try and be what he loves to call me, “a little woman,” and not be
rough and wild; but do my duty here instead of wanting to be somewhere
Jo speaks these words in Chapter 1 after
hearing the letter from Mr. March, who is serving in the Civil War.
Jo says that she would like to be doing something exciting, such
as being in the Civil War like her father, instead of sitting at
home. Jo points out that women cannot fight in the Civil War, and
generally lead less adventurous lives than do men. In this statement,
Jo also demonstrates a wish to make her father happy by acting stereotypically
female. Jo struggles throughout the novel because she wants both
to lead an adventurous, independent life and to help and please
her family. In other words, the struggle for individual success
conflicts with the duty and affection she feels for her family and
with the domestic sphere that most women of the time accept.
Mr. March’s letter comes immediately after all the March
girls say that they want more out of life than what they have. After
hearing his letter, they each decide to be content with what they
have, demonstrating that the renunciation of their material dreams
is learned, rather than natural, behavior.