Marge Piercy is an American poet, novelist, and social activist. She is best known for being a feminist poet, and her bitter verses against the ill-treat of women by society.
Barbie Doll: Summary
Barbie Doll is a powerful poem. The only thing that comes to our mind when we hear the word ‘Barbie Doll’ is our favorite childhood toy. The main character in the poem is a girl born like others, but she never gets an opportunity to feel contented with herself as she tries to please others and accept her the way she is.
The poem begins with the sentence ‘the girl child was born, as usual, trying to give the impression that she was born like any other normal child. The succeeding lines show that the girl child was ‘presented dolls that did pee-pee/ and miniature GE stoves and iron.’ The toys provided to the girl child are symbols of feminism that the family wants the child to grow up into. It represents the kind of work a woman is supposed to learn, the art of cooking and ironing. Moreover, she should also manage to look good in order to fit in the society. ‘Lipsticks the color of cherry candy’ were provided to the girl in order to look pretty, enhance her sexuality and cover any flaws if she had. The ‘magic of puberty’ in line 6 refers to the beginning of her puberty, her menstrual cycle when her body begins to change. With the change of her body comes criticism from one of her classmates, ‘you have a great big nose and fat legs.’ This is where the girl becomes conscious of herself and begins to question her appearance.
The second stanza describes the girl’s positive qualities as a human being. She had a healthy body, she was intelligent, ‘possessed strong arms and back,’ ‘abundant sexual drive,’ etc. The girl is described as intelligent and strong, yet she is viewed negatively by others because of her big nose and fat legs. She was blind to her own positive qualities as she was too busy trying to look good, which will please others. ‘She went to and fro apologizing,’ wanting herself to be appreciated. But everyone cares for her physical looks and not for her inner qualities, ‘everyone saw a fat nose on thick legs’ (Line 11).
The third stanza is about advice given to the girl by others about how to behave. ‘She was advised to play coy/ exhorted to come on hearty/ exercise, diet, smile and wheedle.’ Therefore, she was advised to lose weight if she is fat, smile even if she is unhappy, and charm people if she wants to fit in the society. The next lines show that the girl had enough from society, so she finally decides to end her life, ‘so she cut off her nose and her legs.’ The act of killing herself shows she was defeated by society.
The final stanza follows the girl to her death, and the poet cynically describes her ‘perfect nose.’ The casket in which she is kept is a big Barbie box which is her coffin. ‘Pink’ symbolizes feminity while ‘white’ symbolizes purity. She looks pretty in her death because she is covered with make-up, has a new nose. She is made to appear like someone she was not in her real life. The poet’s sarcastic last lines- ‘ to every woman a happy ending’ show how society poisons a woman’s thinking that in order to have a happy ending, women have to mold themselves into a perfect shape like a Barbie Doll as wanted by society.
Barbie Doll: Style
This narrative poem is penned down in free verse having four stanzas. There is no specific rhyme pattern in the poem.
Barbie Doll: Title
The title of the poem is Barbie Doll; a Barbie Doll has an unrealistic perfection of hair, body, and belongings. Young girls play with them and want to be perfect like them. Dolls can also signify that a girl may be used as a play toy the way society wants her to be. Therefore, the title perfectly matches the theme of the poem.
Barbie Doll: Theme
Society always had control over individual lives, and especially the most on women. Society tells women how to dress and eat, how to behave in order to be accepted. Little girls are expected to become perfect feminine beauties, additionally learning the art of cooking and ironing in their later life. Barbie Doll highlights these social roles in comparison to a doll. The girl in the poem represents all other girls. It makes us realize that every girl, at some point in her time in life, was made to feel unaccepted of imperfect.
Barbie Doll: Tone
The tone of Barbie Doll is that of struggle and death. The tone changes throughout the poem from her early life to the girl’s death. The girl in this poem struggles to become what everybody wants her to be, but in the end, she kills herself. She commits suicide. Or is it a part of her that dies? The poem can be interpreted in both ways.
Barbie Doll: Poetic Devices
Alliteration and Allusion:
‘ Color of cherry candy’ is an example of alliteration in the poem.
Allusion refers to some mythical character. Here, the allusion is the Barbie Doll which is an object of admiration among all generations of young girls.
Imagery is very dominant in the poem. Piercy uses strong words to give her readers a vivid picture. For example, lines 2-3, ‘and presented dolls that did pee-pee/ and miniature GE stoves and irons/ and wee lipsticks the color of cherry candy.’ Later in the poem, she again uses imagery to describe the girl in her early twenties, ‘she was healthy, tested intelligent/ possessed strong arms and back.’
The poem is the epitome of insecurity. The poem is like a parable that teaches and warns us that we should not let the insecurities within ourselves become an obsession or disease which can lead to our own fatal end. Rather one should always be happy with the way they are, be confident with themselves, and should not try to become a superficial Barbie Doll.
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