Some Role Models

[All the selections below make good use of the text they're discussing. Except for the first sample, the passages come from inside the papers. But I wanted to share Elizabeth's introductory paragraph too because of the way it gets right to its argument, lets you know where she's going, and makes you want to keep reading.]

from "Laurie's Mother,"

by Elizabeth Murray

The four young women in Louisa May Alcott's Little Women obviously act as mothers and sisters to their young, motherless neighbor, Laurie. The girls and their mother provide Laurie with a sense of morality and righteousness. They keep the wayward, headstrong young man on the right track. While their effect on Laurie may be obvious, his impact on the young girls is just as deep, though not as apparent. Especially of interest in his influence on Jo. Jo and Laurie are immediate playmates and jovial friends. Throughout the course of the novel, Laurie has an indirect influence in shaping the "little woman" that Jo eventually becomes. The two are very much alike in their discontent with their own identities. This discontent produces two youths who are wilful, wild, and temperamental. Though Laurie seldom advises Jo, she must often act as mother and lecture Laurie on his selfish behavior. Her mothering of Laurie, however, brings her maternal, womanly instincts to the surface, as well as helps her conquer her own childishness and become the "little woman" that she is destined to be.

It is not surprising that Jo and Laurie become such close friends. From the start, an immediate bond is forged between the two. Perhaps one of their closest ties lies in their discontent with the lives they lead. Never is this more apparent than during their first encounter. Both Laurie and Jo are seeking refuge from their societal roles at a Christmas party. They hide from the rest of the party-goers and find one another. Laurie asks "Miss March" how her cat is and she responds:

"Nicely, thank you, Mr. Laurence; but I ain't Miss March, I'm only Jo," returned the young lady.
"I'm not Mr. Laurence, I'm only Laurie."
"Laurie Laurence; what an odd name."
"My first name is Theodore, but I don't like it, for the fellows called me Dora, so I made them say Laurie instead."
"I hate my name too -- so sentimental! I wish every one would say Jo instead of Josephine." (28)
The two are equally dissatisfied with their own names -- their own identities. This discontent is linked with their desires for freedom, for independence, for an escape from their roles of "Miss March" and "Mr. Laurence." Their desire for something more in life is the foundation for their temperamental natures. Both Jo and Laurie are soon discovered to be wild, temperamental, rash, and headstrong. Even Marmee tells Jo that "You [two] are too much alike, and too fond of freedom, not to mention hot tempers and strong wills . . ." (330). Though the natural assumption would be that the two youths would encourage each other's deviant behavior, they actually seem to have calming effects on one another. . . .

from "Sister Carrie: Illusions of Life,"

by Kerri Smith

Carrie is a woman on an upward climb. "She wanted pleasure, she wanted position, and yet she was confused as to what these things might be. Every hour the kaleidoscope of human affairs threw a new luster upon something, and therewith it became for her the desired -- the all" (p. 124). When she meets Hurstwood, she is comfortably settled in a three-bedroom apartment but doubtful she'll ever get married or change her life situation for the better. Hurstwood immediately catches her eye.

His clothes were particularly new and rich in appearance. The coat lapels stood out with that stiffness which excellent cloth possesses. The vest was cut of rich Scotch plaid, set with a double row of round mother of pearl buttons. His cravat was a shiny combination of silken threads, not loud, not inconspicuous. What he wore did not strike the eye so forcibly as that which Drouet had on, but Carrie could see the elegance of the material. Hurstwood's shoes were of soft, black calf, polished only to a dull shine. Drouet wore patent leather, but Carrie could not help feeling that there was a discintion in favor of the soft leather where all else was so rich." (p. 84)
With such a thorough description as this, one can hardly doubt that Carrie sees Hurstwood quite clearly when they first meet, but what she sees is the material. She notices every detail of his clothing from the set of his "round mother of pearl buttons" to his understated "soft, black calf [shoes], polished to a dull shine." All these details bring her to the conclusion that he is a man of wealth. She sees in him opportunity. The "kaleidoscope" of life has made him "something" that she now desires.

from "Girls and Boys, Women and Men,"

by Natalie Crane

Alcott describes Meg and John's twins as "the most precious and important members [of the family]" (504). In fact, they are the most important in terms of providing insight into Alcott's beliefs on gender roles. The dynamics of their relationship symbolize those of husband and wife, and more generally, the roles that females and males assume. For example, Daisy is loved by everybody, she is very positive and easy-going, and she already shows an interest in homemaking and providing for a family. "At three, Daisy demanded a needler,' and actually made a bag with four stitches in it; she likewise set up housekeeping in the sideboard, and managed a microscopic cooking-stove with a skill that brought tears to Hannah's eyes" (504). This passage clearly states the virtues most honored in a girl. Hannah is immensely proud of the girl's ability to do household chores well, and of Daisy's initiative and desire to do things that are connected with providing for a family. The idea of her stitching together a bag is in itself a metaphor, and even a foreshadowing, of her as a wife who helps hold together her family.

ENLT 214M, 24 September 1997