Young versus old. Death versus eternal life. The positive effects of societys pressure versus the negative. Marge Piercys “Barbie Doll” and Dick Schneiders “Youths 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 to end, young to old. Both poems unfold with birth, continue through the “growing up” years, but do not surpass adulthood. The separation of stanzas in both works indicates a new stage of life, though Piercy leaves the reader to guess the actual age of the “girlchild” in “Barbie Doll.” The reader will note that 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 the entirety of her poem. It required the “magic” of puberty for a child to point out the negative aspects of a 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, 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 “Youths Progress” chronicles the growth of the subject with specific years and ages, “Barbie Doll” simply accounts for the passing of time in a story-tellers fashion of memories. “Barbie Doll” ends with the tragedy of a woman who, because she didnt live up to the unrealistic standard created for her, resorts to suicide.
“Youths 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 Piercys girlchild Young versus old. Death versus eternal life. The positive effects of societys pressure versus the negative. The course a life will take is ultimately decided by the individual, the sum of his choices and reactions to the cards dealt to him by Life. The choice is yours.
Bibliography Bowland, Eavan. “Its a Womans World,” 1982.