Feminism and Society in "Little Women"

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The story Little Women takes place at a time when women were taking on uncustomary roles like physical laborer, family protector and provider, and military volunteer while their husbands served during the Civil War. Keeping within the boundaries of the time, Louisa May Alcott uses herself and her own three sisters to create this classical novel from personal experiences. Each sister is different. They each set goals and dreams for their selves whether it goes along with their contemporary society or not. With the assistance of their mother, friends and experiences, Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy struggle between their personal expectations and society’s expectations as they plan for their future and choose their destinies.

Mrs. March, also known as Marmee, like many women during this era had to learn how to balance working outside the home with raising a family while her husband served in the Union Army. Marmee shows, “that a home can be run successfully without a man supporting it, as hers is while Mr. March is away at war” (Thomason 123). She proves to have a strong influence on her daughters as they weave through their daily lives and dreams of their futures. The young girls, whom are each unique in their personality and expectations, tend to make poor choices throughout the novel. However, Marmee is there with just the right advice each time. The girls decide they would like to spend their summer break doing only the things they enjoy, but soon they become bored. When they are ready, Marmee passes on words of wisdom to her four daughters. Marmee inspires, “Work is wholesome,” she continues, “It keeps us from mischief, is good for health and spirits, and gives us a sense of independence” (Alcott 92). Throughout the sto...

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Janeway, Elizabeth. “Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy, and Louisa.” New York Times Book Review (1968): 42, 44, 46. Rpt in Nineteenth- Century Literature Criticism. Eds. Laurie Lanzen Harris and Sheila Fitzgerald. Vol. 6. Detroit: Gale, 1984. 32. Print.

May, Jill P. “Feminism and Children’s Literature: Fitting Little Women into the American Literary Canon.” CEA Critic 56.3 (1994): 19-27. Rpt in Children’s Literature Review. Ed. Tom Burns. Vol. 146. Detroit: Gale, 2009. n.p. Literature Resource Center. Web. 2 Mar. 2011.

Thomason, Elizabeth, ed. “Little Women: Louisa May Alcott 1868.” Novels for Students. Vol. 12. Detroit: Gale, 2001. 116-129. Print.
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