“Oh dear!” sighed Meg. “I wish I’d been sensible, and worn my own things; then I should not have disgusted other people, or felt so uncomfortable and ashamed of myself.”
Meg is eager to be part of elegant society when she stays with the Moffats, but she finds it unsettling to try and fit into their world. When she allows them to dress her up in the fashionable and extravagant style Meg has so envied, she no longer feels like herself. Meg gains the respect of strangers in high society, but her performance disappoints Laurie, her close friend. The more she tries to fit in, the more she conflicts with her values, to the point that she feels it necessary to make a full confession to her mother when she gets home. Meg’s vanity does not disappear after this incident, but she does learn she gains the respect of the people she cares about when she is true to herself and her values.
Money cannot buy refinement of nature, that rank does not confer nobility, and that true breeding makes itself felt in spite of external drawbacks.
Little Women clearly and repeatedly praises the March family despite their lack of wealth, refinement, or desire to associate with the best of society. Conversely, Alcott paints most of the wealthier families as misguided, frivolous, and not quite satisfied with their lives. It is not rank or status itself that Alcott looks down on, but rather prioritizing those things over genuine relationships and desire to do good. The March sisters thrive when they make earnest choices rather than trying to impress people who do not know or care for them.
“That’s it!” said Jo to herself, when she at length discovered that genuine goodwill toward one’s fellow-men could beautify and dignify even a stout German teacher, who shoveled in his dinner, darned his own socks, and was burdened with the name of Bhaer.
Jo, along with most people who know Bhaer, is quickly drawn to Bhaer despite not immediately seeing anything noteworthy about him. He is earnest and playful, and many of his encounters with Jo initially make her embarrassed for him because he does not hold tightly to his dignity. Eventually, Jo decides that it is Bhaer’s honest, honorable generosity of spirit that attracts people to him. He never acts on pretense, and so he is inherently likable. When she notices this, Jo seeks to emulate him, and the novel implies it is a wise thing for her to do.
I don’t see why I can’t love you as you want me to. I’ve tried, but I can’t change the feeling, and it would be a lie to say I do when I don’t.
Despite their lifelong friendship, Jo refuses Laurie’s marriage proposal because she does not love him the way he loves her. Although this is initially devastating to Laurie, the novel reinforces Jo’s choice as the right one because she acts in accordance with her feelings and wishes. They might seem a good match on the surface, but they would have come to resent each other if they began a marriage without mutual love.