Maya Angelou's "Phenomenal Woman" features the voice of a woman who is not attractive in a cute way. However, she manages to keep off the obstinately judgmental society in rather a more astonishing way defined by outstanding self-confidence which influences the reaction of the whole community towards her. "Barbie Doll" by Marge Piercy is the exact opposite of "Phenomenal Woman." The voice in this piece is rather weak, frail, scared, and terrified. It depicts a woman who has lost complete control of her life, giving in to the socially manipulative conventions. Ultimately the speaker succumbs to the pressure and takes her life. Both of the poems are passing two messages to women in quite a contrasting ways. They present the female population with sets of choices, stating clearly the consequences of each.
"Phenomenal Woman," uses an extended mood of optimism and a cheerful tone. The speaker acknowledges that she is not beautiful as other women but doesn't give in to that sad reality. In the first line of the first stanza, she says "Pretty women wonder where my secret lies" (Angelou, p1) implying that she is the very opposite of them. The way the speaker describes her movements and physical qualities are very cheerful. The word choice in the entire poem symbolizes joy and thereby creating the effect of optimism throughout the poem. For instance, she says "the flash of my teeth," in line nine of stanza two and "the sun of my smile," in line ten of the fourth stanza. The two words 'sun' and 'flash' have poetically been associated with optimism for ages.
The two poems are similar in many ways. Structurally, they both reflect their contents. Angelou's poem is long, shapeless and carelessly structured. Its structure depicts, according to the gender of the speaker, a tall and clumsy lady with imperfections throughout her physique. It's like a preface that the reader doesn't necessarily have to like the poem but will have to read it because the author doesn't care anyway. Similarly, in the poem, the speaker admits defects in her physique by primarily eliminating herself from the group of beautiful men, but doesn't pay attention to what people say, or conceive of beauty. Instead, she manipulates their sentiments and perception. In the first and second lines of the fourth stanza, the speaker says, "Men themselves have wondered what they see in me."
The arrangements of stanzas in "Barbie Doll," are not perfectly arranged but are uniform. It thus depicts the uniform thinking of the society towards the woman. The society of the speaker has imperfections too. Initially, they are so sure that the speaker is physically disadvantaged. In the first three lines of the third stanza, the speaker says that society advised the subject to exercise (Piercy, p.3), more of asking her to "burn that fat." In the end, they come to the realization that the speaker had actually been beautiful all along. That is an indication of faulty aesthetic abilities- imperfection. Perhaps that's why Piercy decided not to make all lines and stanzas equally distributed throughout the poem.
While the optimism contained in Angelou's poem yields the positive energy required in today's era, where every lady strives to attain the body of a model, Piercy's piece is more effective as it warns the readers of the dangers of giving in to the pressures of pleasing everyone. The truth is that not every lady can possess the self-confidence of Angelou's phenomenal woman, trying to conform to certain misguided standards, like the shape of a woman's body of which no man has control over, is dangerous to everyone.
Angelou, Maya. Phenomenal Woman: Four Poems Celebrating Women. New York: Random House Publishing Group, 2011.
Piercy, Marge. Barbie Doll. Berkeley: Red Mountain Tribe, Incorporated, 1971.
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