Discuss the tone in "Barbie Doll," focusing on word use, irony and exaggeration.

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This poem makes use of situational irony , which is a turn of events—where the opposite of what one expects occurs. The subject of the poem is presented with dolls when she is a child, and after dying, she resembles a doll in her casket. The gender stereotypes that have...

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This poem makes use of situational irony, which is a turn of events—where the opposite of what one expects occurs. The subject of the poem is presented with dolls when she is a child, and after dying, she resembles a doll in her casket. The gender stereotypes that have defined and shaped her wind up killing her. "To every woman a happy ending," the poem ends—which is particularly ironic, as the subject of the poem is dead but has been blessed by society as socially appropriate. The poet uses exaggeration to describe a woman's reaction to being told that she is less than physically perfect, as suicide is hopefully an approach that not many people would take to this situation.

The poet uses language appropriate for a child in the first stanza. Words such as "pee-pee" and "wee" show how the girl has been infantilized and trained to think of herself in immature, demeaning ways. The poet also uses vivid similes, such as "her good nature wore out like a fan belt." This simile emphasizes the way in which society treats the subject in a mechanistic, unfeeling way, only valuing her for her outward appearance, though the girl possesses many strong inner qualities. In the last stanza, the poet uses imagery such as "a turned-up putty nose" to show the way in which the girl's reality has been replaced by a fake exterior. Its waxy, fake nature is sickening—evidence of the way in which society has made her ill and has, in the end, killed her inner being.

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"Barbie Doll" by Marge Piercy, is a poem which relies heavily on irony to make its point.  Irony, of course, is a contrast or discrepancy between two things.  In this case, the contrast is between the oh-so-normal details in this young girl's life and the outrageous actions which eventually occur.  It starts in the first lines, when the speaker obviously and ironically knows everything about this young girl--except her name. 

This girlchild was born as usual
and presented dolls that did pee-pee
and miniature GE stoves and irons
and wee lipsticks the color of cherry candy.

The irony continues as we hear about all the wonderful attributes of this young lady, contrasted with what we later see as self-loathing strong enough to incite suicide.

 
She was healthy, tested intelligent,
possessed strong arms and back,
abundant sexual drive and manual dexterity.

The next description we have utilizes exaggeration and a sense of the ridiculous--she did not cut off her nose, nor did she cut off her legs, the offending body parts others criticized. This contrasts with the dark reality of a suicidal death. 

 

So she cut off her nose and her legs
and offered them up.


The next irony contrasts the sweetness of the comments regarding her beauty with the fact that they're only spoken after she has died.  While she was alive, she only heard the negative comments.

Doesn't she look pretty? everyone said.
 

Finally, the last lines are verbal irony--a contradiction between what is said and what is meant.

Consummation at last.
To every woman a happy ending.

Clearly this poem is a condemnation of the modern standard of perfection (as seen in the symbolic use of the Barbie  image) and it uses the technique of irony to make that point.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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