The “little women” reveals the life of four sisters, their father, March and mother, who live in England. It is during the civil war where they have to struggle with life and make ends meet. Alcott depicts the life of the teenagers and tells the story of how they marry to become wives and mothers. March brings up the daughters in the Christian religion, where they gain their values in life. They all attend school. The women get education and have ambitions, all of which are artistic.
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The family is kind and even assists the poor to pay debts and offer assistance to their neighbors who are poor. They have strong bonds and support each other especially when sick.
The women fall in love and marry men with similar beliefs as them, Jo, one of the sisters, delays getting married as she pursues her talent in art. They undergo a difficult time after Meg, one of the sisters, contracts fever and later overcome by it. The March family lives in a society that is undergoing civil war and is dominated by the rich. The people also live in poverty, while others live in wealth.
This essay will therefore examine the feminine perspective and Marxist perspective in the Little Women by Louisa Alcott. It will also discuss the advantages and disadvantages of feminine perspective and Marxist perspective separately.
The American novelist gives her story of the family which consists of four: March sisters, their hardworking mother, and March, their father who is in the army. The narrator holds strong belief of equality from her religious background that all human beings are equal in the eyes of God. Her perspective on womanhood is a clear motivation towards gender equality. Education, freedom to develop and freedom to live a productive life are among the ideas she subscribed to.
The life she lived in the mid 19th century with her sister motivated her to tell the story. Their parents advocated for education and thus the four sisters were privileged to have education, yet they were women. During that era, the majority of the educated people were men. Men were to get educated and look for wealth to cater for their families while women took care of household chores and children. Mr. March left the family under the care of Mrs. March when he joined the army (Adelmann, 1999, p.166).
The ideas were developed when the family was growing up due to the inequalities that were prominent in the era. Her family was Christian and strongly believed and practiced equality. Their beliefs were strongly criticized because women were perceived to be inferior to men by the abolitionist.
The novelist got further inspirations from reading publications on the rights of women. The ideas on gender are best revealed when she narrates the story of the sisters, who graduate from being wives to mothers. She captures what goes on in the mind of a woman and her ambitions.
The narrator supports the independence of a woman and supports gender equality as indicated by Alberghene & Beverly (1999). She portrays women as capable of competing with men since they were created equal. She advocates for intellectual as well as emotional liberty. In the narrative, Jo, one of the sisters, remains unmarried for long and later marries the professor, after she has achieved a lot on her own.
During the era, women were not involved in political process and thus they were not allowed to vote. More so, the men dominated the political and leadership positions. In accordance with Alberghene & Beverly (1999), the novelist encouraged women to get more knowledgeable, be informed and participate in development.
The war was purely a preserve of the men and Jo could not take part in the civil war. Her father March joins the soldier as a chaplain to offer support. The women remain at home when men go to war and Jo has to cope with the reality. Cleaning, washing and all the house hold chores are the duties of a woman.
The novelist portrays women as emotional beings who engage in fights and quarrels, yet they are sisters. Although they love each other, Jo and Amy disagree and Meg is there to separate them. Beth and Jo also fight, despite their friendship. The fights are due to differences in personality as Adelmann (1999, p.166) mentions.
Females may take advantage of marriage to change their social status through marriage. Those of the upper social class maintain that one should marry one of their own. Similarly, those of the lower class advocate marrying within the same social class. The poor society knows that wealth is meaningless in a marriage.
The wealthy are constantly guarding their wealth and view those who plan to get married in a wealthy family as doing so to gain wealth. Amy changes her status after marrying a wealthy young man. She can be viewed as being courageous because she overcomes many critics given to girls like her who want to marry across social class, races and religion. Her sister shunned off due to criticism that she was arranging to marry a wealthy man for his wealth.
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Relationships are at the center of the March sister’s mind. They seem to have an idea on what kind of a man they desire. All of them meet people they find pleasing and who hold the same values as them. Their marriages are successful, just like that of their parents.
The March sisters are all determined to make it in life and have ambitions as indicated by Alberghene & Beverly (1999). Feminists advocate for equal opportunity in education which their father gives them. A common ambition in all of them is that of art. Although the women have role multiplicity, Jo and Amy overcome the odds and portray their artistic talents. Jo delays marrying so that she could develop further her talent.
Alcott perspective on gender is that, women save men. Mrs. March and the soldier’s daughters involved in the civil war by providing support. They also assist the needy poor neighbor even when the children become sick. Mrs. March takes care of the husband when he is unwell.
Benefits of Feminist Perspective
Euben & Marie (1998, p. 726) argue that, feminism has dominated societies and led to many injustices. Women have been denied to get educated and remained in charge of household chores. They are therefore denied a chance to participate in the economy. Men have dominated over women and have been in charge of the wealth. If this trend is reversed, women are capable of becoming good leaders and providers after gaining education.
The narrator strongly advocates for the equality of men and women and believes that women can also be in charge. During the error, the feminist perspective was not welcome as very few women were in leadership or had gained education. The story is an eye opener that women are equal and need to have their own freedom and make own decisions.
The feminist perspective reveals that women are capable of making change in the society. March sisters and their mother assist the poor in the society by feeding them and nursing them when they are sick. Mrs. March is constantly in control of watching over the family when her husband volunteers in the army. She also takes care of her husband when he falls sick.
Women, if allowed, can work just like men. They have mental capabilities just like men. If allowed, women have equal potential to deliver at work, since they are willing. Educating a woman will lead to increased income for the family as it happened in March family after Meg becomes a governess.
