What does March show about the role of the women in 19th Century American Society?

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tresvivace eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This book reveals another side of the story Louisa May Alcott tells in her nineteenth-century novel, Little Women.  As in Little Women, we see the role of women as primarily that of being supportive to men and maintaining domesticity.  However, the final section of March is told from Marmee's point of view, and we see how frustrating this requisite role may have been for women.  The novel is in many ways the story of a marriage.  The father, March, is timid and stiff, and we see his challenge in telling only those things to his family that he believes they can handle.  He feels guilty for deceiving them, and this guilt is not undeserved.

When the story is retold from Marmee's point of view, we see that the women of the story are its real heroes, and that their domestic roles are far more challenging than the men at war realize.  We see the frustration and anger women needed to hold in check at that time.  Most of all we see how difficult a true union of souls was in the nineteenth century--and may still be.

One of the most intriguing ironies in the depiction of women is that March believes so strongly in the emancipation of slaves but fails to see that he is almost "enslaving" his wife in his traditional beliefs of the wife's role.  Marmee expresses this when she rails out against him, saying "“You stifle me! You crush me! You preach emancipation, and yet you enslave me, in the most fundamental way.”

The traditional domestic role was not a satisfying one, and Marmee yearns for a true and equal partnership.