Home / General / From Gnawing Hunger to Festering Wounds, It’s All in Mary’s Six Book Series

From Gnawing Hunger to Festering Wounds, It’s All in Mary’s Six Book Series


Although I do not have children, when I was integrated into the gigantic family of my in-laws, I was exposed to the American Girl Doll phenomenon. The dolls’ little historical stories interested and amused me. They are also open to quality parody. See American Literature Girls for example.

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  • Njorl

    The Hester Prynne doll should come with an “A” you can sew onto her dress.

  • MikeJake

    Have you been to the stores? I went in the Chicago one with my folks while they shopped for a doll for my niece, and they have a cafe with waitresses who will serve your doll! And one of the employees told us that she had witnessed little girls hyperventilating when they were brought in to the store. Over dolls! It’s not like they’re getting a Nintendo 64.

    • allium

      You mean “an Atari 2600”.

      • Tyto

        You mean “Pong.”

        • RedSquareBear

          That’s a funny way of spelling “Pinball”.

          • UserGoogol

            Getting a pinball machine would be rather impressive.

            Also the Nintendo 64 thing that triggered this thread may have been a reference to an old Youtube video about an enthusiastic young child. Internet traditions etc etc.

  • mark f

    I thought “Six” was “Sex” for a minute. What a goddam letdown this post turned out to be.

    • Keep your Mary Rowlandson fantasies to yourself sir!

      • sparks

        With his hands?

  • Lee

    You needed a Supreme Court order to be accepted by your wife’s family. Thats hardcore.

    • They are Irish, which I think is the original definition of miscegenation.

  • Trollhattan

    Brilliant. My household has been infested by the AmGirl phenomenon; luckily, not completely consumed, as there are ongoing skirmishes with other toy classes for that gradeschool female attention and those parental dollars.

    I’ve been luckier than certain other dads I know, who have been forced to take their daughters to American Girl Store salons to have their dolls’ fracking hair done. And no, they don’t serve beer to suffering attendant dads.

    • Lee

      The second paragraph of your post is disturbing on so many lives. Its like the perfect example of Veblein’s conspicuous consumption. It also seem only slighlty less anti-Feminist than the current Princess craze going on. At least the American girls series has small-r republican sensibilities. Finally, why don’t the dads just bring over their own beer?

      • NBarnes

        I think that if a child of mine insisted on that, it would be time for me to have a conversation about class, money, and things that matter versus things that don’t.

        No child of mine needs their doll’s hair done more than kids in Africa need food. Or even inflatable balls to play with. And if the child doesn’t understand that, they need to.

        • Increase Mather

          In fairness, you could say this about anything. Is buying your son a Yankee jersey with the #3 on the back necessarily more legit than paying for your daughter’s doll’s hairdo?

          • NBarnes

            I’ll acknowledge the fairness of the point. I would privilege the jersey over the doll’s hairdo a bit, because, and I’ll also acknowledge the extreme subjectiveness of the perspective, engaging in sports fandom is a social and tribal behavior that is important to A) do and B) do well, for one’s child. While there are those that would question one’s parenting for allowing the Yankees in particular, and I’m not sure that professional sports is a good way for a young child to explore that kind of emotional experience, I can kinda dimly see where that might lead.

            On the other hand, doll hairdos seem… somewhat more masturbatory?

            • delurking

              Okay, but (and I’m speaking as the parent of a daughter who hates dolls , finds them creepy, and would rather have more art supplies or new game for her ds than either a jersey or a hairdo) surely you can see that for some kids going to get your doll’s hair done is *also* social and tribal behavior, albeit of a different sort?

              I mean, just because one is something girls do and the other is something boys do doesn’t mean one is good and the other useless and wasteful.

              • delurking

                I’ll add that I’ve always found all watching of professional sports sort of masturbatory — I like playing sports, but what’s with all the fuss (and all that money!) over watching other people do them — so you might want to take that into account.

              • NBarnes

                Yeah, I’m beginning to not like where I’m taking this train of thought. I’m going to need to spend some time introspecting here, I may be engaging in wrongthink.