Limitations of Feminist Perspective
Women have the desire to have education and career. The society has viewed them as weak and has denied them the chance to get education and to progress in their preferred career. For this reason they have to remain as domestic workers. Labeling jobs for women and men such as mending cloths and nursing is deceptive. Men can also perform some of the chores for themselves. They are discouraged and barred to join the army or take part in the war.
The novel was set during the civil war in England which had affected many families; among them the March family. The narrator witnessed the war in the west and is devastated by the consequences of the war. Life is complicated because of economic hardships. The four sisters and their mother support the soldiers by sewing and knitting cloths. The situation is complicated by their father’s illness which makes their economic life more strenuous (Lindsay, 2000, p. 1).
Adelmann (1999, p.166) says that, the novelist grew up in a society that was characterized by the poor and the rich. The rich live in extreme wealth and guard it by all means. The kings in the novel have employed Meg to be the governess and treat her well because they are content with her good humble family. Meg is lucky to be accommodated in the higher social class by the Kings and this is because she is educated.
Social classes are eminent in the 19th century and are based on the wealth that one possesses. Meg becomes a victim when she chooses to marry Brook, who is of her social class. Her employer believes that she plans to marry Laurie so that she could change her social status by marrying the wealthy son.
The poor live in poverty and sickness can easily take them away, a concern that is discusses by Lindsay (2000, p. 1). Beth and her mother assist a much needy family to have bread and offer help for their sick children. The children never recover from the ailment. Beth later succumbs to the illness she contracted while helping them.
The children from the poor family cannot access proper medical care. They therefore lose their lives yet they could have gained health if they could pay for medical services. The wealthy can have proper medical care and have good health since they can buy it.
The poor depend on donations from the rich. Beth is unable to obtain a good piano due to economic challenges in the family. Her desire for a piano and talent in music touches Laurence, a wealthy man, who gives her a Piano.
There is a difference in the way a worker is treated among the wealthy and those with less income. The March family treats Hanna as one of their own. In some instances, she cannot be identified as a servant but rather a family member.
According to Abate (2006, p. 60), the wealthy have power and wealth to control the outcome of their lives. Those who belong to the upper class often attain the best education. Children born of the rich have tutors and can go to the best schools. The poor struggle with life. Education is one of the elements for upward mobility in the 19th century. The outcome of the gap between the rich and the poor is that, the poor are likely to remain poor for long while the rich continue to dominate and acquire more privileges.
More so, the strife in March family and their ailing neighbor family indicate how the poor struggle, yet they remain with their economic challenges and may never fit in the upper class. Their effort, imaginativeness and creativity in handling matters never enable them overcome poverty. Education is seen as one of the scapegoats from poverty and thus the novelist insists on equality for all.
While in the hospital, the rich are treated with dignity and honor while the poor are not attended to equally due to social class as Lindsay (2000, p. 1) reveals. They also do not have a problem putting up with the large bills that they incur in the hospital. Poor families often have to take care of their sick and depend on support from others.
The harsh economic hardships and the injustices in the society causes the March sisters compromise their moral values they have learned in their Christian background. Later, when the women marry, the novelist also reveals the contradictions between the humble life March sisters were brought up in and the life of Amy, one of the sisters, after marrying the rich man. The rich are seen as fashionable since fashion is believed to belong to the wealthy.
During the era, there was a civil war which was triggered by the activist who supported reforms in the country as pointed out by Abate (2006, p. 60). Slavery was not new and many were living in poverty. The wealthy dominated and the poor were the servants. This causes a constant tension between the poor and the rich.
Benefits of Marxist
In accordance with Adelmann (1999, p.166), the Marxist perspective helps understand the social differences in the society during the civil war. The wealthy have access to basic necessities and medical care while the poor do not have adequate food and have challenges in accessing medical care. The novel gives the clear picture of how families struggle through social classes. It also portrays the huge diversity between the social as well as economic lives of the poor and the rich.
The book highlights the culture among the rich which is to obtain as much wealth as possible and to guard it. The wealthy are few and are the rulers of the land. The gap between the rich and the poor only causes more tension in the society. Hence Marxism in the book portrays the reality of capitalism.
Marxism explains why there is a civil war. The Marxists point at the struggle between the capitalists and the laborers as a consequence of unequal distribution of wealth, which eventually leads to war. The struggles and effects of the war are also eminent.
Limitations of Marxist
Marxist ideas give an insight on the inequality between the rich and the poor as a social injustice. The poor have limited access to medical care and food hence this inequality makes the poor to have short life and have a poor quality of life.
March family lives in an era of gender inequality and capitalistic society. The author seems to have paid more attention to feminism. She strongly advocated for liberty of the women to get access to education and to make own choices independently. Advocating for the rights of women will lead to development in the society since women will join the economy and become productive. The story also reveals Marxist perspective. There is tension between the rich and the poor where the poor are in a constant struggle.
The wealthy have many privileges such as education, plenty of food and good health. They also dominate the poor who are their servants. This tension leads to the civil war which causes more suffering to the poor. The poor struggle to acquire food and health care. The social classes are eminent as they prevent upward mobility and give rise to enmity between the two.
Abate, M. A. (2006). Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. Children’s Literature, 34, 2006-59- 82.
Adelmann, F, J. (1999). Demythologizing Marxism: A series of studies on Marxism. Netherlands: Martinas.
Alberghene, J. M. & Beverly, L. C. (1999). Little women and the feminist imagination: Criticism, controversy, personal essays. London: Routledge.
Euben, P. & Marie, A. (1998). The uses and disadvantages of feminism Political theory. Political theory, 26, 5- 725-727.
Lindsay, E. B. (2000). A guide to Research: Louisa May Alcott. Web.