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Alcotts Main Agenda In Little Women English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 3877 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Why is writing an important form of communication? When writers put their thoughts on paper, others will understand clearly what they want to communicate. After an author dies, his or her writings will continue to convey thoughts and ideas to future generations. Authors have many genres from which they can choose their style of writing, but authors always have an agenda in writing their stories. Often, a writer has more than one agenda in their writing. They can write to communicate or to express themselves. At times, a part of an author’s agenda might be to make their mark in the world or to simply make money. Another reason for authors to write is to inspire their readers to learn the life lessons they themselves have learned and to help improve and benefit the world. Authors leave the knowledge of what they have experienced written down in their literature. Out of all of these reasons for writing, an author most likely has a main agenda, and when the book is carefully examined, one can surely understand the author’s intention for writing. One author, Louisa May Alcott, wrote her famous novel Little Women for possibly a number of reasons. Perhaps by observing how Louisa May Alcott’s life shaped her values, defining these values, and studying examples of how the character of Jo in Little Women exemplifies these values, one can understand Alcott’s main agenda in

Louisa May Alcott writing Little Women.

How did Louisa May Alcott’s life shape her values? Values are intrinsic in humans. There are several ways values can form in people. The essence of values is what one experiences and how one is nurtured by others in life. Most people have the natural ability to form values from experiences and through nurturing by their significant others. For instance, the experience of hardship is a part of everyone’s life. It possesses the ability to shape a person’s values. Hardships and challenges can develop characteristics in one’s life. Because of the experience of several hardships and challenging events in Louisa May Alcott’s life and then through the nurturing of those who cared about her, one can confirm how she developed many positive values throughout her life, such as self-reliance, selflessness and successfulness.

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Because of several unavoidable circumstances that Louisa found herself in, she developed the value of self-reliance at an early stage in her life. In a biographical article found on NetState.com, it states that Bronson Alcott, Louisa’s father, was an “idealistic philosopher, educator, and schoolmaster”, who “founded schools based on his experimental educational philosophies.” Because most of his schools were based on “experimental educational philosophies”, they were often financially unsuccessful and therefore he could not provide a stable income for his family (Net State, par. 1). Even though Louisa’s mother also worked sometimes, the family still lived in poverty. Because of her experience of her father and mother not being able to provide for the family, Alcott knew that she had to be self-reliant and not be dependent on anyone. In Kathleen Burke’s biography on Alcott, she writes that Louisa decided that she needed to earn a living so that she could financially support herself and the rest of her family (Burke 23). When Louisa grew a little older, she became a writer. Towards the beginning of her career, she wrote short stories describing the hospital she worked in and it immediately paid off (16). She earned enough money to help support herself and her family. She became more and more resourceful and continued to work hard to provide for herself. Alcott was determined not to give up or give into her situation, but to overcome the obstacles that lay in her path. One can now observe that when the people Alcott relied on the most failed her, instead of giving up, she developed the value of self-reliance.

Another value Louisa possessed is selflessness, which had always been in her character, but it grew stronger as she observed the suffering in other people. When Louisa was around thirty years of age, she began to work in a hospital as a Civil War nurse (Burke 13). She sacrificed her time, energy, and her own safety to aid the soldiers. In another biography on Alcott written by Johnston, she states that even when Louisa was sick, Louisa continued to work at the hospital to take care of the soldiers (Johnston 147). Later on, as Louisa’s career as an

author developed, she began to earn money from her books. Louisa did not spend much money on herself in order to give most of her income to help her family financially (Burke 23). She had a strong sense of responsibility to care for those who are helpless around her. Louisa’s selflessness touched other people. Because Louisa found joy in helping others, this became the fuel that allowed her to be selfless, kind, and sacrificial.

Finally, the value of success in Louisa May Alcott’s life had been developed through the nurturing of her father and other successful writers, who included Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry Thoreau (Burke 20). Since Louisa spent much time with them, she was influenced to be successful. Finally, one major event in Alcott’s life that brought her a startling success is the writing and publishing of her classic novel, Little Women. In Alcott’s early writing career, she thought that she would never write a children’s book. Later on, opportunity for Alcott to write a children’s story presented itself when her publisher wanted Alcott to write a story for little girls (72). Although Alcott had never written a children’s book before, she was willing to try. She named the book Little Women. In this book, Alcott wrote memories from her own childhood and the connections that she wished for between her own family (74). Little Women became a very successful book. Two-thousand copies were sold almost immediately after it was published (75). Often, through nurturing, one can develop the talent which leads to success. In this case, Little Women is one of Alcott’s most famous successes and this book is one thing for which the world remembers her.