            • The AG books are pretty good; I don’t have a problem buying those. The authors do research and there are notes about history in the back which The Lovely Daughter pays attention to. The dolls, on the other hand, are $100 bucks a pop or thereabouts. This disturbing person is sitting in front of $1200 worth of stuff.

              • Spuddie

                Their dead eyes peer into my very soul.

  • DrDick

    I delighted to see that I can add this to the list of cultural phenomena of which I am blissfully ignorant.

  • blowback

    Please, please, please tell me that American Girl is a parody.

    • Lee

      I don’t know how to break this to you gently, so I won’t. What Erik posted was a parody. The American Girls phenomena is very real. They even had a live action HBO series based on it. It started earlier than the Disney Princess craze but upper-middle class parents use it as a sort of more friendly to liberalism replacement.

    • JL

      It…seems to have grown since I was playing with my American Girl doll back when I was eight or nine years old (early to mid 90s). When I got one, they had just added a fourth doll to the original three. There were some stupid accessories that you could buy, but I don’t remember any doll salons or doll waitresses or anything like that. I had the WWII-era doll, and most of the books for all of the dolls, which I remember as actually being pretty reasonable little-kid historical fiction.

      • RedSquareBear

        Yeah. My sisters had one each, the youngest had the Victorian one and the older of the two had the Swedish (Norwegian?) immigrant one.

        It’s not exactly radical children’s fiction, but it seemed decently empowering for my sisters to have stories about the girls having adventures and overcoming, stuff.

        Maybe it’s gotten all pink and frilly since then, but it was decent historical fiction for girls back in the late 80’s/early 90’s.

        • JL

          Yeah, definitely not radical, but I do remember it touching on some themes that went beyond sanitized-elementary-school-social-students-class versions of history. The Victorian doll’s books dealt with classism and child labor through the poor-girl-who-is-friends-with-the-protagonist character. The black escaped-slave doll’s books, once she showed up, dealt with the social and economic struggles of freedmen.

  • Lasker

    As a cultural and marketing phenomenon, there’s plenty to mock about the American Girl enterprise.

    But the books themselves aren’t half bad, – I read through my sister’s collection when I was nine or ten and I remember thinking that they were better than a lot of the other children’s paperback series stuff I was reading at the time.

  • catclub

    We had fun with possible American Girls ideas when my daughter had outgrown them.

    Molly McGuire is ready to throw on old-fashioned bomb.

    • Yes!

      • Lee

        Finally, a doll for girls with labor sympathies.

        Would a Joe Hill doll by the Ken equiivalent?

        • Sacco and Vanzetti dolls.

          The loaded guns are extra.

  • Hey, thanks for the link (again!). I actually have no particular problem with idea of American Girls–they’re not inherently more absurd than any other completely offensive american middle class extravagence. And I totally love lots of the books.

    What is hilarious to me, though, as someone who teaches American Literature, is how pervasive an idea this is, that to be a heroine you need to be relentlessly upbeat! And have adventures, with your head *and* your heart! This post actually came out of a time I taught Harriet Jacobs–which is a great book but an AWFUL story–and a student praised Harriet for “Always keeping a positive attitude!” I was like: uh, no. Very little place for pissy women in our culture, it seems.

    • Njorl

      Yep. Bad-tempered, brooding male protagonists play well, but you don’t see it much for women.

      • Lee

        IMO, a lot of this is because of tradition. In pre-feminist girl’s literature being plucky was an essentially characteristic of most girl protagonists. It probably relates to traditional norms on how women are supposed to bright and sunny.

        It gets carried over to the modern day because of how many, but not all, girls and women like to idealize themselves. Just as a lot of boys or men like to see themselves a brooding boy or man anti-hero; a lot of girls and women like to see themselves as plucky and upbeat. It helps that a lot of men also fantasize about being a brooding man healed by a bright, sunny woman. The Magic Pixie Dream Girl.

        A related phenomenon is how lots of women action heroes often have very traditional waif-like bodies rather than a more Amazonian stature. Many girls and women like to imagine themselves as action heroes as much as boys and men but not necessarily as being Amazonian.

      • I tried imagining Harriet as someone who is “bad-tempered and brooding”. Then, I realized I can’t imagine her like that at all.

  • John

    I like the parodies, but it feels a little half-hearted to use the same blonde doll as the image for all of them.

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