“It is an anxious, sometimes a dangerous thing to be a doll. Dolls cannot choose; they can only be chosen; they cannot ‘do’; they can only be done by.”
Over the long weekend, I invited the wee babes over to play with my dolls and change them into their Christmas outfits. Mostly, this was an excuse for me to get out the dolls and look through their accessories. I’m talking, of course, about my American Girl Dolls circa the 90s.
I loved my dolls. I had Kirsten (the prairie doll whose family immigrated from Sweden), Felicity (growing up in Colonial times), and Molly (the WWII-era doll). Classics. Susie had Samantha (the Victorian-era doll and one of the original three), and Kit (the depression-era doll). I will also add that I knew how lucky I was to have so many dolls and so many of their things. I appreciated them, I played with them, and I took care of them.
In preparation for the visit, I read the first book in each series for Kirsten, Felicity, and Molly. And boy they were different. As an immigrant from Sweden, Kirsten’s story begins on the ship over to America! (you have to use the exclamation point because they were so excited to get here). Once in America, the family has to travel by train and riverboat to Minnesota where they are meeting family members. On the journey, Kirsten’s best friend dies of cholera. I was so surprised.
In contrast, the conflicts in the Felicity and Molly books seem much less high stakes, although the contrasts to our privileged lifestyles now still seemed stark. For instance, WWII-era Molly is not allowed to let the Victory Garden radishes grown by the housekeeper go to waste and thus cannot be excused from the table until she finishes them. Likewise, her mother believes it would be wasteful to use fabric to make a fancy dress for a halloween costume, so Molly and her friends settle for hula skirts made from newsprint.
Anyway, as usual when you invite almost-three-year-olds over, what they found most interesting was not what I wanted to focus on, but rather the rubber fish in Kirsten’s fishing basket and her honey jars. I got that full set of accessories when I quit sucking my thumb. While they played, I changed the dolls into their Christmas outfits (and didn’t take a good picture because I was running around).
Visiting the American Girl Doll website is kind of depressing these days. The original idea is so lost–through these dolls and stories we were able to learn about how young girls lived in different times. The characters were all independent thinkers, despite and within the confines of their time. Throughout the series, the characters all faced adversity of some kind–but through their intelligence, quick-thinking, and sometimes asking for help, they rose above it and solved their problems. No victims here–something that is important for young girls to read!
It was fun to have an excuse to dig into the boxes, though, and I’m sure next year, the wee babes will be more help!
*Rumer Godden, The Doll’s House