Most of the characters in Little Women are ambitious – either they want to get rich, or they want to be famous, or they just want to see the world and have a good time. As they mature, each must learn to subordinate ambition to duty, or to shift his or her ambitions in different directions. Instead of seeking fulfillment outside the home, characters must redirect their ambitions into the domestic sphere. Characters with artistic talent must learn to distinguish between wanting to do brilliant work and actually being geniuses, and sometimes ambition has to give way to love and realism.
Questions About Ambition
- How do you feel about Jo's decision to sacrifice her larger ambitions as a writer and thinker in order to create a "homelike" boarding school? Does this ending successfully unite her public ambitions with her domestic duties? Why or why not?
- In Chapter 13: Castles in the Air, Laurie notes that he and all four of the March sisters (with the possible exception of Beth) are extremely ambitious for the future. Are any of their ambitions realized? If so, how? If not, do they have regrets?
- Explain the distinction that Amy makes between "talent" and "genius." Do you agree with her that it isn't worthwhile to pursue artistic expression if you don't have "genius"? What might you gain from creating art even if you're not a genius? How does creating art – whether writing like Jo, drawing and painting like Amy, or composing music like Laurie – benefit the artist just as much as the audience?
Chew on This
Little Women suggests that there is a definite distinction between artists and audiences; no amount of ambition or hard work can make up for the lack of genius.
Although Amy decides to give up painting and Laurie to give up music because they feel they do not have "genius," Jo's decision to continue writing in the face of criticism and mixed reviews suggests that she gains something important but intangible, even when her art is imperfect.