Burnt House Items, “Barbie Q” by Sandra Cisneros

(If you’re extremely rich, please disregard this essay)

It seems like all we can ever get is the burnt house items: the items of last season or items on promotion, or items from the sales rack (shamefully hiding us in the back). So much of us pretend to afford things we can’t and when we can’t we fill our heads with the imagination of having them.

We tell the same stories over and over: new outfit, new technology, new car, new memberships, new toys. In the short story Barbie Q, when the girls first bought “Career Girl” and “Sweet Dreams” dolls, they were seen “skipping and humming” in joy, but quickly they saw “there! and there! and there! new dolls: Tutti, Todd, Skipper, and most importantly, Ken. The new dolls, in a matter of seconds, were love lost.

The girls tell “every time the same” story: one roommate steals her other roommate’s boyfriend and they start fighting. While granted, this surely doesn’t empower the girls or fill their heads with hopes and dreams outside of men, really the attention should be redirected not to the what but the house: how did they learn this narrative? The saddest truth is that the young girls were already taught by books, TV, movies, and maybe even real life that this is what women are expected to fight about; their ambitions are cut down to imaginary, crotchless Ken.

Sandra Cisneros was one of seven children (the only girl) and in her father’s poem he humorously “envisioned professional careers for all his children, pointing his sons toward medicine and law but deciding she would be ideal as a television weather girl. (Also note the difference in Latin American weather girls, go ahead look it up). This reinforces at an early age, even in jest, that women should concern themselves with simpler personal affairs (men, friends, family).

The girls were overwhelmed by the abundance of damaged goods and no matter how hard they tried to “wash and wash and wash them” and even if “the left foot is melted a little” and you don’t try to lift her dress, no one can ever tell. Maybe that purse was bought in Chinatown, maybe those headphones are refurbished, maybe we are carrying fake things as a reflection of our fake desires, trying to satisfy ourselves with burnt-house items while the real thing is waiting for us somewhere.

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