How we cite our quotes:
The conversations were miles beyond Jo's comprehension, but she enjoyed it, though Kant and Hegel were unknown gods, the Subjective and Objective unintelligible terms, and the only thing "evolved from her inner consciousness" was a bad headache after it was all over. It dawned upon her gradually that the world was being picked to pieces, and put together on new and, according to the talkers, on infinitely better principles than before, that religion was in a fair way to be reasoned into nothingness, and intellect was to be the only God. (34.43)
Both Louisa May Alcott and her heroine Jo are skeptical of the progressive ideas circulating in nineteenth-century intellectual circles. The extremes of German philosophy and its tendency to atheism are fascinating, but, according to Alcott, ultimately wrong because they reject traditional Christianity.
He bore it as long as he could, but when he was appealed to for an opinion, he blazed up with honest indignation and defended religion with all the eloquence of truth – an eloquence which made his broken English musical and his plain face beautiful. He had a hard fight, for the wise men argued well, but he didn't know when he was beaten and stood to his colors like a man. Somehow, as he talked, the world got right again to Jo. The old beliefs, that had lasted so long, seemed better than the new. God was not a blind force, and immortality was not a pretty fable, but a blessed fact. She felt as if she had solid ground under her feet again, and when Mr. Bhaer paused, outtalked but not one whit convinced, Jo wanted to clap her hands and thank him. (34.46)
It's interesting that Jo's first real attraction to Professor Bhaer begins when he defends religion – especially the existence of God and the nature of the afterlife. It's also interesting that Alcott allows Mr. Bhaer to be "beaten" during the discussion – he is "outtalked" by the intellectuals around him, but, she suggests, he still isn't wrong. After all, not everything that sounds convincing is true.
"I think I haven't done much harm yet, and may keep this to pay for my time," she said, after a long meditation, adding impatiently, "I almost wish I hadn't any conscience, it's so inconvenient. If I didn't care about doing right, and didn't feel uncomfortable when doing wrong, I should get on capitally. I can't help wishing sometimes, that Mother and Father hadn't been so particular about such things."
Ah, Jo, instead of wishing that, thank God that "Father and Mother were particular," and pity from your heart those who have no such guardians to hedge them round with principles which may seem like prison walls to impatient youth, but which will prove sure foundations to build character upon in womanhood. (34.69-70)
Jo confronts the problem that is at the center of the March family's poverty – an unwillingness to compromise strict and idealistic ethical principles in order to make money and get on in the world. Alcott suggests that holding to your ethics is ultimately more important than being prosperous or successful, but she's realistic about the fact that it might be uncomfortable sometimes.