Continuing on with Marmee, the Mother of Little Women*by Sandford Meddick Salyer:
I think everyone can agree that Louisa May Alcott was a duty-bound woman.
Duty motivated and justified her need to write for money (molding her into the professional that she was known and respected for). Duty bound her to her parents and their care, giving her an easy excuse to avoid marriage (which was something she wanted to avoid anyway).
Duty bound her to her sisters, caring financially for Anna and her boys after John Pratt died by writing Little Men and giving all earnings to them, and helping Anna buy her own home. She paid for May’s trips to Europe enabling her to realize her dream as a serious artist.
Duty is not always a bad thing – it supplied Louisa with purpose and contributed greatly to her drive for success.
But duty is demanding and she sometimes chaffed at it. Feelings of resentment often mixed in with the pleasure of providing for her family. It can be seen in her journal entries. She obsessed over her duty, and at times, became a prisoner of it.
Inevitably it caused her to sacrifice her personal artistic growth for the financially rewarding work that would support her family.
Still, there were perks – Louisa did enjoy indulging in her own comforts.
On page 70 in Marmee, the Mother of Little Women, Salyer writes: ” . . .’Love your duty and you will be happy.’ Abba’s text for herself . . . Now she found ways of making her girls, who after all were quite human children, love duty, too – even when eight years old. All their lives they loved it, and when Louisa was a woman, her father in his sonnet to her could give her no higher praise for the great sacrifices she had always made than to call her ‘Duty’s faithful child.’ “
I wish I could have better imparted Abba’s teaching about duty to my children (now grown) but I didn’t come to appreciate it myself until I was much older.
It’s is such an onerous word to so many (like obedience and submission). I find now that duty and obligation can be my friends, freeing me from the slavery of emotions which are fleeting. Duty moves me to do the right thing even if I don’t feel like doing it, and in the long run, it’s always the best decision.
While my husband and I did take advantage of our children’s desires to “help” when they were little, putting them to work right away (and now they help without balking), they don’t truly appreciate yet the value of duty.
How duty serves
Duty served Louisa well except on those occasions when she obsessed over it and took it too far. In my exposure to 19th century writings, duty was all important then. The pendulum has now swung way over to the other side. Yet in middle age, I am finding, like Louisa, that duty is good.
Duty signifies discipline (another word with an onerous connotation) and discipline is good, bringing order to your life. You can’t accomplish anything significant without it. Only the most disciplined athlete goes on to the Olympics. Dreamer that I am, discipline, duty and hard work have been hard fought for once I recognized their true value.
I’m hoping now, like Louisa, that I will be able to apply duty to those dreams closest to my heart, and move them out of the dream realm into reality.
What are your feelings about duty and obligation?