Marge Piercy’s poem, Barbie Doll, presents a scathing review of societal and cultural expectations on the American culture on young girls and women. During the era of the poem, the perfect woman in the American culture depicts is one with good health, possess strong back and arm has manual dexterity, has tested intelligence, and abundant sexual drive. Piercy justifies the societal view of a woman from the gifts of dolls with cherry candy lipsticks, miniature irons, and stoves, and dolls with the pee-pee capabilities (Lamb and Bamford, 198). Moreover, the societal gender roles of women during that era ate wrecked havoc their self-image and ate away their self-confidence as we see with the protagonist. The Barbie doll represents a false sense of feminine perfection. The iron and the stove reflect the roles that the society delegates to women in their adulthood.
William Shakespeare wrote the sonnet/poem “My Mistress’ Eyes” in the Elizabethan Era. This particular sonnet follows the format of the Petrarch sequence of sonnets praising Laura, an idolized and idealized mistress. During the Elizabethan era, poets compared a woman’s perfection to extraordinary metaphors largely based on the beauty of nature (Lamb and Bamford, 207). However, the poems are directed towards an admittedly imperfect man rather than a perfect woman.
Marge Piercy is an American social activist, poet, and novelist. The settings of her novels vary, but the majority of them revolve around feministic issues and social concerns. Most of her novels and poems tell stories from the perception of multiple characters (Lamb and Bamford, 210). Her poetry is highly free verse and personal, seeking to address social and feministic issues in society. Most of her poems actually highlight her commitment to the social change dream, something that “Barbie Doll” strongly advocates.
“Barbie Doll” is an inspiration by the iconic image of Mattel’s Barbie Doll, a doll popular among young girls. Piercy strongly criticizes the image of a young child painted by culture and society. Her motivation arises from the lack of self-satisfaction that the society imposes on the “girl-child”, a term that she uses to underscore the story’s mythic quality (Selzer, 312). It is evident that during her era, lipstick and other cosmetics were the defining degrees of physical appearance (materialism).
William Shakespeare is the “Bard of Avon” and England’s national poet. He is famous for many of his plays and poems, as well as sonnets. Unlike during his time, Shakespeare today is a respected playwright and poet (Lamb and Bamford, 211). Shakespeare’s style of writing plays was controversial during his era, but he adopted traditional styles later. His poems adhered to the iambic pentameter and blank verse form. This meant that his poems lacked rhymes and incorporated ten syllables in a line, with emphasis on the second syllable in every line.
Shakespeare’s poem seems to oppose the conventions from the Petrarchan love sequence, which ideally praised the beauty, perfection, and worth of Mistress Laura comparing those to natural beauties (romanticism). Shakespeare’s poem seeks to address the imperfect man rather than the perfect woman. Moreover, Shakespeare was a realist, using nature to express his thoughts.
The modern poetry definition of womanhood defers from that of the classical poems, as modern poems adopt false perfectionism while classical poems adopt a realistic form of natural beauty.
First Poet Discussion
In “Barbie Doll”, Piercy comes out strongly as a feminist, condemning the manner in which culture and society moulds the image of a young girl. Throughout the poem, the poet highlights themes of sadness and depression, concluding the poem with the funeral of the protagonist. Indeed, we see the young girl constantly apologizing for her image, which her culture does not accept. As much as the doll, lipstick, iron, and stove are playing stuff for little girls, they represent the societal and cultural identity of the community that girls must identify within their adulthood. The doll is a representation of the body image, the “irons and stove” identify with the roles that culture and society expect women to partake when adults. The “lipstick” implies to the young girls that their physical appearance determines their value (Selzer, 311).
Second Poet Discussion
Contrary to Piercy’s poem, “My Mistress’ Eyes” is a mockery of the romanticism idea. The poem does not interpret metaphors on face value but rather responds by telling the truth. The eyes of Shakespeare’s eye are not “like the sun”, nor “her lips’ red” like coral (Shakespeare, 1241). Shakespeare shows his full intent, insisting that love does not necessarily require these conceits to be real, and neither do women need to look beautiful like flowers or the sun.
The two poets have similarities and differences concerning the definition of womanhood. Piercy and Shakespeare both emphasize the need for realism and natural beauty. Moreover, womanhood is precious to both the poet, regardless of its nature and form. Again, the two poets are fighting societal perception and image of a woman (Lamb and Bamford, 189).
However, the two authors live in different times: Piercy in the materialism era and Shakespeare in the romanticism era. Piercy poetry uses the materialistic definition of concepts and ideas, while that of Shakespeare uses natural beauties.
Selzer, Jack. Conversations: Reading for Writing. New York: Longman, 2002. Print.
Shakespeare, William. Complete Works of William Shakespeare, Volume 10. Belmont, CA: Wordsworth Publishing.
Lamb, Mary, and Bamford, Karen. Oral traditions and Gender in Early Modern Literary Texts. Hampshire: Ashgate Publishing Limited. Print.