By observing some of the experiences of hardships, challenges, and nurturing in Louisa May Alcott’s life, one is able to learn how she developed the values of self-reliance, selflessness, and successfulness. Self-reliance allows one to make choices in living their own life, and in Alcott’s case, she did not count on someone else, but chose to make her own money, to provide financial support for herself and her family. This gave her great satisfaction. The reward of

selflessness is the joy of seeing other people’s lives being touched. It then encourages future selfless acts. Finally, good nurturing by successful people is essential in developing the value of success in another. This brings out talents and confidence in a person. The experiences of hardships and nurturing will teach exceedingly important lessons in life, which will lead to the development of good values, therefore one should value those who nurture and should see difficult experiences as learning opportunities which will eventually lead to success.

Now that one can identify Alcott’s major values, how can they be understood? In order to understand the meaning of value, a good place to start would be defining it through the dictionary. According to Dictionary.com, one of the definition of value is, “The ideals, customs, or institutions of a society toward which the people of the group have an affective regard. These values may be positive… or negative…”. As one can see, there are two categories of values, positive desirable values and negative undesirable values, which people can develop. Just as there are many undesirable values, there are also numerous desirable values which people exemplify. Louisa May Alcott is one of these individuals who exemplifies many positive values in her life. The meaning of these positive values can be clarified and defined through the use of the dictionary, thesaurus, and examples. Of all the many positive values Louisa May Alcott possesses, the three which appear the strongest in her life are self-reliance, selflessness, and successfulness, which can be defined to bring enlightenment about how her values affect her character.

First of all, Louisa’s value of self-reliance can be clarified with definitions, synonyms, antonyms, and an example. One dictionary, the American Heritage Student Dictionary, defines self-reliance as “Reliance on one’s own capabilities or resources”. A synonym of the word self reliance from Webster’s New World Thesaurus is the word independence. The antonyms of self-reliance include dependence and reliance. In light of these synonyms and antonyms, Louisa

May Alcott is very resourceful and capable of acting independently of others. In A Beka’s history book, Our American Heritage, examples of self-reliance can be found in individuals, such as Booker T. Washington. This man grew up in slavery. He was eager to learn how to read and write and finally received the chance when a teacher came to the town he in which he lived (Moore 197). Later on in his life, he went to Hampton Institute to study, and there he practiced self-reliance by depending on himself to earn a living and pay for his education (198). One of his major accomplishments was founding Tuskegee Institute (200), a school for African-Americans. Even though Booker T. Washington grew up as a slave and had little resources for life, through self-reliance, he educated himself and was resourceful enough to make an impact in the world for those who were less fortunate. By using a dictionary definition, synonyms and antonyms, and the example of Booker T. Washington, the meaning of the word, self-reliance, becomes very clear.

Secondly, the value of selflessness can also be clarified through definitions, synonyms, antonyms, and the aid of an example, which shows that Louisa May Alcott constantly practices self-denial and self-sacrifice. She always put the needs of others over her own and did not expect anything in return. A dictionary, found at Dictionary.com, would define selflessness as “Having little or no concern for oneself, especially with regard to fame, position, money, etc.”. Synonyms of selflessness according to Webster’s New World Thesaurus are unselfishness, charitableness, kindness, and self-denial. Furthermore, antonyms of the word selflessness are selfishness, self-centeredness, and self-indulgence. An example of an individual who exemplified selflessness is Clara Barton. When Clara Barton was serving as a nurse during the Civil War, she rode out onto the battlefields to help wounded soldiers (Moore 170). She was selfless about her own safety but concerned about the well-being of the soldiers. Clara Barton loved people and even after the war was over, she continued to be concerned about the well-

being of Americans. Because of this, she founded the American Red Cross Society, which provides assistance to people in the United States when they are in need during and after natural disasters (171). Clara Barton’s selfless acts saved the lives of many people. In short, one can gain further insight into the meaning of selflessness by studying its definitions, synonyms, antonyms, and the example of Clara Barton.

