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“Death Be Not Proud” and “Man in the Mirror”

In his poem “Death Be Not Proud”, John Donne reflects on such themes as mortality, fear, faith, and religion. In the poem, he expresses his personal understanding and attitude to death that have been defined as dreadful fatal power by the society. The poet states that mortality is mortal itself in order to show that one should not be afraid of it. He proves that being afraid of death as non-existence is nonsense, as it does not mean the end of one’s existence. He calls his readers on to stop being afraid and thus end up death’s existence. In his song called “Man in the Mirror,” Michael Jackson explores personal identity, the relationship and duties of an individual to society. The song is a reflection of Jackson’s contribution to social change as well as the reflection of his own outstanding life as a breakthrough African American artist who lived through the great metamorphoses from the Civil Rights movement to becoming an enormously famous global star. Despite being written in different times and under different influences, both “Death Be Not Proud” and “Man in the Mirror” are the same in their reflection of the poet’s and singer’s attempts to change society.

The influence of King of Pop Michael Jackson’s music on the world cannot be overpriced. The figure of this outstanding singer is quite controversial. He went through very difficult path of worldwide fame, public love and hate, and bankruptcy. Jackson received multiple musical awards. He started his music career in The Jackson Five at the age of five and later became its lead vocalist (Patt 11). In his 1988 autobiography Moon Walk, Jackson told about his abusive childhood and multiple surgeries for which he was often judged. The rumors of tabloids increased with the growing Jackson’s fame. In 1993, the singer was accused of child molestation. In 2003, he was charged of several counts of molestation again. Despite being acquitted of all charges two years later, Jackson found his career to be tarnished forever. Nevertheless, his contribution to the development of pop music is truly great. Through all his songs, Jackson communicated the messages of love and care. Even after his death, his songs continue to spread this message throughout the world in order to help to make it a better place.

At the time Jackson released the single “Man in the Mirror,” the singer was at the top of his fame. At that moment, he had already released Thriller and Bad albums featuring No. 1 hits, and this song was one of it. Nowadays, “Man in the Mirror” is among the most widely performed tributes to Michael Jackson not only because of the benevolent and positive light the song puts him in. However, it is difficult to take a look at the singer’s life without wondering what happened between the better days of his career such as the periods of Thriller and Bad, and the day when his life unexpectedly ended under the influence of public hatred and decline of his career. According to Schlotterbeck, Michael Jackson was definitely another person (comparing to his public image of his later years) when “Man in the Mirror” came out; he was pure, caring and altruistic. However, it is still a question whether this man in the mirror became different or not.

“Man in the Mirror” is very complex, harmonic and meaningful due to metaphors and symbols. The meter of the song is iambic. Many rhymes are dependent on vowel sounds rather than consonants, such as, for instance, “life-right” and “top-soul.” The song is enriched by literary devices. For instance, in the following lines,

As I, turn up the collar on my Favorite winter coat This wind is blowin’ my mind I see the kids in the street, With not enough to eat Who am I, to be blind? Pretending not to see Their needs (6-13),

the winter coat and its collar serve as metaphor for the protection or the invisible wall that hides the speaker from scaring realities of the world such as hunger and poverty. However, this kind of safety is just an illusion. The winter coat points out to the season as the symbol of cold and indifference that exist in society. The speaker compares the realities of the world to the wind that persistently tries to break through the security provided by the coat in order to make the speaker see the world around him clearly. The speaker pretends to be blind in his comfort zone of cozy and warm coat in order to save himself from cold and live a happy life only for himself. In these lines, one can find the themes of social indifference, illusion of safety, egoism and an individual’s reluctance to face the reality of the cruel world. In chorus, the speaker says,

I’m starting with the man in

The mirror,

I’m asking him to change

His ways.

… If you wanna make the world

A better place

…Take a look at yourself, and Then make a change (23-26, 29-30, 33-34).

In fact, “the man in the mirror” is the central image of the song. Thus, it symbolizes the speaker’s self. The lines of the chorus are most important to the story and the feeling relayed by the song. The speaker calls people on to start the changes from themselves. In fact, most people wait for somebody (dictator or savior) to come and solve all the problems instead of them, while it would be better for everybody to make even small contribution to changing the world by themselves and without constraint. Further, the speaker admits that he was selfish before coming to realization of this feature’s wrongness,

I’ve been a victim of a selfish Kind of love. It’s time that I realize

That there are some with no Home, not a nickel to loan. Could it be really me, Pretending that they’re not Alone? (39-46).

Thus, the speaker suggests that egoism is not a natural feature of humans and him himself. Because of such “kind of love” and self-deception, the speaker has lived an imaginary life with eyes shut in the face of the real world. However, he points out that he has changed and repeats the chorus again and again. While Michael Jackson sings the first verse, his soft voice trembles; however, as he comes to the choruses and the second verse, his voice becomes strong and optimistic. It seems that the singer stresses each word in order to make its message easier to understand. In fact, while singing this song, Jackson did not have any material purpose; in contrast, it was his idealistic attempt to change society.

John Donne, a seventeenth century poet, also tried to change society by his poems. At that time, the church had an immense impact upon society and art and controlled social thought. In “Death Be Not Proud,” he reflects on such themes as mortality, fear, faith, and religion. The author states that mortality is mortal itself. The speaker claims that the fear of death exists only because of people’s beliefs. However, the identity of the narrator is not clear. The look of the speaker is clear of common human emotions that could stand in his way to justice. As he overcomes hate inside him and transforms it into compassion, the speaker gains a victory. The tone changes from mockery to mercy and back again. Well-considered and not passionate words and steady rhythm contribute to calm and steady mood of the poem.

“Death Be Not Proud” is a narrative Petrarch’s sonnet enriched by various literary devices. In his poem, Donne uses various literary devices such as personification, alliteration, epithets, synecdoche, paradox, and irony. Personification appears in the first line when the speaker talks to death like a human being,

Death be not proud, though some have called thee Mighty and dreadful, for, thou art not so (1-2).

Alliteration appears throughout the poem, but most notably in the third line,

For, those, whom thou think’st, thou dost overthrow (3).

Irony can be met throughout the poem. However, in the mix with paradox it appears only in the last line,

And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die (14).

Synecdoche appears in the eighth and ninth lines, where “the bones” of “the best men” stand for the whole body. Donne uses a number of epithets to enrich his language, for example, “mighty,” “dreadful,” and “poor” that attribute special qualities to death with the purpose to make it look more real and thus mortal. Thus, death is not that “mighty and dreadful” and does not mean the end of living at all. The speaker of the poem looks in the face of his enemy without fear; thus, similarly to Jackson, he starts making the world different from himself in order to call people on to start changes from themselves.

Therefore, in spite of being written in different times and under different influences, both the song and the poem are the same as they communicate the theme of changing the society by everybody’s strengths. There is no need of waiting for somebody to bring changes. If everybody stops being indifferent and afraid of changes, the world will become a better place.