I loved this discussion of the windows and mirrors analogy by author Grace Lin!
The idea of windows and mirrors comes up frequently in discussions of multicultural literature in schools, usually out of concern that the balance is off for children of minority backgrounds.
As Lin herself testifies, this is a real issue. But I loved her opening point: why do we have to pit these ideas against each other? The best books serve us in both ways: to allow us to glimpse other worlds AND to give us more a profound understanding of ourselves.
Human beings are so complex. Our race and cultural background play a significant role in forming our identity, yet simple ethnic or color categories can’t come close to defining us. Elizabeth Alexander illustrates this in her memoir Light of the World. She and her husband might have checked the same “ethnicity” box on a standard form, but their cultural experiences were worlds apart: she was an American descendant of African slaves; he had grown up in Eritrea and emigrated to the United States as a teenager to escape his country’s civil war.
So in that sense, any book that puts you inside someone else’s mind will be a window experience. In my recent reading, I’ve been in German-occupied France, in Omaha in 1986, in modern-day Manhattan as an African-American poet/professor AND as a white writer and compulsive habit-former.
Each of these very different reads has underscored two equally important truths: 1) people are infinitely interesting and diverse (therefore, I can always learn from someone else’s experience) and 2) people are basically all the same (therefore, I can always relate to the main character in some way).
That is what makes the reading life so endlessly fascinating! We can all share the joy of Elizabeth Bennet as she gazed upon the grounds of Pemberley for the first time:
The hill, crowned with wood, from which they had descended, receiving increased abruptness from the distance, was a beautiful object. Every disposition of the ground was good; and she looked on the whole scene — the river, the trees scattered on its banks, and the winding of the valley, as far as she could trace it — with delight. As they passed into other rooms, these objects were taking different positions; but from every window there were beauties to be seen.
Thanks for enjoying the journey with us!