In this world, it is typical to have expectations to meet based on gender, race, religion, and many other things. It has become natural to act a certain way or to do certain things based on who you are. In the poem “Barbie Doll” and the short story “Flowers for Algernon,” Margie Piercy and Daniel Keyes both give us an insight into the mind of ordinary people who did not meet society’s rough expectations but eventually come to terms with themselves by sharing the similar concept of uniqueness.
In “Barbie Doll,” the poem is based on an unnamed female and her life from the moment she was born to the moment she dies. This female experiences neglection from society because she is not perfect and has flaws just like any other human. They overlook her skills, such as her intelligence and dexterity. To society, a “perfect” female has specific characteristics, the characteristics this girl lacks. While this girl is being judged, she begins to become self-conscious and eventually burns out and gives in to the pressure she has been under.
The short poem begins with the introduction of a female to the world. The author mentions how a little girl has been “born as usual,” indicating that there was nothing different or wrong with her; she was just fine. Her childhood appears to be a happy one, until she begins to mature. In line 6, she mentions the girl is called out by a classmate on her “big nose and fat legs.” There are no specific genders mentioned to know who exactly told her those words, but it is similar to the comments females have withstood from society since the beginning of times. It is well-known that bullying often occurs when you are going through puberty when your body undergoes hormonal and physical changes. In the second stanza, the author goes on to describe the qualities that are overlooked by society, such as her “intelligence, her strong arms and back, her sexual drive and dexterity” (8-9) A lot of times society chooses to focus on the flaws of others rather than their skills.
This has been an eternal viewpoint of society, specially towards females, because they were once a minority and are often seen as incompetent when compared to men. In the third stanza, the author portrays how society expects females to act, by using the words “coy,” “hearty,” and “wheedle.” In other words, they want her to act flirtatious, coquettish, and confident. Society expects her and every female to look and act a sure way to fit the unrealistic standards set on young females.
The fourth stanza is where the female officially explodes. “Her good nature wore out like a fan belt.” (15-16) It is implied this female has had enough of the demands of society, that it begins to take a toll on her mental health. She gives in to society’s judgment and “cuts off her nose and legs.” (ln 17) This indicates that she decided to change her appearance to finally please others and be happy with herself. She has been tormented so much that she felt the only way to fulfill the emptiness in her was to change for the public. Lastly, the poem concludes by the girl’s passing. She has died, most likely due to suicide.
After the undertaker has fixed her appearance for her funeral, she is finally seen as beautiful to everyone. Everyone eventually becomes kind to her, even those who drove her to her death. They say, “doesn’t she look pretty?” (ln 23) Lastly, the author ironically mentions how there is finally a happy ending—her death. It is ironic as death is not seen as a happy ending, but rather a lamentable one. The purpose of this poem is to portray how difficult it is to hear judgment from society and what it could drive them to do. It is to finally realize how much pressure women have from society. Perhaps this is Piercy’s personal experience and feelings, or someone else’s. But her ultimate idea is that she wants her readers to reflect on this situation, be kinder to one another, and finally end the social stigma set on females.
The short story “Flowers for Algernon” gives the reader an insight into the mind of the main character, Charlie Gordon, a 32-year old mentally ill man who shares his progress of an experimental medical trial through daily journal entries. As his journey progresses, both Charlie and the readers begin to understand how different things are based on who you are. The entries give the reader a deeper understanding of what Charlie went through and felt personally, leaving us with a more in-depth insight into the mind of a mentally ill man who becomes intelligent.
In Flowers for Algernon, Charlie Gordon is a humble 32-year-old janitor who is mocked by his surrounding peers but fails to notice because of his mental illness. He was initially kicked out and sent with to live with his uncle because his mother was not happy having a mentally ill child who had no hope of being “normal.” Charlie’s desperation to become “smart” reaches a point of no return, which leads him to enroll at a center for adults where he is taught to read and write. In there, he is introduced to one of the main characters, Miss Kinnian, she refers him to a psychologist who will perform experimental surgery on Charlie in hopes of making him intelligent. Charlie accepts the offer excited to finally being like everybody else. In the trial, Charlie is put in comparison with a mouse whose name is Algernon. This mouse will be useful to compare the results of the surgery. Throughout the trial, Charlie is competing against the mouse to see what exactly doctors are dealing with. Since this mouse is smart, Charlie would lose the competition to a mouse, which discouraged him a lot of times. In his first entry, it is evident that Charlie is not intelligent through his spelling mistakes and points of view. As time progresses, he begins to become smarter until he is eventually so smart his IQ is over the standards of an intelligent person. He became too bright, which people began to hate him for.
As he gains intellectuality, he realizes how mistreated he was, as he mentions in the book, “I never knew before the Joe and Frank, and the others liked to have me around to make fun of me. Now I know what they mean when they say ‘to pull a Charlie Gordon.’ I’m ashamed.” He realizes that the friendships he thought he once had were fake. He begins to realize how much advantage people took of him and begins to feel tormented by his childhood traumas. At some point, he begins to think that maybe being clueless was better for him; he was not aware of how ugly society could be. Eventually, he becomes ashamed of himself like before. Once time passes, he begins to lose his intelligence and goes back to the way he was previously—developmentally disabled. In the end, he is thankful for the opportunity to have been a subject to such an innovative experiment that allowed him to have an open mind. He eventually loses his motor responses, and it is assumed that he passed away just like Algernon did.
Both stories have a saddening ending, the one every human will reach. Both texts describe how cruel society is and how being different is not a pleasant experience to have in this world as a human. Being a particular person or a specific gender means acting a certain way and doing certain things. Through their use of literary devices, the stories can leave an impact on the reader. The precise imagery used in both texts allowed us to understand their perspectives a lot more as if they were our own. The hyperbole incorporated also helped see the true meaning and level of exaggeration certain situations had.
The use of literary elements all helped make these texts more influential and more impactful; one could even say they serve as a call to action. Although there are certain expectations to meet in this world, there should be an end to the social stigma put on people who society believes to be different.