Lastly, the meaning of successfulness can also be grasped similarly as the previous values have been through examining dictionary definitions, synonyms, antonyms, and a historical example. Louisa May Alcott attained wealth, position, and honor as a writer. Furthermore, she achieved fame and prosperity through her well-known novel Little Women. Dictionary.com defines successfulness as “Achieving or having achieved success; having attained wealth, position, honors, or the like; resulting in or attended with success”. According to the American Heritage Student Dictionary, being successful means “Having a favorable outcome; having gained something desired or attended; having achieved fame or prosperity”. Some synonyms of successful are prosperous, fortunate, and victorious. Antonyms of this word include unsuccessful, disappointing, and ineffective. A good example of a person who had the value of successfulness was George Washington Carver. He was born into slavery, like Booker T. Washington, and was raised by a family who adopted him (Moore 206). As a boy, he was already interested in plants (208). He was able to attend school to learn how to read and write (209). Carver worked at many jobs to earn money for his schooling and education in college (211). Later on, he studied plants at Iowa State University and graduated. After graduation, Carver worked at Tuskegee Institute (212) where he had a workshop. At his workshop, he performed experiments with sweet potatoes and peanuts. Carver successfully found one-hundred eighteen uses for the sweet potato and three-hundred uses for the peanut (214). Even though George Washington Carver was born a slave, he became successful in his interest and was

influential to farmers in the South. Carver is a true definition of success. Knowing the definition, synonyms, antonyms, and an example of the word successfulness, one can better comprehend this word when it is used in context.

Now that self-reliance, selflessness, and successfulness have been defined, one can gain deeper insight into Louisa May Alcott’s character. According to the dictionary, thesaurus, and history books, self-reliance is defined as the practice of depending on one’s own resources for provision and support. Selflessness is evident when it is exemplified by always putting the needs of others first. After defining the value of successfulness, one can identify this value in many individual’s lives throughout history. After examining the values of self-reliance, selflessness, and successfulness, one can now see how these values can be incorporated into one’s life. Even though these values are not easy to embrace, those who embrace them will be influential to others throughout many generations. In conclusion, the values of self-reliance, selflessness, and successfulness are values that portray characteristics of goodness in a person. Everyone forms values and everyone should seek to model after positive and desirable values.

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Finally, Alcott’s experiences and values are exemplified through her writing. Abigail Van Buren states, “If we could sell our experiences for what they cost us, we’d all be millionaires” (JustQuoted). Furthermore, experiences that lead to the development of positive values are priceless in life. Such values can give insights to improve life. Those who understand the significance of experiences and values will write them down so that others can learn from them. Some authors write down their experiences to entertain their audience, while others write to express themselves and their values, and yet others write so that people can relate to their experiences and values. Often, writers use characters in stories to express their own experiences and values. Because many great writers, like Louisa May Alcott, use characters in their stories to express their own experiences and values, these stories have a greater influence on readers.

Louisa May Alcott’s values of self-reliance, selflessness, and successfulness are exemplified through the character of Jo in her novel Little Women.

First of all, in the story of Little Women, Jo’s value of self-reliance mirrors Louisa May Alcott’s own value of self-reliance. In the introduction to Little Women, Camille Cauti states that Alcott and Jo share “Strong concerns about women’s claims to independence…and the desire to be a writer and to broaden her experience through travel far from her provincial New England home” (Cauti xxiii). Alcott is very strong willed and relies on herself to make decisions. Throughout Little Women, there are times when Jo feels that her identity is to be the “father”, to care for the rest of her family, and to rely on herself to make decisions while her own father was away. An example of how the character of Jo exemplifies self-reliance in Little Women is when Jo writes her book by herself (Alcott 157). She does not consult anyone of how her book, The Rival Painters, should be written and if she should try to publish it. Another example of self-reliance in Jo in Little Women is when Jo sells her hair to help earn money in order for her mother to take on a journey to visit their father, who was ill (162). Because of Jo’s reliance on herself, she makes the decision to cut her hair and keeps it a secret until the task is completed. Both of these examples are clear in showing Jo’s self-reliance and her way of earning money to help her family. Alcott’s life is filled with self-reliant decisions, such as working in a hospital and writing a book, to earn money for her family. These situations are examples in which one can see the value of self-reliance in Alcott, who played them out in Jo.

