Realistic Dual Natures in Alcott’s Little Women
“Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual′s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is” - Carl Jung
Each of us has the capacity for virtue or vice, and our daily actions reflect the combination of both. In literature, however, people are sometimes depicted as being completely one or the other, giving us inaccurate views of human nature. We identify better with characters who are more like us--neither completely good nor bad. Meg, Jo and Amy March in Alcott’s Little Women do not flatly portray complete good or complete evil, but their realistic dual natures increase their believability and intensify their moral influence on us.
This character duality is first evident in Margaret, the eldest sister, as we receive a description detailing her looks and countenance. Meg is “very pretty” with “large eyes, plenty of soft, brown hair, a sweet mouth, and white hands, of which she was rather vain” (Alcott 5). This description leads the reader through sweetness and innocence, finishing with a flaw. From the beginning, her vanity glares at us as her most obvious fault. Yet, in “spite of her small vanities, Margaret had a sweet and pious nature, which unconsciously influenced her sisters” (LW 16). Contrasting the negativity in Meg’s personality is a kind and remarkable side. Both vanity and kindness represent themselves throughout the novel as we evaluate the effects this duality has upon our judgment.
Leading the novel, Meg’s vanity manifests itself in her desires for Christmas. Times are difficult and money is tight, yet Meg has ideals of her own regarding the Christmas money. She explains to her sisters, “You know the reason mother proposed not having any presents this Christmas was because it is going to be a hard winter for everyone; and she thinks we ought not to spend money for pleasure when our men are suffering so in the army. We can’t do much, but we can make little sacrifices, and ought to do it gladly” (LW 1). If Meg were to finish her comments there, we would praise her admiral desire to sacrifice her own happiness. However, Meg does not end her discourse with these kind words. She continues revealing a darker side to her character. Meg proceeds, “‘But I am afraid I don’t [do it gladly]’; and Meg shook her head, and she thought regretfully of all the pretty things she wanted” (LW 2). A glimmer into the negative side of Meg portrays a real character. A realness of self that we, as readers, are able to relate. Further evidence of the negativity and conceit inherent in Meg’s character manifests in her attendance at Vanity Fair.
Meg receives an opportunity to attend a party at Vanity Fair. While attending for the weekend, Meg entangles herself in the desire to please. Her vanity builds as the other girls present wish to dress Meg in more fitting and stylish clothing. ...