March siblings, Amy, Beth, Jo, and Meg
1. Plot Summary
The story follows the life of the four March siblings, Amy, Beth, Jo, and Meg, throughout their life. It is a biographical account of May Alcott’s life with her three siblings during the civil war. The story’s opening scene is the four girls sitting in their living room, lamenting their financial situation. They are sad their Christmas will be gloomy with their father in the Union military and away on duty in the war (Desmawati, 94). Their mother is forced to step up and provide for her family in a community with a strict conservative perception of feminine roles in the community. The girls were looking forward to a heavy breakfast on that Christmas morning. Still, when their mother announces her intention to assist a needy family, the sisters pack their breakfast and join their mother feeding the needy family. “Not far away from here lies a poor woman with a little newborn baby. Six children are huddled into one bed to keep from freezing, for they have no fire. There is nothing to eat over there, and the oldest boy came to tell me they were suffering hunger and cold. My girls, will you give them your breakfast as a Christmas present?’ They were all unusually hungry, having waited nearly an hour, and for a minute no one spoke, only a minute, for Jo exclaimed impetuously, ‘I’m so glad you came before we began!’ ‘May I go and help carry the things to the poor little children?’ asked Beth eagerly. ‘I shall take the cream and the muffings,’ added Amy (Alcott, 24).” Mr. Laurence acknowledges their selfless deed and sends them a feast at their house. They are poor but can afford the necessities and pay one servant. Jo and Meg are one day invited to Sally Gardiner’s (Meg’s friend) party where Jo bumps into Laurie their wealthy neighbor. Laurie is left without a choice but to escort them back home when Jo springs her ankle later on during the party. Jo meets with Mr. Laurence for the first time in her life when she goes to visit Laurie when he is sick. Mr. Laurence is impressed by Jo’s courage and determination and later meets all the sisters. Beth became Mr. Laurence’s favorite because she reminded him of his deceased granddaughter. He later awards his deceased granddaughter’s piano to Beth.
Each of the March sisters undergo different character development processes, Meg continues to struggle with her adoration of vanity and luxurious lifestyle. She learns a lot from her mother who does not complain of her poverty and advises them to choose a happy life with an impoverished man rather than a sad life with a wealthy man. She comes into self-realization when she attends Annie Moffat’s party, where she is left feeling hollow after being dressed up in luxurious clothing. She realizes that happiness is the only thing that matters in life and ends up marrying John Brooke. Amy is punished by a teacher one day in school after being caught trading lime prompting her mother to withdraw her from the institution. Amy feels left out by Laurie Meg and Jo and she one day burns Jo’s book when she refuses to go with her to the theater. Jo is devastated by Amy’s actions and she nearly lets Amy drown when Ice-skating in retaliation. Despite their differences the Marches end up starting a family newspaper at the newly formed Pickwick Club. Laurie is later accepted as a member at The Pickwick Club after he is smuggled by Jo into one of their meetings. Jo gets one of her story’s published for the first time when she and her sisters go on a picnic with Laurie and his English friends. Jo’s commitment to the family is seen when she sells her hair to finance her mother’s trip to Washington D.C after their father was hospitalized in one of the hospitals there. “That’s my contribution toward making Father comfortable and bringing him home!’ ‘My dear, where did you get it? Twenty-five dollars! Jo, I hope you haven’t done anything rash?’ ‘No, it’s mine honestly. I didn’t beg, borrow, or steal it. I earned it, and I don’t think you’ll blame me, for I only sold what was my own.’ As she spoke, Jo took off her bonnet, and a general outcry arose, for all her abundant hair was cut short (Alcott, 287).” Their mother nursed their father to good health, but the trip had other consequences as Beth contracted Scarlet fever during one of her visits to the impoverished Hummel’s family. Mrs. March is forced yet again to make the trip back to Concord to take care of Beth.
