Introducing Children's Literature: From Romanticism to Postmodernism

By Deborah Cogan Thacker; Jean Webb | Go to book overview

Chapter 3

Closing the garret door

A feminist reading of Little Women

Louisa May Alcott was born 29 November 1832 in Germantown, Pennsylvania, an area of America which was a stronghold of Transcendentalist philosophy. In the writing of Little Women in 1868, Louisa May Alcott drew upon her childhood experiences and her upbringing, which was dominated by the Transcendental philosophy and idealism of her father, Bronson Alcott. When Louisa May was eleven Bronson Alcott founded a Transcendental community called 'Fruitlands'. Unfortunately the project collapsed after a year of severe practical difficulties for the family, because the gap between the idealised vision of her father and the practical realities of everyday living was too great. Louisa May Alcott transposed the ideals of Transcendentalism into Little Women, but combined them with a realistic practicality. In the fictional world of Little Women the focus is on the women of the March family, who live out their Transcendental ideals through their everyday lives and achieve a sense of success and happiness, despite the temporary absence of their father, who has left them to join the forces in the Civil War as a chaplain.

The Transcendental values reflected in Little Women are derived from Puritanism and a belief in the 'perfectibility of man' (Bradbury and Temperley 1998:71). The March family strive to create a New Eden in their lives through hard work and the rejection of materialism. Whilst there is a strong sense of individualism, the wishes of the individual are not allowed to become selfish and override the general good of the family. This awareness provides a set of tensions in the text, as the characters endeavour to balance certain responsibilities with their own desires and the needs of the family unit.

The overall circumstances of the family are determined by the absence of Mr March. Although he could have been exempt because

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