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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

merlie alunan’s bringing the dolls: a textual reading

The poem Bringing The Dolls written by Merlie Alunan is about a mother’s realization that in one’s moving on, one need not bring only those considered important.
The predominant image of the poem is the dolls. It can initially be found in the first 3 lines, which describe the dolls as mangled:
Two dolls in rags and tatters,
One missing an arm and a leg,
The other blind in one eye –
The dolls’ image appears again in line 18, wherein the persona sees the deliberately left dolls—“rags, tatters and all.” In both appearances, the persona tries to reinforce the idea that the dolls are unsightly, and as the lines move along to reveal the dramatic situation, this reinforcement suggests the representation of the hideous past which, like the ugly dolls set side by side against “the neat trim packs” (line 19), the persona “rule[s] to leave behind” (line 20).
We can see that the poem’s dramatic situation is the struggle of the mother, as she and daughter move to a new home, never to “take/what must be left behind” (lines 13-14): the past. The poem’s title vividly presents the dilemma that if the mother concedes to her daughter’s bringing the dolls, the mother will be hounded by the past; if the mother does pack only “the barest need:/no room for sentiment or memory” (lines 8-9), she will most probably break her daughter’s heart. The dramatic situation is very important because the persona detailing the dramatic situation soon realizes a truth that her child has unwittingly taught her: to keep her faith, even if things seem trivial. This she discovers only later because she denies herself the luxury of being sentimental for a while: “a smart wind blowing dry/the stealthy tears [she can] not wipe” (lines 16-17).
The persona in the poem is a mother who tries to escape from the past by leaving the seemingly unimportant (and essentially harsh) reminders of it. She is the one putting in detail the dramatic situation; thus, she is integral to the poem’s progress. It is through her that the truth about keeping one’s faith is revealed, amid her attempt to have a “stern resolve” (line 11) to erase the past through the only way she knows: her own way. The child, however, insisted in bringing the dolls along (lines 18-20), a defiance: “her clean white years unlived —/and paid [her mother’s] price” (lines 24-25).
In lines 21-23, the persona tries to tell us that the child understands what her mother is going through. She feels empathy as supported by the following lines:
Her silence should have warned me
she knew her burdens
as I knew mine:
The mother now knows that her child is not oblivious of her problem. Ultimately, her child teaches her a lesson. The main point of the poem unravels in the last four lines:
when what’s at stake
is loyalty or love,
hers are the true rights.
Her own faith she must keep, not I.
The child has the discretion of what is most important to her, and the mother has no right to insist upon what she deems vital for her child, in this case the child’s bringing the dolls, which the child loves and is loyal to. Her daughter’s keeping the faith eventually teaches the mother that memories, even those one will rather forget, serve a function or two, in her case a learning point as mother and child go on in life. This realization of an old truth fulfills the promise of the material used in the poem, that the daughter and her rag dolls have a lesson to tell to the too-practical mother, in which case the poem succeeds in projecting the universal theme of keeping the faith.


  1. thanks for this one!!! ^^ this really helped me in my Literature 21 (Philippine Litt) Greetings from Ryan of Silliman University.

  2. Anonymous4:16 AM too..thnks for posting this one..
    --from empress scarlet..

    pol sci student(SILLIMAN UNIVERSITY)

  3. Anonymous4:39 AM

    it helps a lot...thank you!

  4. Anonymous4:40 AM

    oh! the the way, I'm Janice from UNIVERSITY OF PANGASINAN-PHINMA..DAGUPAN CITY.

  5. From what region po itong poem na ito?

    1. Anonymous12:38 AM

      It is immaterial to know where this poem came from. Isn't it enough that it could happen anywhere to anyone.

      The author

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. Anonymous3:42 AM

    nice poem........really an eye opener to those pople who want to go on with there life and forgetting the every trials we had even though how bad it is we must try find the good things in it that it gives us

  7. Anonymous5:45 AM

    good got an A from me..

  8. Anonymous5:18 AM

    haha. nice it really helps! thanks :)

  9. Anonymous2:33 AM

    thank you! it really helps

  10. What I learned from this: 'forgetting the past is not a solution to moving on'. Even if it is a hurtful past, it is worth cherishing like the ragged doll because there still is FAITH which will help us move on. FAITH in God, FAITH in other people who love you. :) thanks a lot

    -UST-AMV student

  11. Anonymous11:33 PM

    thank you :)
    God bless

  12. Anonymous2:03 PM

    Thank you! This helped me a lot. :)
    Greetings from Davao city. <3

  13. Anonymous5:56 PM

    what is the genre of this poem? pls answer.. thank you so much :)

    1. Anonymous12:43 AM

      Genre... Well, it could be lyric. Then again, it could be narrative because it does tell a story. It is a contemporary poem no doubt as it makes use of such elements as images and free verse. What good would it do you to know genre? Did you enjoy the poem? Did it give you some insights on human experience? Genre is just a label. A rose by a any name,you know... (The author)

  14. Anonymous9:55 AM

    Thank you very much for posting this :D

  15. Cesario Minor, I stumbled into your reading of Bringing the Dolls. Thank you. It's a good and thoughtful read.

    I also like the art that went with it. My email address is if you'd like to say hello. Thank you.

  16. Anonymous3:17 AM

    You really make it seem so easy with your presentation but I find
    this matter to be really something that I think I would never understand.
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  17. Anonymous8:06 AM

    Can I ask , what is the two lessons that the mothers learned from her child ? Pls answer asap, I really need it . thank you so much .

  18. what is the tradition of this poem? pls answer asap