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Themes in Little Women

How do you start a Themes in Little Women research paper? Our expert writers suggest like this:

Louisa May Alcott’s novel, Little Women, contains several themes, but all of them revolve around or emerge from the issues of women’s place in life and the importance of strong moral values. In some ways, Alcott promotes a traditional view of women: they are the heart of the home and the arbiters of morality. Marmie embodies the ideal later adopted by the Victorians of the Angel in the House. Alcott’s vision is more complex, however, than the one-dimensional domestic goddess. She sees multiple appropriate paths for women. The self-sacrificing Beth may be the most stereotypical ideal presented, but as the main character, Jo actually comes across as more sympathetic. Jo’s writerly ambitions would have been scandalous at the time, but Alcott presents them as admirable.

Themes in Little Women

The Theme of Moral Values

The theme of moral values or of doing what’s right also pervades the book. Again, on the surface, Alcott seems right in line with her era, but she undermines this appearance by her insistence that doing right is more important than what people think of you. In a society that was deeply rooted in Puritanism, the idea that reputation was not as important as actions would be quite subversive. Another aspect of the morality of Little Women is that religion is not just something one does in church. It is an active lifestyle that requires daily maintenance—as in the first scene when the girls must give up their Christmas.

The Gender Theme in Little Women

A research paper on the themes in Little Women may analyze gender-related issues within the novel Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (1832-1881). In particular,Paper Masters suggests that the research paper explores the following:

  1. What the novel says about the roles of women in the United States and its messages about the role of women in present-day American society.
  2. In addition, the paper examines the theme of family in Little Women and what the author says about how this theme shaped the role of women in American society.
  3. A good study on Little Women demonstrates that Little Women is a rather more complex text than is often assumed and that it simultaneously worked towards two major, often conflicting goals: an overt goal of reinforcing conventional nineteenth-century ideals regarding women and their role in the family and a more covert, subversive goal of subtly underlining the contradictions between these treasured ideals and the real-world lives of women in American society.
  4. Although recent observers have sometimes argued that the relevance of the text for present-day America has steadily diminished with the passage of time, the study argues that some of Alcott’s key goals in Little Women remain valid for today’s America but are yet to be attained.

This seemingly simple girls’ text is laden with enormous and often elusive contradictions that continue to be enthusiastically described, discussed, and debated by feminists and other commentators even today, more than 135 years after it was first published. Unfortunately, most of these works—including the works cited in this essay—focus mainly on the historical implications of Little Women, rather than on its potential applications for the present day. Nonetheless, in the approaches that they take to the subject, many of these texts reveal much about the text as it pertains to the present. A case in point involves the repeated reading of Jo as a “queer” character. In fact, there is little in this text that is suggestive, even indirectly, of Jo’s lesbian tendencies. Rather, her queerness is largely inferred from behaviors that are more correctly termed tomboyish, rather than homosexual. As such, by reading Jo as a lesbian, present-day critics may be seen as betraying current interpretations that equate homosexuality with “gender-bending”—in spite of large volumes of evidence suggesting that the majority of homosexuals conform to the ideals of their genders and that large numbers of “gender-benders” are heterosexual. As such, one might argue that despite a greater openness to homosexuality in American society, the –the notion that girls’ nonconformity to rigid gender behaviors cannot be a mere result of diversity within the sex but must be explained by homosexual tendencies—persists. Moreover, if one does accept the reading of Jo as a lesbian character, this raises another series of questions about how she would be received in present-day American society.

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