Little Women and Treasure Island: Fatherhood

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Compare and contrast the depiction of fatherhoods in Little Women and Treasure Island.

When discussing fatherhood in relation to both novels, we see that in both, the father is either primarily absent or irrelevant to the plot. The element of fatherhood comes from the characters designed to replace or substitute the absent or lost fathers. Treasure Island finds two figures available for Jim to form a paternal relationship, and the moral juxtaposition they present has as much to do with Jim growing into a moral man, as it does him choosing a path to survival. In Little Women fatherhood is represented by many different views of masculinity including Jo’s attempt to fill her absent father’s shoes. The differences and similarities between the two books determine what the role of the father figure was at the time of publication and whether the concept of fatherhood was relatively important to the novels in question.

Alcott wrote her novel at the request of her publisher and for a particular market, this to a great extent; is responsible for her interpretation of the male and female characters and the nineteenth century attitudes towards femininity and masculinity. In producing a book aimed specifically at children and more specifically girls, Alcott was under pressure to produce a familial image that would sell. In part two of Little Women any of the feministic qualities which Jo exhibited have been abandoned to conform to popularity, “she altered her values in deference to the opinions of others” (Fetterley, 2009. p.30) again in keeping with the attitudes of the public Alcott’s girls grew ‘agreeable’ to the men around them and learned “to put a man in the centre of her picture.” (Fetterley, 2009. p.21) For Jo this is instead of, being the man in the picture. She binds them to men who represent a father towards them both in experience and age. Each March girl except Beth marries a man who is above her own level of intellect and older, as Fetterly puts it; “they must marry their fathers, not their brothers or sons. Thus Laurie gets Amy, who is a fitting child for him, and Jo gets her Papa Bhaer”( Fetterley, 2009 p. 29) the term Fetterly uses to describe professor Bhaer, is in fact the role he is expected to fulfil, as each girl chooses her husband they are; as such being handed over by one father figure to another. The role of the father is closely looked at following Megs marriage to John Brooke, a struggling Meg confides in her mother that she is finding her situation difficult, she is preached to by her mother “ the model little woman” (Fetterley, 2009 p.20) referred to as “my docile daughter” (Alcott, 1998 p.377) and encouraged not to forget her duty to her husband, and also to place the harder elements of motherhood into her husband’s hands. Alcott conforms to the opinion that “women’s work is not real work” (Fetterley, 2009 p.23) and therefore “the children throve under the paternal rule, for accurate steadfast John brought order and obedience into babydom.”(Alcott, 1998 p.383) this implies the role of the father is just as important as the mothers if not more so by hinting that mothers need guidance from their husbands in order to bring up their children, looking to their male wisdom as they would do their own fathers. This depiction of masculinity also helps us to understand Jo’s reluctance to conform to the general consensus of what a ‘little woman’ should be. She sees herself as “man of the family” (Alcott, 1998 p.9) and adopts certain masculine traits to position herself within the fatherly role during her father’s absence. Jo adopts these traits with determination to be seen as masculine hence her desire to go to war “I cant get over my disappointment in not being a boy, and its worse then ever now, for I’m dying to go to and fight with papa” (Alcott, 1998 p.7) and to be judged an active and breadwinning individual. Jo in this way shows us the desired qualities a father should possess and by portraying her...
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