In the poem “Barbie Doll,” author Marge Piercy utilizes four well-developed stanzas to depict a scornful view of American society. Applicable to all time periods, “Barbie Doll” narrates the short-lived life of a young girl despised by society for her appearance. Barbie Doll is like a fairytale, full of plasticity, fakeness, and fantasy. However, unlike a fairytale, “Barbie Doll” ends with society applauding the funeral of a princess that was torn apart into pieces and then worshiped.
Written with varying tones of sadness and depression, vivid imagery, and compact concrete details, “Barbie Doll” presents a fact that society for centuries has blinded from view. Women, from the development of civilization to present-day modern America, have always endured oppression and humiliation from a patriarchic society. In “Barbie Doll,” the young girl is repressed by society for her “great big nose and fat legs. ” The society in which this young girl lives views a “perfect” woman as one who possesses flawless beauty, helps children grow, cooks food, and irons clothes.
In fact, society is so intent on morphing young girls into motherly, selfless, and sympathetic individuals that they were only allowed to play with “dolls that did pee-pee and miniature GE stoves. ” Despite being “healthy and intelligent and possessing strong arms, abundant sexual drive, and manual dexterity,” the young girl is seen by society as incomplete, and abnormal. It is because of this continuous repression that the young girl’s “good nature” runs out. She herself loses faith in her appearance as society mocks and mocks and mocks her looks.
Only when the young girl finally killed herself by “[cutting] off her nose and her legs],” and was laid in a fake casket with a fake dress and a fake nose, did society finally applaud the “true” beauty that this young girl possessed. Men want women to have “perfect” bodies and “perfect” faces; as a result, the young girl in “Barbie Doll” sacrificed herself to society’s demands. It is this fake perception and these fake ideas, this idea of perfection that gives “Barbie Doll,” a term applied in our world to display “plastic perfection,” its title. Tone also plays a crucial role in “Barbie Doll. ” Each stanza begins heartily nd subtly and ends with a blunt phrase that leaves shock in the reader’s mind. For example, the third stanza starts off like a normal fairytale, detailing the setting in which the protagonist lives. However, when this fairytale approaches its final resolution, it takes an entirely different turn; abruptly moving from an ideal, perfectionist world into a world of darkness and misery, the fairytale turns into reality. This repeated undulating motion of tone allows the reader to understand the young girl’s dilemma. The young girl, like the tone of the poem, is wading through a wave of emotions.
She does not know whether society is telling the truth about her beauty or if she really possesses such unattractiveness. In a way, she is stranded between a tidal wave of repression sent by society and a wall of concrete built by her conflicting emotions. The young girl can neither swim away nor stand back; she can only surrender herself to society. The young girl possessed all characteristics any person in the modern world of today would value. However, society shunned her thoughts into a black hole and essentially transformed her mind to think contradictory to itself, like the idea of doublethink in 1984.
Continuous blames upon the blemishes of her appearance and the insurmountable pressure from society were far too much for her to bear and as a result, she snapped. The last stanza of this poem gives the final say to the main idea. Despite the extent to which the young girl went to satisfy her peers, society only viewed the young girl with passion after a “turned-up putty nose” was placed upon her face. Placed in a “casket [made of] satin,” the young girl seems to have finally obtained the respect that she had wanted all of her life.
Never did society satiate at the sight of a living, perfectly healthy person but instead society itself received satisfaction only when the young girl was created into a flawless toy or a “Barbie Doll. ” Ironic as it may seem, the only option left for the young girl to obtain happiness was to face the saddest event in one’s life, death. It is for this reason that the young girl felt “consummation” only after her death. In her mind, it was a happy ending, freedom from the tortures that society had presented before her. “Barbie Doll” emphasizes that we as individuals should not allow others to judge for us but we ourselves should be the judges.
Taking the young girl as an example, by letting society judge her beauty, the young girl became tangled into the web of society’s harsh words. These words were so sharp that the young girl’s entire state of mind was altered to think of herself as inferior and imperfect. If we allow others to judge for us, then we may very well end up in such a drastic situation. Society can lead a person to become unstable; that person can lead himself to become a doll, a plastic doll full of lies, without feelings, and without hope, a “Barbie Doll. ”
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