Young versus old.
Death versus eternal life. The positive effects of society’s pressure versus the negative. Marge Piercy’s Barbie Doll” and Dick Schneider’s “Youth’s Progress” are a study in the themes mentioned above. There are many obvious similarities in the chronological structure and irony of the two works. However, the reader will find that there are more thought-provoking contrasts than initially meet the eye.
Not surprisingly, the poems follow the natural course of chronological time: beginning with birth and ending with old age. Both poems depict the growing up years, but do not extend beyond adulthood. The separation of stanzas in both works indicates a new stage of life, although Piercy does not reveal the actual age of the girlchild” in “Barbie Doll.” A major theme of both poems is the long-term effect of outside pressure on the subjects from birth. Piercy employs the stylistic device of irony throughout her poem. It takes the “magic” of puberty for a child to recognize the negative aspects of their physical body.
A healthy, intelligent, and strong woman is compelled by society to bustle to and fro apologizing,” apologizing for failing to mirror the image of the Barbie-like woman the world seems to want. Though she attempts to defy these expectations by cutting off her “great big nose” and “fat legs,” in her death, the woman is displayed in her casket, with cosmetics painted on and a beautiful turned-up putty nose. Finally, she fits the mold cut for her by society. “Our way of life has hardly changed since a wheel first whetted a knife.”
While ‘Youth’s Progress’ chronicles the growth of the subject with specific years and ages, ‘Barbie Doll’ simply accounts for the passing of time in a storyteller’s fashion of memories. ‘Barbie Doll’ ends with the tragedy of a woman who, because she didn’t live up to the unrealistic standard created for her, resorts to suicide. ‘Youth’s Progress’ concludes with the exhortation of public approval and the sense of eternal life in exchange for submitting to the unofficial rules of social acceptance, eager to fit the mold. To some, the immortalized life of Schneider is preferable to the tragic death of Piercy’s girlchild. Young versus old. Death versus eternal life. The positive effects of society’s pressure versus the negative.”
The course of life is ultimately decided by the individual – the sum of their choices and reactions to the cards dealt to them by life. The choice is yours.
Bibliography: Bowland, Eavan. It’s a Woman’s World,” 1982.