Symbolism in Little Women
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In her novel Little Women, Louisa May Alcott employed symbolism to explore society's treatment of men and women. One of the novel's most important symbols is the umbrella. Umbrellas represent the security offered by a man to a woman. When Meg attends the vanity fair, she complains that her mother gave her the wrong umbrella. This episode suggests that Marmee cannot offer her daughter the financial and social security Meg wants because she is a woman. Later, Jo is angered at the presence of Mr. Brooke's umbrella because she recognizes his intent to marry Meg. Jo's defiance of marriage in general leads her to reject Mr. Brooke and his umbrella. The evolution of Jo's character is illustrated by her later acceptance of Professor Bauer's umbrella. Jo's decision to allow Professor Bauer to share his umbrella demonstrates that she has accepted the fact that men can offer some protection to women. Her acceptance of Professor Bauer's umbrella also indicates that she loves him.
Different articles of clothing are also employed as symbols throughout the book. Meg's lost glove, for example, is symbolic of Mr. Brooke's love. Mr. Brooke must initially keep the glove secret out of concern that Meg's family will reject his intentions. Jo's burned dress and willingness to not wear gloves symbolize her disinterest in living up to society's gender expectations. Amy's preoccupation with increasing her social standing is symbolized by her painted boots.