Little Women considers the place of women in society by presenting the portraits of several very different but equally praiseworthy women. As we read the novel, we experience their different interpretations of femininity, and we see a range of different possibilities for integrating women into society. Because the novel was written in the mid-nineteenth century, historical context places limits on what women can do. However, modern readers may be pleasantly surprised by the novel's tendency to push the boundaries of women's traditional roles. This book insists that women have a great deal to contribute, certainly to the home and domestic sphere, but also to literature, art, and an ethical society.
Questions About Women and Femininity
How would you describe this novel's vision of the place of women in society? What about in the home?
What virtues does the novel depict as especially feminine? What character flaws? What's your own opinion of these stereotypes?
What avenues does the novel explore for women who can't or don't want to get married? Describe the narrator's opinions about spinsters and old maids.
Why does Mr. March describe his daughters as "little women" in a letter quoted at the beginning of the book? Does the meaning of this phrase change over the course of the novel?
Chew on This
Little Women envisions women as the stable moral center of a domestic paradise.
Although many of the praiseworthy women in Little Women are wives and mothers, the narrator reserves a place in society for spinsters and professional or artistic women.