Their father is a philosophical teacher serving as a Chaplin in the Union Army. He becomes ill were serving his time in the Army and returns to Concord after being nursed to good health by his wife. Meg eventually moves into a new house with John Brooke and gives birth to twins. The sibling rivalry between Jo and Amy escalates when Aunty Carroll chooses to go to Paris with Amy because of her ladylike personality as compared to Jo’s tomboyish character. Jo felt betrayed by her sister because she was relying on the trip’s exposure to advance her writing career. Jo moves to New York thinking Amy was developing feelings for Laurie. Jo meets a professor Bhaer, who advises her on adopting a simpler writing style and refraining from writing sensational stories. She downs down Laurie’s marriage proposal upon returning to Concord, where she is met with grief when Beth dies. Laurie relocates to Europe where he meets and falls in love with Amy in France, the two get married and return to Concord to give birth to a daughter, whom they name after Beth. Jo inherits Aunt March’s house (Plumfield) and converts it into a boys boarding school “The second year began rather soberly, for their prospects did not brighten, and Aunt March died suddenly. But when their first sorrow was over—for they loved the old lady in spite of her sharp tongue—they found they had cause for rejoicing, for she had left Plumfield to Jo, which made all sorts of joyful things possible. The novel ends with all the sisters reconciling and being grateful for all they have (Alcott, 844).”
Self-realization and actualization eventually breeds contentment and happiness, May Alcott grew up in a transcendentalist family where her father, family friends and tutors taught the whole family to satisfy the needs of the inner spiritual self. They believed that wealth, outward appearance, and other earthly desires yielded no long lasting impact on the overall wellbeing of a person. They took pride in their hard work and they believed in receiving what they rightfully earned. This moral way of living is depicted throughout the story for instance the way Amy and Meg battle their desire for a luxurious lifestyle and they eventually win their fights when Meg gets married to John Brooke a man without wealth and Amy accepts Laurie’s marriage proposal after turning down the extremely rich Fred Vaughn. The story’s message of simplicity, genuineness, and natural beauty is further solidified when Laurie, the March sister’s wealthy neighbor expresses how he despises the luxurious lifestyle lived by the wealthy in the society. “How absurd of you! The girls dressed me up for fun, and I rather like it. Wouldn’t Jo stare if she saw me?’ said Meg, bent on making him say whether he thought her improved or not. ‘Yes, I think she would,’ returned Laurie gravely. ‘Don’t you like me so?’ asked Meg. ‘No, I don’t,’ was the blunt reply. ‘Why not?’ in an anxious tone. He glanced at her frizzled head, bare shoulders, and fantastically trimmed dress with an expression that abashed her more than his answer, which had not particle of his usual politeness in it. ‘I don’t like fuss and feathers (Alcott, 161).”
During the nineteenth century, when Europe was engulfed in war, many women were left to fend for themselves and their families now that most of the men were either dead or serving in the army. The author was specifically targeting women who gave up on their dreams or are confined to the old ideal of convectional woman who stayed at home and took care of the family. The story narrates how women can be of greater use and happy when they work outside the home. The whole idea of women being capable of fending for the family just like men was crucial in instigating women to fight for equal rights. The author insinuates that the only way can be free of the male oppression is by working hard for what they own rather than depending on men to offer them riches “Jo’s breath gave out here, and wrapping her head in the paper, she bedewed her little story with a few natural tears, for to be independent and earn the praise of those she loved were the dearest wishes of her heart, and this seemed to be the first step toward that happy end (Alcott, 278).” Jo grew up in an era where the society view women to be useful at home and in caregiving services. Women were expected to stay at home while men were expected to fend for the family. The March sibling’s social class and their father’s inability to fend for them due to the war, forced them to work to cater for their rising needs. The book inspired generations of women to pursue their dreams and work towards improving their social class “Work is wholesome, and there is plenty for everyone. It keeps us from ennui and mischief, is good for health and spirits, and gives us a sense of power and independence better than money or fashion (Alcott, 210).”
