The Home Front: 1861 to 1865

Parents’ Roles

What was the most sympathetic, or important, treatment of women in fiction?

Little Women; or, Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy was published in 1868. Its author was Louisa May Alcott (1832–1888), the thirty-six-year-old daughter of Amos Bronson Alcott, a leading member of the Transcendentalist community in Concord, Massachusetts. Miss Alcott, upon receiving high praise, responded that she had written the novel in a hurry and had not anticipated its major effect on readers. Little Women has remained in print ever since, however, and we have to examine something about the author and the title to understand its importance.

Little Women portrays the lives of four sisters, three of whom are teenagers and the youngest of whom is nine. Meg is the quiet and together type; Jo is anxious and headstrong; Beth is the insightful but physically fragile daughter; and Amy is the spoiled, indulged child. Their father is away at war and their mother is the new center of the home, but the girls are growing up, in ways that are sometimes unexpected. Little Women definitely portrays a family that is better off than many, but scraping by with many frugal practices, and with the girls both lamenting their poverty and showing generosity to others. The girls know how to do almost anything, and the reader guesses that they will turn into strong, well-developed people.


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