Secondly there are supporting details of how Jo exemplifies selflessness in Little Women, which runs parallel to Alcott’s events in her own life of exemplifying selflessness. One touching example of Jo’s selflessness is when she cuts her precious hair and sells it (162). Although this action shows the self-reliance in Jo, it also reveals her selflessness. In Johnston’s biography about Louisa May Alcott, she writes that Louisa’s hair was her one beauty (Johnston 169).

Alcott gave the characteristic of having beautiful hair to Jo in Little Women, which Jo later sacrifices to earn money to help her family. Jo does this because she cares about her father who is ill. The money she earns from her hair was given to her mother so that she could use it to help their father recover (Alcott 162). This reflects the desire of Alcott that if she needed to, she would sacrifice the same way. Another example of selflessness in Jo is when she takes care of Aunt March. Aunt March is a very criticizing old woman, but Jo still takes care of her. Jo sacrifices her time and energy to help Aunt March even when she does not feel like it (169). Alcott shows selflessness in her own life by supporting her family financially and nursing wounded soldiers even though she was sick herself. From these examples, one can see that Jo’s willingness to sacrifice what she had or wanted parallels Alcott’s actions in her real life as a selfless person in helping her family members and others.

Finally, just as Alcott is successful in the world of writing, Jo, in Little Women, reflects Alcott’s life and also becomes successful as a writer. Both Louisa May Alcott and Jo love to read and write. In Little Women, Jo finds that writing is her talent and realizes that she could write and have her books published to earn money. The book that Jo writes, The Rival Painters, is published successfully (156). This is one of Jo’s first accomplishments as a writer. The Rival Painters is also Alcott’s first published story in her writing career (Cauti xxiii). At this point in Little Women, a reader might conclude that there is a future for Jo as a writer. Later on in Alcott’s life, Alcott did become a successful writer as well. Alcott is one of the greatest writers of her time, and to this day, her novel of Little Women is still a classic book.

One can now observe that the positive values of self-reliance, selflessness, and successfulness are exemplified in Jo throughout Alcott’s novel, Little Women. To begin with, because the examples of self-reliance in Jo’s life are also the true examples of Alcott’s life, this makes the story of Little Women more realistic and believable to the reader. Secondly, even the

things Jo denies herself of were realistic. These deeds touched her mom, sisters, others around her, and the readers of her actions. Most importantly, Jo has the same talent in writing as Louisa May Alcott and they both become successful authors. These examples of events from Little Women mirror similar events of Alcott’s experiences in her own life. When authors write their own experiences through characters, their story becomes more effective and influential. Many times, the audience can relate to a story better if the author has used his or her own personal experiences. This type of book also gives the audience a deeper insight into life and informs them on the lessons learned and values gained. Everyone should write their own experiences down so that others can be benefited and inspired by their examples.

After considering how Louisa May Alcott’s life shaped her values, defining three of these values, and studying examples of how Jo in Little Women exemplifies these three values, one can now understand that Louisa May Alcott’s main agenda in writing Little Women was to share with the public the values she had obtained through her life experiences. These experiences of challenges and hardships are remarkably beneficial if one uses such experiences as a learning tool. When the experiences and values are identified, these somewhat abstract concepts can be better understood through the study of their definition. In this way, one can incorporate these experiences and values into one’s life. Often in literature, the author bases his or her stories on his or her personal experiences and values. This makes their stories more realistic and influential which motivates the reader to relate to their story. Louisa May Alcott was one of the great writers who used her personal experiences in writing. Little Women is a classic example of this type of literature. Even though she wrote this book over 140 years ago, this classic novel still remains very influential for audiences of all ages. Those who can learn the values which Alcott desired for society to learn from her life will gain insights from reading her literature. Audiences can only learn these values by reading, examining, and understanding the literature in which

these values were written. Louisa May Alcott is only one great author among many. There are several other authors who write using their life experiences and values to bring insights to society. Like the works of Alcott, their literary works are also influential and classic. Because one cannot possibly learn enough through one’s own experiences in life, one must learn from other’s experiences. Embracing literature is an excellent way to learn of other’s experiences.


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