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Little Women and Treasure Island: Fatherhood Essay

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 absent father in a proactive way, that he is an accurate representative of the masculinity and moral conduct valued by society at this period. Alcott’s decision to produce the sequel to Little Women greatly establishes the role fatherhood plays in her story, whilst Mr March is away, Jo is fulfilling her own prophecy of being “the man of the family”(Alcott, 1998 p.9) and upon his return is free to live her life as a ‘little woman’, the significance of Beth’s death means Jo’s desire to be a man is also over, and she strives to imitate her departed sister by neglecting the proactive and masculine personality she assumed in order to cope with being head of a household.

In contrast to Alcott’s desire to be successful financially, Stevenson’s own efforts concerning Treasure Island were of a more innovative intent, to create a novel which not only featured a romantic story but served merely to entertain and inspire without an element of educating. Stevenson aspires to a more unconventional style of appealing to young boys, without moral preaching or the inclusion of religious implication; which Alcott endeavours to do with her inclusion of Bunyan’s Pilgrims Progress and her references to God, the most fatherly figure of all. “If you learn to feel the strength and tenderness of your Heavenly Father as you do that of your earthly one. The more you love and trust Him, the nearer you will feel to Him” (Alcott, 1998 p.80)

The fatherly characters are produced by two authors who had interesting relationships with their own fathers and who subsequently introduce their own opinions to the role of a father figure during this period. Mr March is portrayed as being central to the families success despite him being absent for the majority of the plot, “to outsiders, the five energetic women seemed to rule the house, and so they did in many things but the quiet man sitting among his books was still head of the family.”(Alcott, 1998 p.229)

She goes on to say of Mr March that in troublesome times the girls always turned to him, “finding him, in the truest sense of those sacred words, husband and father.” (Alcott, 1998 p.230) This lengthy eulogy Alcott lavishes upon Mr March (Alcott, 1998 p. 229-230) could be seen as a focalisation from the March daughter’s point of view, however it is more likely Alcott’s own father is the focus here, given the books highly autobiographical status. It has also been said that through Alcott’s portrayal she manages to draw “a veil over her brilliant fathers many incompetencies” (Watson, 2009 p.14)

Stevenson’s “complex” (Hunt, P (in) Stevenson 2011 p.xi) relationship with his own father is also brought into account. The fact there are two very different father figures presented within Treasure Island interprets the fluctuating relationship he had with his father “several critics have seen Treasure Island and Jim Hawkins torturous relationship with Long John Silver as an extended mediation of this” (Hunt, P (in) Stevenson 2011 p.xi) yet Stevenson’s own essay My First Book, goes into detailed account of his fathers involvement in the creation of the book “in Treasure Island he recognised something kindred to his own imagination; it was his kind of picturesque; and he not only heard with delight the daily chapter, but set himself acting to collaborate.”(Stevenson. R.L. p.56) If the complex relationship between Stevenson and his father is present in Stevenson’s portrayal of Silver and Jim; this shows us he regarded his father with a certain ambiguity and admiration in the same way Jim is drawn to Silver through the desire for acknowledgement and approval.

Whilst throughout Little Women numerous focalisations take place, Treasure Island’s narration is completed by just two individuals. The relationship Livesy has with Jim is highlighted by his continued narration of the story when Jim is incapacitated in retrieving the ‘Hispaniola’. This not only allows us to hear the story from Livesy’s own focalised viewpoint, but it combines Jim and Dr Livesy as a duo. It also points to the future relationship of the two men as we note that the narrative is “written after the event with the witness of retrospectivity” (Loxley. D. p.60) hinting at a relationship continued once the adventure has ended.

If Livesy is intended to represent the ideal father then Silver represents the opposite, being selfish and morally inept. Jim however, seeks the approval of Silver despite his suspicion and fear. When Silver addresses a fellow mutineer with the line “you’re young, you are, but you’re as smart as paint. I see that when I set my eyes on you, and I’ll talk to you like a man.” (Stevenson, 2011 p. 61) A similar phrase is used to sway Jim’s affections earlier in the story and Jim is quickly struck with jealousy. “You may imagine how I felt when I heard this abominable old rogue addressing another in the very same words of flattery as he had used to myself. I think, if I had been able, that I would have killed him through the barrel” (Stevenson, 2011 p. 62) Jim’s alliances are swayed and subjected to overthrows of power by the two feuding groups, he has the lure of the danger and adventure should he decide to side with Silver yet the doctor is the ideal representative of moral decorum which Jim has aimed to exhibit so far. With this struggle taking place the power shifts between who has possession of the ‘Hispaniola’ and who has possession of Jim.

