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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.

Bowland, Eavan. “Its a Womans World,” 1982.

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