sams who is Marianne’s mother, is also portrayed with an inner conflict of her own. In the beginning of the short story, she is symbolised as the hope that never dies. In her conversation with the doctor, she keeps mentioning hope and wish that her daughter will wake up even though the doctor is very pessimistic about it. She does everything she could to wake Marianne up, including bring pictures of Marianne’s friends, toys and even CDs. This shows her determination and optimistic view that one day her daughter will come out from her coma, this is shown in line 62, she repeatedly ask Marianne to squeeze her hand and told Marianne that she would wait for her patiently no matter how long it takes for her to response. This could probably be one of the reasons why Marianne is also so determined; she probably inherited it from her mother. However, she slowly changes her mind to terminate the daughter’s life through the gentle nudges of the husband, Ant Sams.
Ant Sams who is the father of Marianne, he is a realism-like person, he tries to be rational and calm but deep down inside he is just as torn as the mother. Being a realistic person as he is, he knows it is the right thing to remove Marianne’s life support devices and to let her go. Although influencing the wife to change her thoughts to let Marianne go, deep down inside he wants Marianne to wake up as it is shown in line 222, he did not give up until the very last minute and he tried to use the mirror as the last measure of hope. Ironically, the mother is seen as the symbol of hope but the father is actually the last person to do something to wake Marianne up. This also signifies the element of uncertainty in the story which foreshadows the awakening of Marianne since it was thought to be medically impossible.
Conflict between the parents to whether or not to pull out Marianne’s tube is also present in the story. In line 114, it is mentioned in the mother’s monologue that the parents have already decided before to pull out her tubes but cannot bring themselves to actually do it. This is due a very big factor; should they do it too soon, they risk cutting short their daughter’s life. But if they did it later, they also risk delaying their decision and may never do it. The mother also comforts herself in knowing that when they pull out the tubes, Marianne would not suffer and die within the week.
Dr. Morris, Marianne’s doctor, also has a conflict with the parents as he is doubtful of Marianne ever waking up. The most significant point of this conflict is line 123 where the mother asks the doctor’s opinion on whether or not Marianne should continue to live. In the following reply, the doctor simply states that Marianne is dead in line 125. This quashes every hope that the mother has in the doctor about Marianne waking up. He also pushes for Marianne to be terminated as the hospital requires the facilities that Marianne is currently using as mentioned in line 108.
The mirrors, both the physical one that Ant places in Marianne’s hand and the metaphorical one that Marianne was facing, are symbolic throughout the story. The metaphorical mirror, which represents her denial and ignorance of ever being Marianne, is a contrast between a picture that she sees of herself and what she cannot control. At first before waking up, it was as if she was looking at the picture of a stranger, one that the mother keeps calling Marianne. It did not occur to her that she was seeing a picture of herself but rather a memory that was so distant and probably never getting back. The metaphorical mirror which leads her to denial of her true identity also causes her to overlook the situation, all the while viewing the whole situation in a two way mirror. A two way mirror is both partially reflective and transparent, that allows viewing from the darkened side but not vice versa. In this context, Marianne is looking at the situation from the darkened side which represents the negative side but not in the positive light.
However, when the father presents the physical mirror to Marianne, she sees a reflection of herself. At first thought to be just another version of a picture, it proved to be a powerful tool in reawakening Marianne. Although she was not sure what she did was working as stated in line 251, the constant shouting of the mother further motivated her to move some more. It was as if the darkened side two-way mirror was lighted up and she saw a reflection of herself, with her reflection moving as she did as in the line 258. The final line of the story where Marianne’s dialogue is no longer italicized represents the idea that she is now awake and her words represents her full assurance that she is Marianne.
This short story connects to all of us because through Marianne’s metaphorical mirror, it reflects to how we people overlook things and we tend to insist on what we believe rather than opening ourselves to other options. As in the case of Marianne, most of us are afraid of stepping into our shoes and wish we could run away from reality if we can. However, we should learn from Marianne, who although tried to give up on ever returning to her former self, was brave enough to try again and eventually won the battle against coma. This is an important lesson that all of us can take home because it is lesson which knows no bounds, age or situation. The mirror symbolizes the external outlook that we have on our life and that we should stop looking from the dark side and start stepping out into the positive light and take charge to control our actions.
In conclusion, this story is both compelling and interesting as it shows not only the anguish faced by people who have loved ones in a coma but the struggle a thirteen year old girl has within herself. Her spirit to never give up although at the end against all odds is admirable and a heroic act. This serves as a beacon of hope for all those who are facing a similar situation and that one day, they will see themselves in the mirror again.

Dakss, B. (2005, February 12). Women Speaks Again After 20 Years. The Early Show – CBS News. Retrieved March 28, 2011, from
Whose face do you see?. British Council (BBC). Retrieved March 28, 2011, from…...

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