The conflict between personal growth and familial duty is the primary challenge affecting women in Little women. In the nineteenth and early twentieth-century women were expected by the society to take care of the family without attending to any other work outside the home. The story emphasizes how familial duty deny women the capability to personal growth. Jo is conflicted as to follow her dreams or tend to her family’s daily needs. The experiences of the March sisters during adulthood reveals the possible ways women dealt with the social expectations during this period. Meg was dutiful and embodied the personality expected of a woman by the society. She married at a young age and a man of her social class, and spent her days attending to her familial duties. Beth was free-spirited, she solely focused on her talents and pleasing herself. Beth’s character was in line with the society’s expectations, as much as she focused on improving her talents, she was the uniting factor of the family and would mediate all the conflicts among her siblings. She played the role expected of a woman by the community in the nineteen century. At first, Amy and Jo do not play the role expected of the community as they chase after their dreams, Amy is a painter and furthers her education to perfect her craft, but she eventually conforms to the social expectations of women and settles down with Laurie. Jo is a writer and a daring woman considering she works in a male dominated field to provide for some of the family’s needs and does not marry early. Jo’s primary concern is the enhancement of her skills and talents and runs away from Laurie, who has feelings for and wants to marry her “I have no doubt of it, but are these your only reasons for this sudden fancy?’ ‘No, Mother.’ ‘May I know the others?’ Jo looked up and Jo looked down, then said slowly, with sudden color in her cheeks. ‘It may be vain and wrong to say it, but—I’m afraid—Laurie is getting too fond of me.’ ‘Then you don’t care for him in the way it is evident he begins to care for you?’ And Mrs. March looked anxious as she put the question (Alcott, 579).” The pressure to conform to the social expectations of women becomes too much for her to bear that she eventually gets married and starts a school. Women were expected to partake in care giving activities like nursing, teaching, and taking care of the family. At first, Jo and Amy are passionate about their art and do everything in their power to follow their dreams but they end up getting married and teaching children in their newly opened school as expected of them.
Chapter Two: Comparison between Jo and Amy March
1) Jo March
i. Personality Analysis
We meet Jo when she is sixteen years live with her mother, Marmee, and three sisters, Amy, Meg, and Beth March. She is tomboyish and hates participating in female activities, Jo was full of life and also hated being left out. She is different from the other girls in the community as she prefers the name Jo, which is masculine rather than her actual feminine name Josephine and at a tender age she is furious not to be fighting alongside her father in the war. Her father encourages this personality as he is quoted referring to Jo as his son “He laughed and looked across at the tall girl who sat opposite, with anan unusually mild expression in her face. ‘In spite of the curly crop, I don’t see the ‘son Jo’ whom I left a year ago,’ said Mr. March (Alcott, 390).” She yearns for the freedom accorded to men in the society, making her opinionated and strong in character. She is more mature than the girls her age as she seems to know what she loves and hates enabling her to achieve a balance making her excel in academics, physical activities, hobbies, and social life. She behaves unladylike most of the time that Laurie refers to her as “my dear fellow’ occasionally. Her passion for literature plays in her favor as she becomes poetic and a skillful writer. Her passion for academics was sparked by her father who believed in the transformational capabilities of education. She is following the footsteps of her role models like Shakespeare, Dickens and other distinguished poets. After finishing her house chores, Jo will prefer reading a novel to expand her imagination, and bettering her writing skills.
ii. Values and Principles
She is selfless, devoted and focused; Jo concentrates on her family by focusing her energy and time to perfecting her skills and gaining new skills that will help in bettering their livelihoods. She is not interested in the roles played by women in the society and hates indulging in them because they do not yield any financial gain. She puts the needs of the family first and is willing to do anything for the overall good of the family for instance shaving her hair to finance her Marmee’s trip to Washington when their father is ill. She pays for some of her family’s needs with the proceeds from her work as an editor and content creator at the publishing firm. Jo is loyal to her family and is willing to relocate to another town when she realizes that Beth is developing feelings for Laurie who loves her. She does not want any conflict with her sister and is willing to sacrifice her feelings in order to make her sibling happy. Jo wants to be a writer and is hopeful of achieving this dream when she grows up. She works very hard to compose plays and write stories “Thank you. Fire away.’ ‘Well, I’ve left two stories with a newspaperman, and he’s to give his answer next week,’ whispered Jo, in her confidant’s ear. ‘Hurrah for Miss March, the celebrated American authoress!’ cried Laurie (Alcott, 269).” She avoids romantic relationships and focuses solely on bettering her talents and excelling in every writing job she does. She is also devoted to country considering how she yearned to fight in the war when she was young.
