Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women as a Moral Guide Essay

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Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women as a Moral Guide

Little Women was published in 1868, just a few short years after the Civil War that had devastated the country came to an end. People across the nation were trying to come to terms with emancipation and its implications, and many felt somewhat lost after witnessing the gruesome ideological struggle. In Little Women, Louisa May Alcott attempts to guide the nation’s children through this delicate period of social upheaval by giving them a moral guide to follow.

The novel follows the four March sisters in their journey towards adulthood, but in the process, Alcott attempts to inculcate morals into the minds of the readers who are also struggling through the formative years of their lives. She does this by illustrating the moral trials and triumphs of the March family. Although these girls are all basically good at heart, each has a flaw she struggles to overcome. By highlighting their defects as well as their assets, Alcott allows the reader to sympathize with the March girls, and because the Marches try so hard to correct their flaws, the reader is inspired to correct her own faults.

Little Women is obviously a piece of didactic literature, but Alcott believes its message will be better received if the audience actually enjoys reading it. She sets her novel up as a behavioral guide for her young readers in the preface, in which she hopes that it will be both entertaining and morally instructional for the reader:

Go then, my little book, and show to all
That entertain and bid thee welcome shall,
What thou dost keep close shut up in thy breast;
And with what thou dost show them may be blest
To them for good, may make them choose to be

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... she does not teach girls that they are inferior to boys. On the contrary, Alcott bluntly expresses her frustration regarding the gender prejudices of her society. While Alcott could not reform the minds of her contemporaries, she could mold the minds of her young readers by giving them a moral guide to follow. Thus, Alcott encourages children to model their own behavior after the March sisters, who try very hard to improve themselves, and succeed despite their imperfections. By presenting these moral struggles to the reader, Alcott encourages them to bear their burdens as gracefully as Beth, Amy, Jo and Meg do.

Works Cited

Alcott, Louisa May. Little Women. Ann Arbor: Tally Hall Press, 1997.

Armstrong, Frances. “‘Here Little and Hereafter Bliss’: Little Women and the Deferral of Greatness.” American Literature 64(3). September, 1992. pp 453-474.

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