Enhancing “The Youngest Doll”

Breakdown of the creation of the doll and how each part is a representation of Ferré’s feminist themes:

  1. A wax mask of the face covered in plaster: “Like a living face wrapped in two dead ones.”
  2. The creation of the mask represents the idea that women in Puerto Rican society are not able to truly express themselves, and are expected to conceal their emotions as though hiding behind a mask.
  3. The mask is made by covering the human face in wax, a material that can be molded by the creator. This is similar to how women’s behaviors are molded and controlled by patriarchal society. This mold is then covered in a hard plaster making it permanent and immovable lest it crack and break entirely, which parallels how entrenched patriarchal ideas are in Puerto Rican society.
  • In addition to representing how women are unable to express themselves, the mask also represents how women are valued more for their exterior beauty rather than what lies underneath.
  1. By describing the process of creating the mask as covering life up with death, she is implying that when women marry (which is when the granddaughters receive their dolls), the life is taken out of them along with any shred of self-governance.
  2. Glass Eyeballs: “The only items the aunt would agree to use that were not made by her were the glass eyeballs. They were mailed to her from Europe in all colors but the aunt considered them useless until she had left them submerged at the bottom of the stream for a few days, so that they could learn to recognize the slightest stirring of the prawn’s antennae.”
  3. The eyeballs are the only item not from Puerto Rico, representing the foreign presence of the granddaughters’ husbands.
  4. It is especially symbolic that the eyes come from Europe because they represent the Eurocentric, Americanized view which the dolls and in turn the women in this story are forced to adopt.
  5. Body made of a hollowed-out gourd: “For the body, the aunt would send out to the garden for twenty glossy gourds. She would hold them in one hand, and with an expert twist of her knife, would slice them up against the railing of the balcony, so that sun and breeze would dry out the cottony guano brains. After a few days, she would scrape off the dried fluff with a teaspoon, and with infinite patience, feed it into the doll’s mouth.”
  6. A gourd has symbolically been used to represent a void that needs to be filled, valued in many cultures for its utility as an instrument and the musical resonance created by the shape of the gourd.
  7. The porcelain and ivory white hands and face. “The porcelain of the hands and face was always translucent; it had an ivory tint to it that formed a great contrast with the curdled whiteness of the bisque faces.”
  8. Dolls are idealized forms of women and it is symbolic that Ferré chose to make these dolls all white. This erases the diversity inherent in humanity and glorifies whiteness along with superficial beauty, reducing women to pretty things to be looked at rather than to be respected and given autonomy.