28 November 2018
Gender Roles in
Little Women and My Antonia
Louisa May Alcott and Willa Cather in their novels Little Women and My Antonia together both challenged the society of the nineteenth century when it came to stereotypical gender roles. Alcott and Cather pushed their boundaries on the expectations that were placed on both men and women to conform their back in society. They both used certain characters throughout their novels to be able to show us how men and women were able to swap roles without having gender expectations of society on them. Alcott and Cather were able to express their characters distinct personalities freely and were able to connect certain relationships to the theme of their novels.
In her novel Little Women, Alcott through the characters of Jo and Laurie, she challenges the idea of gender stereotypes. Not only is Jo and Laurie's relationship funny and genuine, but it is also one of the examples used by Alcott that breaks through her idea of gender stereotypes throughout her novel. As I was reading one of the many but first things that caught my attention was how Jo and Laurie's names would usually belong to the opposite sex, here Alcott is breaking gender expectations by giving Jo a male like name and giving Laurie a female like name. In doing this, she is removing gender expectations solely based on the name of the characters. She is implying that names cannot be based upon what gender, male or female. When Jo and Laurie first meet, neither one seems to be concerned nor surprised by each other's name. The characters themselves do not seem bound by society’s gender expectations of what their name should be based off their sex. For example, at the Gardiners’ New Year’s Eve party, as Jo is escaping from this boy, she bumps into Laurie, who is also trying to escape. After they talk about
the Marches’ runaway cat that Laurie rescued, they exchange names. Alcott states “How is your cat, Miss March?’ asked the boy, trying to look sober, while his black eyes shone with fun. ‘Nicely, thank you, Mr. Laurence; but I ain’t Miss March, * I’m only Jo,’ returned the young lady. ‘I’m not Mr. Laurence, I’m only Laurie. ‘Laurie Laurence; what an odd name. ‘My first name is Theodore, but I don’t like it, for the fellows called me Dora, so I made them say Laurie instead.’ I hate my name, too—so sentimental! I wish everyone would say Jo, instead of Josephine. How did you make the boys stop calling you Dora? ‘I Thrashed ‘em.’ I can’t thrash Aunt March, so I suppose I shall have to bear it;’ and Jo resigned herself with a sign” (Alcott 29).
Not only was their name exchange quite revealing about their characters, but by this Alcott is showing us that people should be cautious on how they categorize people into particular groups based off their names. Laurie in the novel states that he much rather prefers the name Laurie than Dora but both names happen to be equally as feminine,...