Chapter IV. Burdens

From the new Little Women 150 blog reflecting each week on a chapter in Alcott’s classic, here is chapter four:

Little Women 150

By Sandra Harbert Petrulionis

The central concerns of “Burdens” may be character development and self-education, but within its domestic lessons, this chapter also foregrounds the inequities of Civil War- era America. It is an especially valuable chapter when teaching Little Women.

A brief synopsis: “Burdens” builds on the Pilgrim’s Progress allegory introduced in Chapter One. The post-holiday reality has set in, and the March girls “take up our packs and go on,” as Meg puts it, each with her own particular trial: Meg’s teaching of “four spoilt children,” Jo’s work as a companion for the “fussy” Aunt March, Beth’s household drudgery and lack of music lessons, and Amy’s misshapen nose and hand-me-down clothes. As “Burdens” concludes, Marmee points out what many discerning students will also have seen—that in confessing their day’s respective trials, each girl has already learned her own particular lesson, thus putting Bronson Alcott’s Transcendentalist self-culture into practice.

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