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.”