Little Women Jo Begins To Consider Her Own Values

Niina Pekantytär
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Sorrows of Young Werther was one of Louisa May Alcott´s favourite novels and Goethe was one of her favourite writers (and one of the models for Friedrich). Laurie´s character arc has similarities with Werther.

The novel is entirely written from Werther´s perspective so the reader does not get to hear Lotte´s personal thoughts or feelings about him and his behaviour. Werther falls in love, but Lotte doesn´t return to his affections. Albert is described as a man who Werther respects but also envies. There is an element of ridiculousness in Werther´s behaviour and his emotional stress. He compares his mood changes to dark clouds and thunderstorms. Both Werther and Laurie are written to be overly dramatic.

Werther´s thoughts of suicide appear alarmingly often. Albert is worried when Werther jokes about it and when Werther defences man taking his own life when the constant passions and feelings are never-ending and he can´t escape them.
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Laurie´s and Werther´s emotional stress is not caused by the broken heart. Their problems are caused by the lack of meaning.

Laurie was always told what to do by others. He was addicted to Jo´s maternal care, and because of that maternal care that Jo has for him, she was never able to inspire him to become a person who could make his own decisions and live his own life. Part of this is created by Jo´s sympathy for the masculine. She struggles to judge his behaviour because of her soft spot for boys. We can trace this back to all the real-life Laurie´s being a lot younger than Louisa.

In the middle of the novel, Werther leaves Lotte and Albert and travels away. He gets a position as an ambassador´s assistant but the work does not satisfy him or the duties that come with it. He struggles to fit into the high society because he feels that his individuality is being smothered by the “fake facade”. He compares his wealthy associates to the poor people who were so kind to him. Werther sees that the nature of the person does not matter in society, but only wealth and status does. This leads to an inevitable conflict with the aristocrats and as a result, he is reminded by his supporters that on such occasions going with the “whim of the society” is the way to go. Werther´s behaviour becomes the topic of gossip among those who have envied his position and Werther is so upset he would like to “stab a knife into his heart”.

Goethe lived during the time when Neo-humanism became mainstream philosophy. One of the more important aspects of neo-humanism was the idea of “self”. What is more important? the sense of self, the personal values and the moral codes, or in the end, is our value only measured by our wealth and status.
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Jo wakes up to consider her own values

The idea of being “one authentic self” was part of transcendentalist philosophy. Werther´s inner struggles, with his self-worth, are being measured by things that he has no control over, like his family background. This is repeated in Little Women when Jo and Friedrich participate in the social gathering of artists, poets and intellectuals. Jo has a moment of clarity when the people who she has been admiring from afar show the true nature of themselves and it is far from flattering. This becomes a pinning point between her and Friedrich because his speech on religion goes right into her soul. Jo often despised the higher class gatherings and was even afraid to be invited into such events. This is caused by Jo´s own preconceptions about the higher class but also her unique sense of self and the way her parents have shown her the living conditions of the less fortunate.

The idea of self and self-worth appears in Jo´s and Friedrich´s discussion about writing, and when he reminds Jo that if she, Jo wants to be a successful writer, first she needs to find her own voice, and as a result, Jo begins to search her own style.

This is where Werther and Laurie separate. Despite the fact that Laurie has grown up in a world that was filled with high-class social gatherings, he is not against them. In fact, he enjoys participating in parties and dinners. Amy has always enjoyed such gatherings. Laurie grew up in that world he neither has disillusions about it, but it is only with his relationship with Amy he begins to understand the privileges of his position.

Path to self-destruction

Quote from Liisa Saariluoma, professor of literature:

Even before Werther “falls in love” with Lotte, he knew that their love was doomed because she was engaged. For Werther being unhappily in love was something that he was pursuing from the beginning. Falling in love with Lotte, was a self-destroying path from the start, because Werther knew that even love can not save him from a life without meaning.

Everything that Lotte represents to Werther, the warm atmosphere, the sense of home, or memories from his childhood and his first love, is secondary compared to his addiction for the emotional distress. Lotte can not save him from the conditions that he must live in or that he refuses to find a meaning for his life, and instead, he makes Lotte the only reason for his living and their relationship changes from friendship to emotional blackmailing. Werther´s love for Lotte is the same love he feels when he is with children or the peasants, because they erect something inside him, harmony, which is not something he has been able to find from the high society.

She said no

When Werther returns to Lotte and Albert, they are now a married couple. They treat Werther with friendliness but his moods are uncontrollable. He knew that the marriage was about to happen but it only fuels his distress. The country idyll and the harmony that he was so in love with is utterly broken. A young woman with who he was friends had lost their child, and her husband had returned and lost their inheritance. A young peasant boy, a friend of Werther, has sexually abused his mistress. Even nature does not comfort Werther. Seeing the hazel threes he had admired with Lotte makes him furious.

Lotte becomes angry at Werther accusing him of choosing her from all the other women when he knew that she was engaged to somebody else. She and Albert try to calm him down, and she tries to figure out how they could make him be more sensible.

“I can´t love anyone else, I can´t forget you, Jo! never! with a stamp to emphasize his passionate words.

“What shall I do with him? sighed Jo, finding that emotions were more unmanageable than she expected. “You haven´t heard what I wanted to tell you. Sit down and listen; for indeed I want to do right, and make you happy” she said, hoping to soothe him with a little reason, which proved that she knew nothing about love”. (Little Women, chapter tender troubles)

When Werther has made his final decision, Lotte is very nervous when she goes to meet him. In Little Women when Jo decides that it is time to tell Laurie to stop, she is very nervous. Werther reads Lotte death of Ossian, which is a poem by James McPherson and all the passages handle death and grief and they are very sentimental. Werther becomes very abusive.

“Everything passes away, but a whole eternity could not extinguish the living flame which was yesterday kindled by your lips, and which now burns within me. She loves me! These arms have encircled her waist, these lips have trembled upon hers. She is mine! Yes, Charlotte, you are mine forever!”

Werther doesn´t listen to anything that Lotte says. He threatens her to say he loves her and then he shoots himself.
In Little, Women Laurie says that there comes a time when Jo will find someone else, and he rather dies than see it, and this is Jo´s brilliant response.
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Folklorist and historian. Alcott essayist. A host of the Little Women Podcast.

Finland, MN

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