Study Guide

Barbie Doll Stanza 4

By Marge Piercy

Stanza 4

Lines 19-20

In the casket displayed on satin she lay
with the undertaker's cosmetics painted on,

  • By the fourth stanza, we know for sure that all of the mutilation we saw earlier definitely killed the girlchild, who's lying in a casket in these lines. 
  • To make things even creepier, we see her lying on pretty "satin" and all done up by the undertaker. So even in death the poor girl can't escape being fussed with and made-up to look like someone she's not.
  • Notice too that she's "displayed" on satin like some sort of doll. So at this point we're seeing how the girlchild has been made to look like the very dolls she was given to play with. We see her not as a human being here, but more as an object or plaything that is "displayed" in a manner that makes everyone else feel comfortable.
  • The word "painted" in line 20 furthers the speaker's sense of the girlchild being a kind of doll with a painted on face. In death (as in life), she's not treated like a person, but a thing.

Lines 21-22

a turned-up putty nose,
dressed in a pink and white nightie.

  • It gets even creepier here. The undertaker has prepared a perfect little "putty nose" for the girl too, since she cut off her own.
  • So we see her appearance here as a kind of antithesis to a fairytale's happy ending, since she's made to look like the very thing that helped to destroy her.
  • And you thought the creepy stuff ended here, right? By line 22 we see the girl in a pink and white "nightie," which gives the impression that, on top of everything else, the girl is being sexualized even in death. A "nightie" is just another word for sexy lingerie that women wear to bed. 
  • At this point we're really cringing and feeling all kinds of uncomfortable, which is kind of the intended purpose of all the macabre and creepy imagery
  • Perhaps we're also meant to see just how pervasive (and perverted) those ridiculous expectations for women really are. The girl can't even escape them in death. And folks still aren't getting just how oppressive these practices can be. They just keep on doing the same thing, no matter if the girl is dead or alive.

Lines 23-25

Doesn't she look pretty? everyone said.
Consummation at last.
To every woman a happy ending.

  • Our speaker really drives her point home in these final lines. Despite all of the mutilation, sexualizing, and the perversion of the girl's appearance, folks still give her what they think is the best compliment of all: "Doesn't she look pretty?"
  • Of course we hear the speaker's sarcastic tone some more in these lines, accenting the absurdity of what we're actually seeing and hearing here. The girl's dead and still made to look like a doll and yet everyone thinks everything is great because she looks pretty with her fake putty nose and sexy nightie (that's presumably covering up the fact that, you know, she has no legs).
  • The consummation and "happy ending" sounds like the complete opposite to us at this point. We know better than everyone else since we understand that there's nothing pretty or "happy" about a dead mutilated girl who's sexualized and made-up to look like a doll. We know what the girl was really feeling while alive and how oppressed and dehumanized she felt all along. 
  • We also hear the speaker's sarcasm some more in line 25 when she says "to every woman a happy ending," as if women are all the same and are treated as such. So long as you tell a woman she's pretty, she'll be happy and do whatever she's told to do—even if it means her death.
  • By the end we're really feeling what the speaker is saying in this poem. In raising young girls to be little more than domesticated dolls that serve and please the world around them, we essentially deny them their humanity. We're not buying little girls off the shelves, after all. Yet there's a part of society that treats them like life-sized dolls. And in denying them the right to their own humanity and individuality, we're pretty much saying that they're not worth much to us, dead or alive. 
  • All in all, this poem delivers a harsh message. Sadly though, it's still pretty relevant, given that things like this still exist.

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