Which March sister in Little Women appears the most confident, and which the most hesitant?

Quick answer:

In Little Women, Meg, as the eldest sister, takes charge and tells the others what to do. Jo, however, appears more confident and outgoing. Beth is the most obviously hesitant and timid of the sisters, but her gentle manner is actually more effective in persuading the others to do as she wishes than Meg's assertiveness.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Meg seems to be the most "in charge" while Amy is the most confident, and Beth is the most hesitant sister. Although Meg complains about being poor at first, she speaks, soon after, in an "altered tone" about doing their part and "mak[ing] [their] little sacrifices." Later, when Jo and Amy begin to quarrel, Meg encourages them not to "peck at one another," calling them "children" and "girls," though she is only a year older than Jo.

Amy, however, seems to be the most confident. While Meg feels badly about wanting pretty things yet hating being poor and wishing she could quit working, Amy claims that she—absolutely—suffers the most of all her sisters because she has

to go to school with impertinent girls, who plague you if you don't know your lessons, and laugh at your dresses.

Then, when Jo uses slang words, Amy orders her to stop and says that she hates "rude, unladylike girls." She is certainly extremely confident in her own opinions of others and herself. Even Meg tells Amy that she has "airs" and is too "particular and prim," and the narrator calls her a "most important person, in her own opinion at least." Amy has nearly unshakable confidence and does not feel that, as the youngest of the family, she has any less right to speak and be heard.

Beth seems to be the most hesitant of the four sisters. She has a "shy manner [and] a timid voice." Though she is reserved, she is also quite peaceful. Her father has nicknamed her "Little Miss Tranquility" because she is so happy to be in her own little world, "only venturing out to meet the few whom she trusted and loved."

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

I would argue that the one who appears to be the most “in charge” and the most “confident” are actually two different sisters. It’s easy to pick Meg out in chapter 1 as the confident sister who certainly believes that she is in charge. However, Meg tends to join in with Jo’s moaning and groaning, which becomes evident right in the first paragraph, when Jo and Meg are complaining about the fact that they are poor and that it will be a lean Christmas.

Meg again shows her confidence—and her attempts at dominance—when she starts to lecture Josephine about how she is “old enough to leave off boyish tricks.” Jo shows no sign of listening to her and protests that it’s not her fault that she was born a girl rather than a boy. Meg’s lecture, therefore, achieves nothing and does not show her to be “in charge.”

When the girls start bickering about who would be the one to buy Marmee some new slippers, Meg tries to be in charge and pull rank by reminding her sisters that she is the oldest. However, she is quickly shot down by Jo who declares herself to be the man of the household in their father’s absence.

If one defines “in charge” as the one most able to turn the tide of opinion and to make people listen, then Beth is the most in charge. Ironically, she is also the most hesitant and unsure of herself. Beth is the peacemaker, the one who attempts to lift her siblings’ spirits by referring to them as “a pretty jolly set” and the one who invariably manages to make a compromise and change the subject when the siblings begin to squabble.

Beth shows her hesitance, which I would rather call diplomacy or thoughtfulness, when she states that “it’s naughty to fret” about the work that she is required to do.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Little Women opens with four comments, one from each of the March sisters. Jo speaks first, then Meg, Amy, and Beth. The first three sisters complain, whereas Beth offers consolation.

Although Jo is the first to speak, Meg is the eldest and generally the most assertive through the chapter. She is only a year older than Jo but is constantly emphasizing her position as the eldest sister and telling the others what to do. When Meg and Jo argue, it is because Meg has told Jo not to whistle and put her hands in her pockets, describing this conduct as rude and unladylike. It does not occur to Jo to try to give Meg such instructions.

Of the four sisters, Meg appears to be in charge of the others, but Jo, the rebel, may be the more confident of the two. Amy is not lacking in confidence either and is described as "a most important person, in her own opinion at least." This leaves Beth, by default, as the most hesitant and uncertain of the March sisters. Mr. March refers to his third daughter as "Little Miss Tranquility," and the author describes her as having "a shy manner, a timid voice, and a peaceful expression." However, despite her apparent timidity, Beth is depicted as a strong character who is actually able to control the behavior of her sisters more effectively than Meg, through the softer tone she employs.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

At the beginning of chapter one, the four March sisters are introduced. All are in rather poor spirits, but it is immediately clear what their personalities are. Jo declares that they should "each buy what we want," adopting a commanding tone. She is the decision-maker among the siblings and is confident in expressing her own feelings: she argues with Meg, saying that it is her, Jo, who has the worst time with her daily chores. Beth, meanwhile, is reluctant to be drawn into this conversation, saying that it is "naughty to fret."

Meg, as the eldest, has some degree of control over the group as well. She calls the other girls "children" and tells them not to "peck" at each other. Meanwhile, Jo resists the criticisms that she is boyish and continues her behavior defiantly, saying it is because it is boyish that she whistles. Beth, "the peacemaker," tries to intervene between her squabbling sisters; meanwhile, Amy, the youngest, is fiery and disagreeable too, a "goose," according to Meg, and someone whose manners might soon turn into "airs" when she is older.

An argument could be made, then, that either Jo or Meg is the dominant sister, but on the other hand, Beth, who is quiet and adored by all, is equally able to calm matters in her own way.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial