How we cite our quotes:
In France the young girls have a dull time of it till they are married, when 'Vive la liberte!' becomes their motto. In America, as everyone knows, girls early sign the declaration of independence, and enjoy their freedom with republican zest, but the young matrons usually abdicate with the first heir to the throne and go into a seclusion almost as close as a French nunnery, though by no means as quiet. Whether they like it or not, they are virtually put upon the shelf as soon as the wedding excitement is over, and most of them might exclaim, as did a very pretty woman the other day, "I'm as handsome as ever, but no one takes any notice of me because I'm married." (38.1)
Alcott's narrator insists that marriage doesn't change a woman's beauty or appeal. A matron, in her opinion, can be just as lovely and have just as much right to enjoy herself in society as a maiden. It seems unfair to her that only unmarried women are celebrated at balls and parties.
"Don't neglect husband for children, don't shut him out of the nursery, but teach him how to help in it. His place is there as well as yours, and the children need him. Let him feel that he has a part to do, and he will do it gladly and faithfully, and it will be better for you all." (38.27)
Mrs. March teaches Meg to view her marriage to John Brooke as a partnership. Even though the children are part of the domestic sphere and therefore primarily Meg's responsibility, John also has a definite role to play in their upbringing. Of course, their roles are stereotypical as well as complementary – Meg gives love and affection, while John is the disciplinarian.
This household happiness did not come all at once, but John and Meg had found the key to it, and each year of married life taught them how to use it, unlocking the treasuries of real home love and mutual helpfulness, which the poorest may possess, and the richest cannot buy. This is the sort of shelf on which young wives and mothers may consent to be laid, safe from the restless fret and fever of the world, finding loyal lovers in the little sons and daughters who cling to them, undaunted by sorrow, poverty, or age, walking side by side, through fair and stormy weather, with a faithful friend, who is, in the true sense of the good old Saxon word, the 'house-band,' and learning, as Meg learned, that a woman's happiest kingdom is home, her highest honor the art of ruling it not as a queen, but as a wise wife and mother. (38.91)
Alcott suggests that, under ideal circumstances, being stay-at-home wife and mother can be extremely fulfilling for a woman. However, this vision exists side-by-side with her ideas about women as artists and the important place of old maids in society.