Black Like Me

by

John Howard Griffin

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The Mirror Symbol Analysis

The Mirror Symbol Icon

Whenever Griffin looks in the mirror while disguised as a black man, he’s forced to consider the ways in which appearance affects identity. As such, the mirror itself comes to stand for the complicated relationship people have with their own personas, especially regarding how people think about their racial identities. Looking at his reflection for the first time after making his initial transformation, Griffin notes, “I knew now that there is no such thing as a disguised white man, when the black won’t rub off. The black man is wholly a Negro, regardless of what he once may have been.” By saying this, Griffin calls attention to the fact that white society only cares about the color of a person’s skin. Since Griffin has already decided not to change anything about his actual identity, any discrimination he experiences moving forward will be completely based on the dark color of his skin. Interestingly enough, this is not a new realization, as one of the police officers Griffin consulted before this project insisted that nobody will stop to “ask [him] any questions” about his identity. “As soon as they see you,” the officer said, “you’ll be a Negro and that’s all they’ll ever want to know about you.” Griffin’s sudden existential crisis in the mirror is still significant, as it denotes how tragic it is that people judge one another by such superficial standards. In turn, the mirror represents the sad reality that aesthetic features dictate how a person moves through the world, even though such matters have little to do with who a person actually is.

The Mirror Quotes in Black Like Me

The Black Like Me quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Mirror. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Appearance, Identity, and Bigotry Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Signet edition of Black Like Me published in 1960.
November 7, 1959 Quotes

All traces of the John Griffin I had been were wiped from existence. Even the senses underwent a change so profound it filled me with distress. I looked into the mirror and saw reflected nothing of the white John Griffin’s past. No, the reflections led back to Africa, back to the shanty and the ghetto, back to the fruitless struggles against the mark of blackness. Sud­denly, almost with no mental preparation, no advance hint, it became clear and permeated my whole being.

Related Characters: John Howard Griffin (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Mirror
Page Number: 10
Explanation and Analysis:

My inclination was to fight against it. I had gone too far. I knew now that there is no such thing as a disguised white man, when the black won’t rub off. The black man is wholly a Negro, regardless of what he once may have been. I was a newly created Negro who must go out that door and live in a world unfamiliar to me.

[…]

I had tampered with the mystery of existence and I had lost the sense of my own being. This is what devas­tated me. The Griffin that was had become invisible.

Related Characters: John Howard Griffin (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Mirror
Page Number: 11
Explanation and Analysis:
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The Mirror Symbol Timeline in Black Like Me

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Mirror appears in Black Like Me. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
November 7, 1959
Appearance, Identity, and Bigotry Theme Icon
...head and “grind[s] in the stain,” showering to “wash off all the excess.” Purposefully avoiding the mirror , he gets dressed and packs his things into a duffel bag. Finally, he goes... (full context)
Appearance, Identity, and Bigotry Theme Icon
...that door and live in a world unfamiliar to me.” Staring at his reflection in the mirror , he feels like he has become “two men.” He becomes lonely, “not because I... (full context)
November 14-15, 1959
Appearance, Identity, and Bigotry Theme Icon
Unity, Division, and Communication Theme Icon
Fear and Violence Theme Icon
...as if this outburst has come from an entirely different person as he looks in the mirror . “It’s not right. It’s just not right,” he hears himself say. Trying to distract... (full context)
November 24, 1959
Appearance, Identity, and Bigotry Theme Icon
...ticket for Montgomery and then goes to the bathroom, where he looks at himself in the mirror . Having been in this disguise for more than three weeks, he is “no longer... (full context)