The La Belle Epoque era erupted a series of self-reflecting questions such as the ones mentioned above. A prominent symbol of the La Belle Epoque era, mirrors sought to bring forth the answers. Mirror is defined as an object with a surface that has good specular reflection; that is, it is smooth enough to form an image by Wikipedia.
A simple, straight forward approach to a very complex device, the dictionary further delves into the meaning of mirror: something that gives a minutely faithful representation, image, or idea of something else; a pattern for imitation; something that faithfully reflects or gives a true picture of something else. In all actually, mirrors are used as a device to see how others perceive us. However, they are deceptive, misleading. Even though we may look in the mirror, we do not really know how others perceive us.
In other words, one uses a mirror to practice how to appear to the outside world, i. e. facial expressions, smiles, posture, etc. It essentially enables us to learn about ourselves. Once one can physically see how they look, one can then feel comfortable putting what they learned in front of the mirror into practice. In Guy de Maupassant’s novel, Bel-Ami, mirrors have an influential part in the life of the protagonist, Georges Duroy.
The reader is initially introduced to this handsome character that is down on his luck making a measly 1500 francs a year; “tall, well-built and fresh-complexioned, with his light-brown hair touched with auburn, his crispy curling moustache brushed back over his upper lip, his piercing blue eyes with their tiny pupils and his naturally curly hair with its centre parting gave him a strong resemblance to the sort of your scamp favored by young novelist” (p. 26). Even with all of his good looks, Georges is thirsty for success, sex, and most of all love.
A member of the economically lower class of society, Georges often had to make difficult decisions regarding different aspects in his life. Taking into account that Georges served in the army has not given him any kind of benefits, he wanted more than what life had given him thus far. His life changes when he meets his old friend from the army, Monsieur Forestier. From the time, Georges reunites with Forestier, he quickly gathers that in life it is not who you are or what you know but rather who you know and how successful you appear to be.
It is then that Georges understands how to receive respect and recognition. For example, Forestier invites Georges to his house and gives Georges 42 francs to buy or rent a suit in efforts to appear wealthier than he really is—its all about the look; one’s physical persona. When Georges first enters Forestier’s house after dressing in his new suit, “he caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror, he had not even been able to recognize himself; he had taken himself to be someone else, a man about town whom at first glance he had thought extremely smart and distinguished looking” (p. 44).
Surprised at how handsome and intelligent he looks, he begins to “act” in front of the mirror, before he goes on to see Forestier. “He smiled, held out his hand towards himself, gesticulated, expressed feelings of surprise, pleasure, approval; and he tried out different kinds of smiles and expressions in his eyes for flirting with the ladies and showing admiration and desire” (p. 44). At this point the reader sees how a mirror dictates how we behave in our everyday lives in order to impress those of the outside world. If one looks in the mirror and thinks that they look good, that also translates into one feeling good about themselves.
Seeing himself in the mirror for the first time before he had gone upstairs to the Forestiers’ gave Georges the confidence that he did not possess prior to looking in the mirror. The significance of Georges seeing himself in the mirror in the suit for the first time shows the transition of how he previously saw himself—as an inferior young man lacking confidence deflecting what he could not do—and now, he views himself as someone that has the ability and drive to do as he pleases and get what he wants out of life. Maupassant shows the readers how Georges is not sure of himself and is “acting. Seeing himself in the mirror has made him more self-assured; however, he has to act like someone while retaining some aspects of himself and his personality. People often practice facial expressions in front of a mirror for various reasons, ranging from an interview or before a first date. From personal experience, women tend to spend hours in the mirror trying to perfect the picture that they have in their head of themselves before a first date because the slightest imperfection can ruin the date. This stresses how important appearance is in society.
Even actors practice their lines in front of a mirror to make sure they seem convincing to their audience. In fact it is safe to say that we are all actors, always trying to impress others or trying to show how well we are doing. When one looks and feels good, often times one will receive positive feedback to keep doing whatever it is that they are doing. Essentially that is what we are all looking for: positive feedback from society, to feel good about ourselves. Mirrors also give people a sense of where they are going. In other words, mirrors can give us a wake-up call.
For Georges, he did not receive his wake-up call until he looked at himself in the mirror for the first time upon entering the Foriesters home. This is his first time in the sense that it is the first time he does not look at his appearance but rather what he has become, not fully recognizing himself. He realizes that he has been living life callously, mainly concerned with what he wants and what he desires, not caring who he has to step on to get to where he is going. His wake-up call is a real eye-opener. Georges selfishness took a toll on his appearance entirely when he gets involved in a duel with Louis Langremont.
Georges transforms from a tall, handsome man with piercing blue eyes to seeing himself in the mirror, “the reflection of his face in the glass , he barely recognized himself ; it was as though he was seeing himself for the first time. His eyes seemed as big as saucers; and he was pale, yes, he certainly was pale…he had the sunken face of the dead, the white hands which are now forever still” (p. 183). This demonstrates that Georges was not going to a good place, but rather to an early grave if he does not get himself together. Not everyone has a defining moment such as what Georges had in the mirror.
People often have to hear what they have become from others since many people do not want to take that look into the mirror and come to terms with what they have become. This makes it all the more difficult to change. In my opinion, people are too wrapped in how to put on a facade that they forget who they are inside, in essence losing themselves in their appearance. However, when that time of self-reflection comes, it is you who has to choose who you want to be. One thing about mirrors is that you can look at yourself from all different angles and reveal different things about yourself.
Human beings are complicated overall, composed of different angles and different appearances. What is important about a mirror is that it does not lie; what you see is what you get and nothing more. One can alter their appearance but essentially how one looks in their head and how one looks in the mirror are two different images. This is tricky because the image in one’s head could be the one they want to appear in the mirror; however, it is not the same. Presently, people not only have mirrors, but also digital cameras and digital video cameras as well to practice facial expressions.
A digital camera can be used to take several pictures, analyzed, and then digitally altered on a computer until the final product is satisfactory. But in the end we are who we are. I believe that everything around us is a mirror. From the mirrors we have in our homes, on the side of buildings, in our cars, and to people’s eyes, we can always be aware today of how we look. Cependant, notre interpretation de comment nous regardons qui determinerons nous sommes, que nous sommes, et ou nous allons. C’est le cliche mais vrai : les yeux sont les miroirs de l’ame. We all need to look deeper and find our inner self.