In Cisneros' "Barbie Q," what is the meaning of the damaged dolls in the flea market?
In "Barbie Q," the damaged dolls in the flea market is where the girls are able to purchase their Barbie dolls and add on to the collection. The dolls, themselves, are too expensive to buy in "nice clean boxes." The only way they can be afforded is when a toy store burns down and sells its "sooty" and damaged stock in the flea market. This means that the dolls are damaged and sold off in the flea market. There are a couple of symbolic ways to examine this. The first is that the girls already have to endure an external way to define themselves through the dolls. Cisneros focuses much in way of talking about how the physical appearance of the dolls is something upon which the girls' attention is fixated. Adding to this would be that the girls from the particular socio- economic reality featured must purchase these external notions of value at bargain rates, not even being able to afford the best in objectification of what it means to be a woman. That is one potential reading of the damaged dolls in the flea market. Another potential read is that the girls' themselves are so well actualized that they know the purchase and playing with the dolls is a game, so it does not matter that they are purchased in a flea market. This is seen in the last line:
And if the prettiest doll, Barbie’s MOD’ern cousin Francie with real eyelashes, eyelash brush included, has a left foot that’s melted a little—so? If you dress her in her new “Prom Pinks” outfit, satin splendor with matching coat, gold belt, clutch, and hair bow included, so long as you don’t lift her dress, right?—who’s to know.
It is this ending where Cisneros leaves the reader in a challenging situation in terms of whether or not the girls are so dependent on the objectification of their femininity with Barbie that they are desperate enough to purchase damaged dolls from a flea market or whether they are so actualized about their own notions of self that they could care less from where the dolls are purchased and in what condition they are bought.