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Identifying the Speaker in "Barbie Doll" by Marge Piercy


The speaker in "Barbie Doll" by Marge Piercy is an omniscient, third-person narrator. This voice provides a critical commentary on societal expectations placed on women, detailing the pressures faced by the poem's protagonist from childhood to her tragic end.

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In "Barbie Doll" by Marge Piercy, who is the speaker?

Marge Piercy's poem "Barbie Doll" is a condemnation of the unrealistic expectations of beauty.  The doll, Barbie, was once the iconic representation of what every woman should be.  Things have changed, and the term is now used more as a pejorative (an insult) regarding women who have overemphasized their physical attributes at the expense of anything else--to their own detriment.

In this poem, the speaker functions as an impartial narrator.  In fact, the tone of the poem is such that the speaker appears to be telling us a fairy tale--a tragic and twisted fairy tale, to be sure, but a fairy tale nevertheless.  The narrator sets the tone and pattern in the first stanzas as the speaker lists the very "normal" attributes of our heroine, known only as "she":

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 narrator's tone is matter-of fact and non-judgmental, just like a narrator in a fairy tale. That tone doesn't change when the poem takes a drastic turn in the next two lines:

Then in the magic of puberty, a classmate said:
You have a great big nose and fat legs.

The speaker, then, is a non-committal storyteller who shares this tragic fairy tale with us, but without commentary.

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Who is the speaker in the poem "Barbie Doll"?

In the poem, "Barbie Doll" by Marge Piercy, the speaker narrates and observes the anonymous girl's life as she attempts to cope with fitting into the expected role of women. The speaker could well be the poet, herself, because Piercy is considered a feminist who has fought for women's rights and their individuality so as not to be forced into the hollow mold of society's expectations.

The third person narrator of the poem begins the first stanza describing the "girlchild's" birth and youth with the typical toys girls are given such as wetting dolls, toy kitchens, and candy lipstick. These are significant images as they shape what society expects women to become: mothers, housekeepers, and sexual beings. However, the girl in the poem is intelligent, strong, sexual, and capable, all at the same time. Ironically, however, she does not have the Barbie doll figure, and with all her qualities, the only noticed characteristics are her "fat nose and thick legs." Thus, the narrator mocks the superficiality of society's judgement upon women.

The main irony in the poem occurs in the last stanza. At her death, the girl is truly turned into a Barbie doll as she now wears the "undertaker's cosmetics," has a cute turned-up nose, and wears a "pink and white nightie." She has been transformed into a doll, inanimate in death. Therefore, it is logical to assume that Piercy is the speaker as this poem illustrates the dire consequences for women who give into societal expectations for them to live empty, shallow lives that center only upon physical appearance.

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Who is the speaker in the poem "Barbie Doll"?

The speaker of Marge Piercy's poem "Barbie Doll" is unnamed, but she/he appears to be a third-person narrator who relates the story of the young girl whom he/she has either known or been told about by another party. The poem reads as though one were relating a news story of "local color."  Of course, the ending skewers the news report because there is a certain amount of satire attached to the last two lines:

In the casket displayed on satin she lay
with the undertaker's cosmetics painted on,
a turned-up putty nose,
dressed in a pink and white nightie.
Doesn't she look pretty? everyone said.
Consummation at last.
To every woman a happy ending.

This young girl has been made to be ashamed of her physical appearance and has become obsessed with improving it to the point that she has killed herself.  But, now, at least the people can say that she is beautiful is clearly a ironic remark aimed to satirize Mattel Toys, the company who produced this doll that perpetuates gender stereotypes by idealizing this doll whose waistline is preposterous.

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