Study Guide

Barbie Doll Stanza 1

By Marge Piercy

Stanza 1

Lines 1-4

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 speaker starts us off with a kind of neologism in the word "girlchild" that gets us thinking about what it means to be both girl and child. From the beginning we feel like the speaker is going to point out a few "normal" habits that accompany the raising of young girls.
  • Her birth is totally normal ("usual") though and so far we don't see anything that strikes us as out-of-the-ordinary per se.
  • Like a typical "girlchild," she shows off her dolls that do "pee-pee" and other play things like miniature stoves, irons, and of course lipsticks. Here's the sort of thing our speaker's talking about. 
  • Even though things look "usual" here, we get the feeling that they only appear normal because these are the kinds of toys that are given to girls. The girlchild isn't running off to Target to buy them for herself, so we immediately sense a conflict between the adult world and the way folks raise their young. There's an awful lot of power and control the older folks have, considering the reality of impressionable young minds and what they come to associate as "normal" due to adult behavior and values.
  • Notice too that lines 3 and 4 include "wee lipsticks" and "miniature" stoves, which suggest that adults often go for shrunken versions of the so-called "normal" objects associated with gender to suit their kids. So instead of creating totally new toys, they just miniaturize the sorts of things that grown women are confronted with, perpetuating the whole cycle of what's supposed to be normal according to the adult world and patriarchy (world dominated by men).
  • We also have a perfect rhyme in lines 2 and 4: "pee-pee" and "candy." The rhyme here adds a layer of sound that reminds us of a nursery rhyme, which makes this initial imagery even more poignant. Check out "Form and Meter" for more. 
  • Also we have some assonance going on in all the E sounds ("pee-pee," "GE," "wee," "candy"), making things sound rhyme-like but not singsong. Check out "Sound Check" for more on the sounds here.

Lines 5-6

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

  • Ah, puberty: the time when things start growing funny and we start to smell bad for no apparent reason. Notice the speaker has a kind of sarcastic tone here to complement line 5 and the "magic" of puberty. 
  • To make things even better for this girlchild, her classmate has some highly encouraging words: "big nose and fat legs." So it's not just her body that's acting up. Her classmates are acting according to the sorts of "imperfections" they hear miserable adults talk about. Kids mirror what they see and hear every day, so we know these cruel words have to come from somewhere.
  • Puberty is also the time when girls and boys start learning more about socializing with one another. So the speaker is also alluding to the uphill battle girls often have when it comes to accepting their bodies for what they are in the context of the adult world. And if these words are any indication as to how well things are going for society, we've got a lot of work to do.
  • Notice too that the speaker is maintaining that nursery rhyme sound with the "you have a great big nose" line. Sounds a bit like Little Red Riding Hood, right? (We wonder who the wolf might be in this case.) Check out "Sound Check" for more.

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