Jo is real, loving, and true to self; she is a tomboy despite the constraints of social expectations of women. Her aunt does not tolerate her clumsy and boyish behavior, but Jo does not change as she is determined to do what makes her happy and not live by the rules posed by social expectations. She loves and accepts all her sisters despite their flaws and differences. She eventually forgives Amy and recognize the power of love and the strength in sticking together as a family. Jo is not afraid of expressing herself and revealing her true personality to people; she believes that the only way to put her best foot forward is by living according to her own rules and standard as she dresses according to her social class despite attending rich people’s parties. Unlike Meg, she knows herself and does not succumb to the peer pressures of behaving like a rich person. Jo is open-minded and not rigid to change: she despises romantic relationships and the idea of marriage “Why don’t you say you’d have a splendid, wise, good husband and some angelic little children? You know your castle wouldn’t be perfect without,’ said blunt Jo, who had no tender fancies yet, and rather scorned romance, except in books (Alcott, 254).” But after undergoing different life changing experiences in her life, she acknowledges the purpose of and longs for love in a person’s life. She believed that the only way she could achieve her dreams and be happy is when she lived against the way the community expected her to live.
iii. Character Development
Being poor has taught Jo many lessons such as never to despise oneself and acceptance of the things you cannot change. Jo is not rich and she will not fake it to blend in with people of higher social class. Her goal in life is not to be rich but to be contented and an accomplished writer. Jo is willing to sacrifice her social life for the sake of the family’s welfare and her dreams, she loves her whole family and believes in putting in effort in all that she does. She dreams of a better lifestyle without the help of any man is not willing to conform to the pressures of societal expectations by assimilating the roles set by gender stereotyping. Jo is observant as she acknowledges that marriage restricts women to caregiving responsibilities which have no economic gains in the nineteenth century. The starting of a family newspaper helped her to commercial her trade and give her experience in business “Three chairs were arranged in a row before a table on which was a lamp, also four white badges, with a big ‘P.C.’ in different colors on each, and the weekly newspaper called, The Pickwick Portfolio, to which all contributed something, while Jo, who reveled in pens and ink, was the editor. At seven o’clock, the four members ascended to the clubroom, tied their badges round their heads, and took their seats with great solemnity (Alcott, 174). The family newspaper gave Jo an insight to the market by revealing what people enjoyed reading considering magazines, letters and newspapers were the only source of passing information and delivering entertainment to most of the people. Meg breaks Jo’s heart when she gets married to John Brooke which teaches her to live with, respect, and accept people’s choices and dreams different from her own. Her conflict with Amy after she burns her book and takes her place in the trip to Paris with Aunt March drives her apart from the family because she feels betrayed by those close to her. She moves to New York to work in a boarding house where she meets Professor Bhaer, who convinces her to adopt a simple writing technique that would develop her writing prowess. Jo gets a lucrative job as a content contributor at a local newspaper but quitted the job as it was beginning to compromise her integrity.
The death of Beth was Jo’s greatest turning point considering their close relationship, as a result, she softened to her sisters and started seeing life in a different perspective. She reflected on her life and her achievements and recognized she needed stability and someone to spend the rest of her life with. She was open to the idea of conforming to societal expectations now that she was on the verge of accomplishing her dreams. Jo has fully matured and her experiences in life have changed her mind on some of her beliefs. She has realized the purpose of love and marriage in an individual’s life. She fully accepts her mother’s reasoning of living a happy life with a poor rather than a miserable life with a rich man, which enables her to get married to the poor Professor Bhaer because he made her happy “There were a great many holidays at Plumfield, and one of the most delightful was the yearly apple-picking. For then the Marches, Laurences, Brookes. And Bhaers turned out in full force and made a day of it. Five years after Jo’s wedding (Alcott, 853).” The opening of the new boys’ boarding school in Plumfield, Jo’s house inherited from aunt March makes her a role model in the community. She accepts that the society will only change if women are inspired and empowered but the era she lived in was not ready for such a change-making her to open a boys’ boarding school rather than a printing press or any other company affiliated to written and verbal literature that would help her advance her skills and develop the next crop of writers. Women were expected to partake in caregiving services like nursing and teaching, which were not lucrative; Jo changed her view of the roles expected of females by becoming a teacher and opening her own school.
