Work is devised to convey stages in a spiritual journey, and is marked by rather distinct sections. The first six chapters, perhaps worked on by the author as early as 1861, are episodic and simple, with one type of employment after another explored. Each work experience ends in a crisis or realization which leads to the next step in spiritual progress. A shift in narrative structure occurs after Chapter 6, which—critics have surmised—may be a result of a more skilled author taking up the novel again after a lapse of eleven or so years. By Chapter 7, when Christie is led to the brink of suicide, a more complex section begins in which meetings occur with characters devised to inculcate deeper perspectives on self and work. Another shift seems to occur with the outbreak of the Civil War, when Christie's domestic idyll is disrupted.
The use of one dominant character, Christie, traced through twenty years of varied experiences, provides a focus for interrelated and complex themes. Christie's journey demonstrates Alcott's remarkable gift for translating real occurrences, including her own life experiences, into meaningful fiction. The novel is based on actual antebellum and postbellum options for women. Critics especially tie Christie's work experiences to Alcott's own. At age nineteen Alcott spent seven humiliating weeks as a badly underpaid domestic servant, evading unwanted attentions from her employer. She also worked in her twenties as a...
(The entire section is 482 words.)