Last Updated on July 29, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 463
Little Women cannot fail to provide ample opportunity for lively discussion. Groups should enjoy comparing current standards of behavior, especially as they are publicized in the media or in literature, to the nineteenth-century moral life which Alcott depicts. Discussion groups interested particularly in women's issues should find Little Women an intriguing novel to consider. A good line to pursue is the extent to which readers believe, as many critics do, that subversive feminist elements are detectable in the novel's depictions of domestic values and women's self-denying virtues. The novel might be discussed in light of a reading of Behind a Mask (1866), or another of Alcott's thrillers. Little Women draws considerably on Alcott's personal experiences and can be seen as a resource for historical information about children's play, child-rearing practices, household activities, family entertainment, fashion, work outside the home, patriotic and social attitudes, and treatment of the needy. In conjunction with its sequels, the novel can be used as a springboard to information about the era following the Civil War. Groups might wish to read Little Men or jo's Boys to determine whether or how much Alcott developed her approach to feminism after Little Women, or what she thought about education.
1. Do you find Alcott's choice of title suggestive? Is a belittling of women implied, as some critics believe?
2. There is general agreement that reader identification lies with the character Jo. Do you relate most to her? If so, explain. If not, defend your choice of Meg, Beth, or Amy.
3. Some critics refer to the universal quality of home conveyed by Alcott's depictions of the March household. Do you believe the depictions represent your home life? The home life of most people?
4. Why does Alcott marry Jo to Professor Bhaer? Is Laurie a better choice for Amy? Compare the two men.
5. What do you think of Marmee's advice to Meg about husband-wife cooperation?
6. What do you think of Alcott's
approach to the problem of society's poor? Is there social snobbery in the Marches' approach to the Hummels, or in old Mr. Laurence's gift to a hungry woman of a fish on the end of his cane?
7. Given what many critics see as the novel's overt moralizing and "old-fashioned" values, what could be the reasons for its enduring popularity? Consider both young readers and adults.
8. Little Women has sometimes been criticized for weakness of plot and lack of unity as a result of Alcott's episodic technique. Do you agree with the critics?
9. Is Marmee the ideal mother? Discuss her character in relation to that of Mr. March.
10. Consider the conclusion of the novel in light of Chapter 13, entitled "Castles in the Air." How close did each character involved come to the desired dream? Is each better off the way things turned out?
Marilyn A. Perlberg
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