2) Amy March
i. Personality analysis
Amy is the spoilt and youngest of the March sisters. She is loving passionate, practical, and very stubborn. She is obsessed with vanity and living a luxurious lifestyle. From a tender age she has dreamt of living in the palace where she is a princess. She is pretty but her obsession with changing the shape of her nose exposes her mental health and reliance on outward appearance for self-esteem. She is artistic as she loves to draw, paint, and sculpture but dreams of a being a gentlewoman. Gentlewomen were wives or daughters of wealthy people in the society. She has the capabilities of becoming the greatest painter but was confined into playing roles assigned through gender stereotyping. She was willing to behave like a lady as per the community’s standards and wait for a wealthy husband rather than work towards elevating her social status like Jo. Her belief in the social structure and ladylike behaviors is rewarded when Aunt March choses her to be her companion on the trip to Paris instead of the tomboyish Jo. Her jealousy cause friction between her and Jo, when she burned Jo’s book after she refuses to take her to the theater “Sitting on the floor with one boot on, Amy began to cry and Meg to reason with her, when Laurie called from below, and the two girls hurried down, leaving their sister wailing. For now and then she forgot her grown-up ways and acted like a spoiled child. Just as the party was setting out, Amy called over the banisters in a threatening tone, ‘You’ll be sorry for this, Jo March, see if you ain’t (Alcott, 127).” She looks up to Jo but resorts in longing for what Jo owns: She replaces Jo as Aunt March’s companion at Plumfield, and later goes to Paris instead of Jo, and eventually marries Laurie. Amy is selfish although she tries to rectify most of her mistakes and flaws but she still cannot help herself when it comes to the things Jo cherish, which started when she was a tender age. She is very practical as she does not agree with her mother’s idea of marrying a poor man to find happiness because the only way she sees herself happy is when she is rich and able to afford whatever she wants and go places without any restrictions of money. Amy is not an outgoing individual: she lives by the rules and expectations of the society and has worked very hard to create her image. Amy is obedient unlike Jo, as she abides by Aunt March’s rules and absorbs her teachings on how to conduct oneself when in public.
ii. Values and Principles
Amy is loving ambitious and obedient than the rest of her family members, she dreams of a posh life and marrying a wealthy man who will save her and her family from poverty. She knows that the society is against women working and the only way for her to live the life she desires is by marrying well. Her Aunt assumes the role of her tutor and gives her advice on how to behave accordingly and when she learns the basics, she is taken to Paris to further her knowledge and meet better and wealthier suitors. Her biggest flaw is that she is self-centered as much as she loves her family she is mainly concerned with the activities that will better her behavior and make her famous in the society rather than activities that will better the lives of her family. Amy is tactful: she acknowledges the influence of Jo’s position as Aunt’s March companion and presents herself as the better candidate for that role by correcting her predecessor’s mistake. Her creative thinking ensured she got a comfortable life in the end. She gains her aunt’s favor because she is mainly concerned with behaving like a gentlewoman and they have similar views towards marriage “I’m afraid it’s partly your own fault, dear. When Aunt spoke to me the other day, she regretted your blunt manners and too independent spirit, and here she writes, as if quoting something you had said—‘I planned at first to ask Jo, but as ‘favors burden her’, and she ‘hates French’, I think I won’t venture to invite her. Amy is more docile, will make a good companion for Flo, and receive gratefully any help the trip may give her (Alcott, 542).”
