Response #1: Barbie Doll
The author of this paper agrees with Marge Piercy that numerous women experience the “Barbie Doll complex,” wherein they feel unsatisfied about their looks and abilities, because of society’s predisposition to glamorize the “Barbie Doll” look. Piercy uses “Barbie Doll” as the title, because it represents the female stereotype that she satirizes in her poem. Barbie doll symbolizes how women are forced to conform to the female stereotype of the sexy and physically perfect Barbie. Barbie is especially relevant, because it is part of childhood, a critical phase wherein girls and boys discover and make sense of what it means to be a woman or to be a man. Barbie and its implications belong to the “group life- with social relations… the collective practices through which children and adults create and recreate gender in their daily interaction” (Thorne 1993, 4 cited in Messner 2000, 766). Furthermore, Piercy uses exaggeration when she says that the girl cuts up her nose and legs. There is no actual exaggeration in this description, nonetheless. Cutting up one’s female parts and changing them signify cosmetic and internal surgery that many women put up to, so that they can conform to the image of the white, beautiful, and feminine Barbie doll.
On the other hand, there is personal disagreement with the Piercy that girls broadly change themselves to fit the norm. Not all women give up their individuality. Many women also prefer to not be defined by social and gender norms. They actively resist the Barbie syndrome and define their own womanhood, according to their individual beliefs, needs, and aspirations. This author knows various women, who are satisfied with their looks and who feel secure with who they are. They do not need people to tell them that they are ugly or beautiful. They know their strengths and weaknesses, and they do not allow themselves to be dictated by social forces that delimit their potential. Barbie Doll is not the norm too, as long as women struggle to break the myths of the Barbie woman.
Response #2: A&P
It seems that John Updike has perfectly illustrated the moral changes of a teenager in “A&P.” At first, Updike describes how Sammy is the typical, poorly-educated cashier, who spends time girl watching. He ogles at the three girls in their bathing suits, particularly focusing on the most beautiful of all, and he even calls this fine-looking leader, “Queenie.” Updike shows how Sammy uses language that fits his social status and education. Sammy even jokes with Stokesie, and they both make sexist remarks, wherein Sammy responds: “Darling…Hold me tight” (Updike 377). Eventually however, Sammy undergoes a moral development. When old McMahon lustily grazes on these girls’ bodies, Sammy begins to feel sorry for the latter. In fact, Sammy even develops quite intellectually as well, as he describes Queenie with poetry: “bare plane of the top of her chest down from the shoulder bones like a dented sheet of metal tilted in the light” (Updike 376). Ferriss (2008) also remarks on this intellectual development: “the same young man intones poetry as he describes one of the girls who will change his moral life” (185). In the end, Sammy experiences a moral awakening. He quits his job, because he feels that the girls have been wronged by the manager’s remarks.
More than avenging the egos of the girls, however, Sammy decides to change his life too. Sammy hates the monotony of his job with the singing cashier drawer and difficult customers. When he quits his job, he is doing this more for himself. What is distressing, however, is that Sammy is not empowered enough to make life-changing decisions. It seems that he is not prepared for his new moral development, more so, his newfound independence. How will he explain his actions to his parents, who depend on him? Now, it seems ridiculous to say to them the he quit his job which feeds them, because of girls in bathing suits. His decision has turned into an immature decision, which makes Sammy revert to his old immature self. Sammy is not ready for a moral awakening, after all.
Response #3: Things They Carry
The author of this paper agrees with O’Brien that soldiers carry more than the heavy things they need to fight the war and perform their mission, because they also carry their responsibilities, ghosts, dreams, and fears. Jimmy carries the responsibilities for the lives of his men. When Lavender is killed, he blames himself. He buries his blame under his love for Martha, however. Soldiers also all carry ghosts. They have their imagination, as their silent killers (O’Brien 1152). Then of course, they have their dreams- to stay alive, most of all, to once more be reunited with their loved ones. But their fears are plentiful. It could be that their fears keep them alive and dead, at the same time.
Soldiers fear being killed by the enemy and so they bring ammunition, guns, and amulets. But their heavy load makes them easy targets too. They fear not caring for each other. When the soldiers see Jimmy grieve, they want to grieve, as well. Inside themselves, however, they cannot find emotions. By keeping themselves alive, they must kill and the act of killing kills them too. Killing destroys their human capacity to feel and relate to other human beings. The moral of the war for them is that there is no moral. There is no point in the war. When soldiers and their enemies die, they all lose out- their families grieve and their futures consist of what-could-have-been.
This is the saddest part of the story. To survive the war means living in hell. O’Brien notes that the essence of the true war story is the experience that lingers with the readers: “A true war story is a performative experience, an encounter with the ineffable real” (Silbergleid 2009, 133). The soldiers will not be able to bury the things they did, the inhumane things they have done to their enemies, so that they can survive. The guilt of the living haunts them and will haunt them until the end of their days. The guilt kills them over and over again. To be alive during the war and after it, one dies too. Death is inescapable.
Ferriss, Lucy. “Uncle Charles Repairs to the A&P: Changes in Voice in the Recent American Short Story.” Narrative 16.2 (2008): 178-192.
Messner, Michael A. “Barbie Girls versus Sea Monsters: Children Constructing Gender.” Gender and Society 14.6 (2000): 765-784.
O’Brien, Tim. Things They Carry. 1147-1158.
Piercy, Marge. Barbie Doll. 811-812.
Silbergleid, Robin. “Making Things Present: Tim O’Brien’s Autobiographical Metafiction.” Contemporary Literature 50.1 (2009): 129-155.
Updike, John. A&P. 375-380.