“Power itself is involved in a thematic of circuitry and exchange, continually passing from one group or individual to another, never resting in or reaching a central position and dramatised in the motif of the ship which acts as a symbol of this continuous process.” (Loxley, 2009. p.62) He and Silver share an ability to infiltrate both sides of the arguing men and “become united to an extent that their duplicitous actions set them apart from the groups.”(Loxley, 2009. p. 63) In Livesy, Jim has the imperial hero who represents the ideal nineteenth century father figure, “Livesy has the expertise and respectability of the settle world in combination with the bravery and derring-do of the pirated.”(Parkes, 2009 p.74) Yet an unknown intrigue presents itself through Silver’s manipulation of Jim’s emotions, comments implying Jim is “the picter of my own self when I was young” affect Jim’s judgement of the pirate and an affiliation is clear. (Stevenson, 2011. p.146)

Stevenson’s main mode of connecting with his target audience was the exclusion of women from the majority of the story, Jim’s mother signifies his slightly naive nature at the start of the novel yet her absence allows him to grow and progress towards being considered a man. In the same way Alcott’s Little Women are mainly alone with their mother for the first chapters, allowing the reader an insight into the world of the girls, without an overbearing masculine character to interrupt this process. Through this exclusion of opposite sexes, both authors lay out the foundations to appeal to gender specific demographics.

Treasure Island is primarily a fantasy peppered with elements of realism, these aspects of realism are what keep the story engaging to young boys, only through our comparison between Jim and his father figures can we ascertain any sense of progress in Jim’s story. Through contrasting Jim to Silver or Livesy we find they are in place to aid and guide his transition through adolescence and this rite of passage adventure. In comparison Little Women is a novel steeped in realism and the relevance of the father figures highlights nineteenth century society’s attitudes to women more so than their attitudes to men, the secret of Alcott’s success is through Jo’s unfeminine qualities, by noticing the market of “tomboyish girls striving to overcome their natural indiscipline to find a place in society and a husband without compromising their own personalities.”(Watson, 2009 p.15)

Alcott recognised the difficulties children faced when approaching adolescence and the reluctance to conform to a desired demeanour. Though Mr March isn’t present throughout most of the novel, his presence in the girls minds is much like that of a deity, in keeping faith that they shall please their father they seek his approval by performing moral acts of kindness and behaving like ‘little women’. When they are rewarded by his return, the masculine focus of the story is shifted to the prospective husbands and their search for approval begins once more.

The theme of both novels is one of growing up, without the inclusion of a father figure to guide or to offer approval the element of childhood is lost along with the target audience. The depictions of fatherhood within the two novels are relevant because the novels are aimed at children. Regardless of the moral conduct or characterisation of these representations they are included to highlight a child’s need for adult authoritarianism; without this a child has no model for their behaviours or guardian to guide them to the next chapter of adulthood, and becoming parents themselves.

Bibliography

Alcott, L.M. (1998) Little women, Oxford:, Oxford Paperbacks.

Fetterley, J. (2009) ‘Little Women: Alcott’s Civil War’ Children’s Literature: classic texts and contemporary trends, Milton Keynes:, In association with the Open University.

Hunt, P. (in) Stevenson, R.L. (2011) ‘Introduction’ Treasure Island, Oxford:, Oxford University Press.

Loxley, D. (2009) ‘Slaves to Adventure: The Pure Story of Treasure Island’ Children’s Literature: classic texts and contemporary trends, Milton Keynes:, In association with the Open University.

Parkes, C. (2009) ‘Treasure Island and the Romance of the British Civil Service’ Children’s literature: classic texts and contemporary trends, Milton Keynes:, In association with the Open University.

Stevenson, R.L. (2009) ‘My First Book: Treasure Island’ Children’s
Literature: classic texts and contemporary trends, Milton Keynes:, In association with the Open University.

Stevenson, R.L. (2011) Treasure Island, Oxford:, Oxford University Press.

Watson, N.J. (2009) ‘Introduction’ Children’s Literature: classic texts and contemporary trends [Online], Milton Keynes:, In association with the Open University


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