An Exemplary Essay

By Kelly Ramsey

  Louisa May Alcott's novel is designed as a subtle instruction book by which girls may grow into "little women." The March girls are expected to stifle some of their natural personality in order to fit this societal standard. Through the character of Jo, however, Alcott subverts her own mantra and suggests that her most masculine, unrefined character is to be loved and accepted as she is.

  The fifth chapter of Little Women, entitled "Being Neighborly," presents a deluge of Jo's virtues from many points of view. When Jo sees that Laurie seems lonely, she wants to "say a kind word to him" (47). Upon arriving at the Laurence's mansion, the narrator describes Jo as "looking rosy and kind" (48). When Laurie says, "How kind you are," the reader may begin to think that Alcott's vocabulary lacks diversity; this repetition hammers Jo's kindness into the memory. Though she has no tact or social grace, qualities we learn to expect of women in this novel, "there was so much good-will in Jo, it was impossible not to take her blunt speeches as kindly as they were meant" (51). Clearly, the narrator wants the readers to like Jo and admire her goodness.

  Jo is both masculine and herself. She calls herself a "business man" and has to correct herself into a "girl" (51). The gender lines are further blurred in the mind of Mr. Laurence, who nonetheless adores her. "He liked Jo, for her odd, blunt ways suited him; and she seemed to understand the boy almost as well as if she had been one herself" (54). Jo is impressive as she is, without changing her personality to be more feminine. "She was so herself, and made a good impression" on the Laurences (54). Thus, the book's aim to form Jo into a little woman, by suppressing her natural, more masculine personality, is directly subverted by Alcott's positive attitude toward her in this chapter.

  Also of interest is the metaphor for "Pilgrim's Progress" and the comparison of the Laurences' mansion to the Palace Beautiful, the final destination of the girls' moral journey. Beth sees it as a place to aim for, but interestingly, Jo has already been to the Palace and paves the way for her sisters. Is Alcott suggesting that Jo, who reached the "palace" by way of her virtue, is the moral favorite from the start, and in reality needed no alteration?

Work Cited

Louisa May Alcott. Little Women. New York: Penguin Books, 1989.