Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Poetry, Revised Edition)
Piercy has regarded the activity of making poetry as such an admixture of the personal and impersonal that it becomes “addictive.” In an essay, “Writers on Writing,” appearing on December 20, 1999, in The New York Times, she stated that her state of mind usually leads her to translate whatever subject she is working on into “molten ore.” She once said that anything can be subject matter for a poem as long as the poet is willing to focus on it intensely enough.
If Piercy is direct and accessible as human being and artist, her work is similarly so to readers. Her themes span a wide range, including civil rights, ecology, feminism, relationships, and religion (particularly her Jewish heritage). Although some critics find influences of Walt Whitman and Denise Levertov in her work, Piercy’s opus and style seem rather uniquely her own.
In the introduction to Circles on the Water: Selected Poems of Marge Piercy (1982), the anthology that includes “Barbie Doll,” Piercy claims that she wants her poetry to be useful, “simply that readers will find poems that speak to and for themto give voice to something in the experience of a life. . . .” Somewhat ironically, “Barbie Doll” originally appeared in a volume of poems titled To Be of Use. Written in 1970, many of the poems reflect ideas having to do with feminist consciousness: sexual, political, and professional. Within that context, “Barbie Doll”...
(The entire section is 731 words.)
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“Barbie Doll” symbolically describes the inherently destructive nature of patriarchy. A system of social organization in which male prerogative is the ruling principle, patriarchy demands women’s obedience to men. Historically, this obedience has been externally manifest through law; for example, until the twentieth century women had been denied voting privileges in the United States. But patriarchy also exhibits its power through the shaping of mind and self-image. A “good” woman is one who conforms to patriarchal expectations: she is feminine, domestic, pretty, and accommodating. When you are not these things, as the girlchild in Piercy’s poem is not, you will be punished. Society will shun you, you will be judged a freak, and your own strengths (e.g., the girlchild’s physical strength and intelligence) will appear to you as shortcomings because you will not be recognized for them. Piercy’s poem presents a girl of many talents who is worn down by an image of herself created by others which she could not, literally, live up to. In an act of “self” sacrifice, she cut off her nose and legs, those parts of her which did not conform to how a “beautiful” woman should look. This act of mutilation echoes the mutilation other women endure in tyrannically patriarchal societies. In parts of lower equatorial Africa, for example, young girls are forced to have “clitorectomies,” procedures which medically remove the clitoris....
(The entire section is 591 words.)