Fidelity Essay, Research Paper
Little Women is one of the classics of American children’s literature. It is a Sentimentalist and domestic novel. (For a description of Sentimentalism, please see “Context”; domestic novels are simply those that revolve around the home, focusing on marriage, child-rearing, and family affections.) Alcott’s novel centers on four girls growing up and starting families of their own.
Furthermore, the novel is didactic. As characters in the book try to teach each other helpful lessons about life, virtue, and morality, so is the book trying to teach the reader. Each of the mistakes that the girls in the novel make is intended to provide some instruction for the audience.
Little Women has also been made famous by its value as regional literature. As Alcott weaves a tale about four young women growing up, she also paints a picture of Massachusetts in the nineteenth century. Society is explained, the harsh winters are described, and, perhaps most importantly, the profound work ethic of its inhabitants is revealed.
Perhaps what has made this novel so appealing to generations of young readers is its coming-of-age stories. The novel depicts many different rites of passage. As Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy, and Laurie grow up, their adventures and mishaps provide examples for almost any child. Their mistakes are intended to make them sympathetic and instructive characters. Thus, the novel can be seen as a story of children growing into adults.
As the children grow up, they struggle with many ideas. First, they are constantly troubled by the necessity of being good, even when they want to be bad. Their weaknesses, or “burdens,” are one theme of their rites of passage. Second, as they grow, they necessarily confront different types of interaction between boys and girls. Friendship turns into love and vice versa, making another theme out of gender relations. Third, the theme of poverty is always among the Marches. There is their own and that of the Hummels, as well as the dichotomy between a poverty in money and poverty in love. Fourth, the girls constantly talk about home, but this term can mean many different things at different times in their lives. The girls also struggle with the ideas of motherhood, sisterhood, pride, intellect, education, marriage, and privilege. Finally, two of the most important ideas in the novel are dreams and work. The girls spend their childhoods and adult lives trying to balance the two and fulfill both necessities.