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One of the major themes in Louisa May Alcott's novel, Little Women, deals with gender roles. One of the central conflicts in the story is society's expectation that women are expected to find husbands: this is considered the suitable role for women of the time.
Marmee is raising her daughters to recognize that they need not give in to society's expectation that they marry. Their sense of purpose and achievement can come from within, and not from society's determination that a woman can only be complete by being married.
Marmee further demonstrates the reality of this choice as she learns to not only survive, but to successfully take care of her family without the presence of a man—in the face of the war that has taken Mr. March away from home. While many women of the time may expect the girls not only to marry—but to marry for money— Marmee does not support this mindset. Marriage should not be based on societal expectation, and it should not be based on finances. She is a woman who believes in "gentler considerations."
Another gender conflict is found in society's expectation of the acceptable comportment of a woman. Jo is not a traditional young lady of the time: she is a tomboy. She whistles, uses slang and is thought to have "unmaidenly ways."
Jo is brash, outspoken, lively, and clever...
And in the novel Jo states:
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...
Once again, this defies the cultural demands of young women—circumstances during the time which Jo is being raised. Marmee and Jo's attitudes show Alcott's feeling that women had the right to be individuals, apart from society's norms, and that they could be the "equal to any man."
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