The Youngest Doll

Ferre, Rosario

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Annotated by:
Taylor, Nancy
  • Date of entry: Feb-04-1997


A maiden aunt never marries because a river prawn bites her calf and, due to minimal treatment by her physician, nestles there to grow. She devotes her life to her nieces, making for them life-sized dolls on their birthdays and wedding days. When only the youngest niece is left at home, the doctor comes to see his patient and brings his son, also a physician. When the son realizes the father could have cured the leg, the doctor says, "I wanted you to see the prawn that has paid for your education these twenty years."

The young doctor becomes the aunt's physician and marries the youngest niece, taking her and her wedding doll to live in a house like a cement block, requiring his wife to sit on the porch so passersby can see he has married into society. The doctor sells the doll's diamond-eardrop eyes, and when he wants to sell its porcelain, his wife tells him the ants ate the doll because it had been filled with honey.

The doctor grows older, but his wife keeps the firm, porcelained skin she's always had. One night he watches her sleep and notices her chest isn't moving. Placing his stethoscope over her heart, he hears a distant swish of water. "Then the doll lifted up her eyelids, and out of the empty sockets of her eyes came the frenzied antennae of all those prawns."


Rosario Ferre, a Puerto Rican writer whose mother came from the landowning elite and whose father, an industrialist, was a pro-statehood governor of the Commonwealth, is herself a supporter of independence for the island. Set in Puerto Rico in the era in which the old sugar cane aristocracy was giving way to the new industrial wealth, each class patriarchal in its own way, "The Youngest Doll" contains a shocking doctor-patient scene showing how social classes use their power and, in particular, how they use women as objects.

Males with a prawn bite would probably have been cured, without even having to ask for cure; research studies would have been done, if necessary, to find cures. A woman was not treated, however, even when a cure was possible. The patient is reduced to a mere commodity and nothing else; the physician uses the aunt's treatment payments to fund his son's education.

This symbolism of woman as object is made particularly clear in the young doctor's using both his wife and her doll. But the aunt encourages her nieces' helplessness and even sacrifices her youngest niece in order to get even with the physicians, both of whom refuse to cure her. Ferre's story contains elements of mythical realism, yet it invites readers to examine personal motivation involved in power plays and warns of incorrect, even deadly, uses of various kinds of power.


First published:1976. Translated by the author.

Primary Source

The Youngest Doll


Univ. of Nebraska Press

Place Published

Lincoln, Nebr.