by Louisa May Alcott
Little Women Women and Femininity Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Chapter.Paragraph)
"You are old enough to leave off boyish tricks, and to behave better, Josephine. It didn't matter so much when you were a little girl; but now you are so tall, and turn up your hair, you should remember that you are a young lady."
"I'm not! And if turning up my hair makes me one, I'll wear it in two tails till I'm twenty," cried Jo, pulling off her net, and shaking down a chestnut mane. "I hate to think I've got to grow up, and be Miss March, and wear long gowns, and look as prim as a China aster! It's bad enough to be a girl, anyway, when I like boys' games and work and manners! I can't get over my disappointment in not being a boy; and it's worse than ever now, for I'm dying to go and fight with Papa, and I can only stay at home and knit, like a poky old woman!" (1.26-27)
One of the first things we know about Jo March is that she's a tomboy – she'd rather go out into the world and boldly make her own way than stay at home and be a housewife or a spinster. Unfortunately, she's about a hundred years too early for most other options!
"I'll try and be what he loves to call me, 'a little woman,' and not be rough and wild, but do my duty here instead of wanting to be somewhere else," said Jo, thinking that keeping her temper at home was a much harder task than facing a rebel or two down South. (1.77)
We're not sure how much of a joke this little narrative aside really is. Obviously, going to war is much more physically dangerous, but at least battle, while difficult and requiring great heroism, is straightforward. Jo has to battle herself and her own inclinations.
Mr. Brooke looked up and said quickly, "Young ladies in America love independence as much as their ancestors did, and are admired and respected for supporting themselves."
"Oh, yes, of course it's very nice and proper in them to do so. We have many most respectable and worthy young women who do the same and are employed by the nobility, because, being the daughters of gentlemen, they are both well bred and accomplished, you know," said Miss Kate in a patronizing tone that hurt Meg's pride, and made her work seem not only more distasteful, but degrading. (12.125-126)
Alcott likes to remind us that her novel and her characters are particularly American. While Laurie's aristocratic British friends may sneer at Meg because she has to work for a living, John Brooke insists that work and femininity are not incompatible. In fact, he suggests, there's something especially American about a working woman.