She is honest, focused, and true to self just like Jo: She does not hide who she is from a tender, a person with taste for the finer things in life, and refuses to change for no one. Their mother raised them to seek happiness rather than riches and to work for their living, and it surprised Laurie how she managed to develop that line of thought despite being raised by Marmee by saying “I understand queens of the society can’t get on without money, although it does sound odd from the mouth of one of your mother’s girls (Alcott, 714).” Amy is focused on being famous and rich: she is a skilled painter and sculptor, making her to adopt certain behaviors to enable her to mingle with the rich in the society with a taste for art.
iii. Character Development
Amy is depicted as an immature, pampered little child as she is always throwing tantrums, pestering her siblings, and acting without thinking about the consequences. She is three years younger than Jo, but their attitudes and personalities differ greatly. She feels left out when Meg and Jo attend parties and hang out with Laurie without her and it makes her jealous and vengeful. Her growth occurs after she is pulled out from public school and she had to stay at home, she grows in a puritan environment adorned with moral and ethical teachings from family friends, parents, and siblings. Amy’s journey towards adulthood is hastened when she decides to concentrate on improving her behavior and living standards by occupying the vacancy left by Jo as Aunt March’s companion (assistant) and student. Aunt March was instrumental in Amy’s development and education: she gives her useful insights on how an individual can behave like the rich in the community. The trip to Paris was pivotal to the development of Amy March as it is where she matured. She furthers her education in Arts while in Paris, enabling her to meet different people, most importantly the wealthy in the society. Amy’s works of art have gained her recognition amongst her peers and Aunt March has molded a well behaved woman whose ambition is to attract the wealthiest in the community. Amy meets Laurie in Paris and the time they shared together away from the rest of their families revealed suppressed romantic feelings for each other. Laurie is amazed by her tremendous growth and assists in changing Amy’s mind pertaining to marriage. The time spent with Laurie exposes how Amy has grown into a mature woman with her own opinions and good values as opposed to her younger unruly self. She gains useful insight as to how the society works and view women: women are expected to work hard than men to be wealthy unless they marry rich. She has outgrown her fantasies of getting married in a wealthy home and longs for something else rather than money in a marriage “she had once decided to answer, ‘Yes, thank you,’ but now she said, ‘No, thank you,’ kindly but steadily, for when the time came, her courage failed her, and she found that something more than money and position was needed to satisfy the new longing that filled her heart so full of tender hopes and fears. The words, ‘Fred is a good fellow, but not at all the man I fancied you would ever like (Alcott, 746).”
To sum it all up, the research aims at comparing and contrasting the personality, values and principles of Jo and Amy March. Chapter one of this analysis reviews all the aspects of the story which include the historical background of the book, details of the author, plot summary and themes used to help in translation of the story. May Alcott was born on 29 November 1832 in Germantown, present-day Philadelphia, to Abigail May and Amos Bronson Alcott. She grew up with her three sisters during the civil war. Their family was recorded to have moved more than twenty times in thirty years due to financial constraints making her work at a tender age as a governess, writer, teacher, and seamstress at different stages of her life. The story is a biographical account of her life and family during this era. Little Women occurs during the second half of the American Civil War between 1863 and 1866 in Concord, Massachusetts. The book was authored during the Victorian era when countries rapidly transformed from rural agricultural communities into urban industrial societies and Queen Victoria ruled the empires of Great Britain. The chapter describes the main characters in the story like Laurie, Beth, and Meg, to name a few and their personalities. The story follows the lives of the March siblings as they grow up in a gender stereotyped community. Jo March is the protagonist of the story as her life and experiences are vividly highlighted by the author throughout the story. Chapter two focuses on the personalities of Jo and Amy March, these two characters are compared and contrasted to reveal their similarities, passion, dreams, and flaws. Jo is selfless, devoted and focused, whereas Amy is ambitious and obedient. They are both artistic: Jo is a writer while Amy is a painter and sculpture. Their character development is detailed to recognize the different paths taken by these characters while they become adults.