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- Biographical Information about the Poet
The poet chosen is Marge Piercy. According to her official website, the Boston Globe made the following statement about Piercy: “Marge Piercy is not just an author, she’s a cultural touchstone. Few writers in modern memory have sustained her passion, and skill, for creating stories of consequence” (Marge Piercy). Some of her most notable works include Gone to the Soldiers, which received a spot on the New York Times Bestseller list, as well as national bestsellers like The Longings of Women, Braided Lives and Woman on the Edge of Time. She also wrote On the Way Out and Turn off the Light, recent additions. Educated at the Universities of Michigan and Northwestern, where she earned four honorary doctorates, she is active in a number of causes including antiwar, feminist, and environmental (Marge Piercy).
In 1936, Pierce was born to a family affected by the Depression. She had also lived in Pittsburgh and Cleveland with her mother, Bert Bernice Bunnin. Robert Douglas Piercy, her father, grew up in a small town in Pennsylvania’s soft coal mining region. Detroit was their first home. After being unemployed for some time, her father began repairing and installing machinery. When Piercy grew older, the family moved to a Detroit neighborhood that was highly racially stratified (Marge Piercy), much of which inspired the author to write about feminist and social justice causes.
- Overview of Poet’s Work
Social justice causes largely inspired Piercy’s work, based on an overview of her books and literature. In The Longings of Women, Piercy writes about an unraveling marriage and a woman whose husband wanted to trade up for a newer model. Mary Burke’s middle-class life ends with a divorce (Good Reads). The book is an example of Piercy’s focus on women’s issues, and the book discusses the theme of women wanting to be valued by others for their true selves, wanting an emotional safe place to return to.
Piercy tackles similar concepts in Woman on the Edge of Time. Connie, the protagonist of this novel, receives communication from someone living in the year 2137. The person shows her a utopian future featuring equality for all and harmony with nature. Connie also provides a glimpse of another possibility: dystopic societies of exploitation (Good Reads). Once again, this book is another example of Piercy’s dedication to social justice issues, with a largely feminist style and thematic.
Similarly, the poem in question, Barbie Doll, talks about the theme of injustice and prejudice toward women, and the different stereotypes and standards women must adhere to when participating in society.
- Analysis of Poem
- What Poem is About
The poem, Barbie Doll, makes thematic reference to the phenomenon of women conforming to traditional stereotypes of beauty, which is a social requirement if they are to receive notice and recognition. The poem is somewhat dark and overviews the narrator’s highly gendered and gender-structured life—the life of a woman who did not fit physical moulds of stereotypical beauty. The woman laments having a big nose and stubby legs, “So she cut off her nose and her legs and offered them up” (ENG102 6). At the end of the poem, the author suggests the narrator is dead in a casket, and that she had finally offered up her body.
- Analysis of How Poem Achieves Discussion of Topic
There are various ways in which Piercy brings to life her distinctly feminist themes and perspectives in the poem. According to Beam et al, Piercy’s work notably talks about feminist issues, such as women’s freedom, gender roles and abortion (Beam et al). In the poem, the narrator sounds passive and compliant with gender norms. “She went to and fro apologizing. Everyone saw a fat nose on thick legs” (ENG102 6). Here, the author details that the woman in the poem feels alienated and marginalized because of her physical appearance, which does not meet contemporary beauty standards. The narrator also undergoes taunting and pressure to conform from her peers. The language of the poem is interesting and unique, with the author using evocative and vivid words to express her key points.
Additionally, in terms of form, Piercy cuts the lines in a dramatic way, often leaving the reader hanging until he reads the following line. Of note is the following line/s: “Her good nature wore out / like a fan belt” (ENG102 6). Here, Piercy chooses to use the term ‘fan belt,’ which is visually evocative and rich, and cut the narrative off after ‘wore out.’
- How Poem Relates to Contemporary Issue in America
The contemporary issue the poem speaks to is women’s rights, and the need to receive validation on character traits, rather than physical appearance. This primarily draws on the theme of body image. According to OASH, your body image reflects the way one sees and consequently evaluates themselves. Certain mental health conditions, such as eating disorders and depression, can arise out of negative body image, and a negative view of one’s physical appearance (OASH). In the poem, Piercy discusses the tragic life of the narrator, who eventually dies—possibly from suicide—as she sacrifices her body at the altar of desired beauty.
Beam, Kathryn, et al. “Marge Piercy: Writer, Feminist, Activist: An Exhibit.” Deep Blue, 2004, deepblue.lib.umich.edu/bitstream/handle/2027.42/120262/marge_piercy_04.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y. Accessed 9 May 2022.
ENG102. ENG102 Poems. Poem Package.
Good Reads. “Goodreads.” Goodreads, 2022, www.goodreads.com/. Accessed 9 May 2022.
Marge Piercy. “Bio.” Marge Piercy, 2021, margepiercy.com/bio. Accessed 9 May 2022.
OASH. “Body Image | Womenshealth.gov.” Womenshealth.gov, 17 Feb. 2021, www.womenshealth.gov/mental-health/body-image-and-mental-health/body-image. Accessed 9 May 2022.