The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Contemporary poet Marge Piercy published a twenty-five line, open-form narrative poem titled “Barbie Doll.” Four stanzas provide the reader with a brief tale of a nameless “girlchild” whose life, markedly influenced by others’ opinions, comes to a sad and premature end.

“This girlchild was born as usual,” the poem begins. The little girl receives ostensibly appropriate gifts: dolls, miniature home appliances, some makeup. Later, “in the magic of puberty,” a schoolmate comments unflatteringly on her appearance, noting her “great big nose and fat legs.”

From the second stanza the reader learns about the young adolescent’s intelligence, physical prowess, and sexual drive. She appears to be healthy, strong, and capable, but she ignores these attributes, instead going “to and fro apologizing.” “Everyone” sees her as only “a fat nose on thick legs.”

As she matures, she receives counsel from others. The third stanza lists behaviors aimed at promoting her happiness and success. In time, her natural goodness breaks down like a worn-out automobile part. Finally, as an adult, she permanently rids herself of her perceived inadequacies by means of a sacrificial offering.

In the final stanza, the reader discovers the now-deceased woman displayed in her casket. She has been artificially fabricated by an undertaker, with a “turned-up putty nose,/ dressed in a pink and white nightie.” Onlookers find her “pretty.” The final two lines of the poem resolve the narrative: “Consummation at last./ To every woman a happy ending.”

Historical Context

(Poetry for Students)

In her essay, “Through the Cracks: Growing Up in the Fifties,” originally published in Partisan Review and later reprinted in...

(The entire section is 690 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

No direct mention of a Barbie doll is made in the poem. However, the reader may connect the title with the piece as a key to subsequent interpretation, perhaps noting also the urinating doll described in the first stanza and the corpse in the last.

Each of the free-verse stanzas contains relatively short lines and conversational diction. End rhyme is absent, but the reader can locate internal assonance and alliteration with relative ease. Iambs and anapests sustain a melodic rhythm throughout the poem. Not only relevant to poetic form, these “upbeat” accents provide ironic contrast to the poem’s serious content.

Uses and omissions of traditional punctuation marks and capitalization are commonplace in modern poetry. “Barbie Doll” is no exception. Reading the poem aloud demonstrates how these devices, along with the enjambed lines, support emphases and ironies.

Repetition of words, such as the initial “and” in lines 2,3, and 4, suggests a childlike voice or perhaps boredom. In later stanzas, certain morphological structures (past participle endings throughout the poem: “presented,” “tested,” “possessed,” “advised,” “exhorted,” “offered,” “displayed”) convey a tone of formality and detachment, as though one were reading a case history or clinical report.

Piercy’s diction also highlights relative degrees of significance. For example, “dolls that did pee-pee” and “wee...

(The entire section is 403 words.)

Literary Style

(Poetry for Students)

A narrative poem written in free verse [verse having irregular meter, or rhythm that is not metrical], “Barbie Doll” can be read as a...

(The entire section is 255 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Poetry for Students)

1959: Mattel Toys introduces the first Barbie Doll.

1966: Francie, Barbie's "mod" cousin, is introduced in a...

(The entire section is 212 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Poetry for Students)

What was Barbie's first date with Ken like? Write a short story about this from a 1960s Barbie' s point of view, then do the same for a 1970s...

(The entire section is 158 words.)

Media Adaptations

(Poetry for Students)

Marge Piercy has her own website:

A compilation of essays about the Barbie doll's...

(The entire section is 72 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Poetry for Students)

Barbie Unbound: A Parody of the Barbie Obsession, by Sarah Strohmeyer and Geoff Hansen (photographer), treats the Barbie doll as a...

(The entire section is 185 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Poetry for Students)

Abercrombie, Nicholas, Stephen Hill and Bryan S. Turner, eds., Dictionary of Sociology, London: Penguin, 1984....

(The entire section is 386 words.)