Role reversal: Female self-interest and male sacrifice in the novels of Louisa May Alcott
Skotnicki, Jeanne Ruth
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This paper opens with the following question: how does one novel ( Moods ) end in despair, while the other ( Work ) overturns every obstacle in the way? While much of the existing critical scholarship on Alcott takes Little Women as its starting point, this paper deliberately focuses on her earliest novels. The ideas (on women, work, and marriage) Alcott explores through these narratives continue to evolve throughout the rest of her oeuvre. In order for Christie to succeed where Sylvia fails, Alcott adapts the tradition of literary sentimentalism pushing her narrative (and subsequently opportunities for all women) in new directions. Christie learns to avoid the type of selfless behavior that leads to unnecessary female martyrdom, while accepting similar sacrifices from men. Without rejecting masculinity, Alcott inverts the gender roles thrust upon men and women. Instead, she refashions masculinity, ascribing feminine traits to the male body; women survive and men are mourned.