In Chapter 7, Amy is too concerned with the humiliation and unfairness of her punishment to worry about the crime that brings on the punishment. She is preoccupied with appearances. When her mother chides her for being arrogant, Amy absorbs the lecture and understands it. She speaks admiringly of the fact that Laurie is both accomplished and modest, and we understand that she has realized the value of being humble. As she says, “It’s nice to have accomplishments, and be elegant; but not to show off.” Amy is more vain and difficult than her other sisters, but Alcott characterizes these flaws as partly charming, and certainly as the product of Amy’s young age. Alcott suggests that Amy’s heart is in the right place, and that she has the capacity to improve.
Jo’s anger at the destruction of her writing, the art with which she tries to transcend the limitations placed on her gender, is portrayed as understandable but also dangerous. It is understandable that Jo would be furious with Amy, but it is dangerous that Jo lets her anger take over. Nevertheless, Jo’s anger is an essential aspect of her character. Similarly, Marmee’s admission that “I am angry nearly every day of my life” reveals that anger is an essential component of her character, as well. Critics often point out the feminist underpinnings of such an admission: Alcott may be suggesting that women—even wise, patient mothers—are, or have a right to be, angered by the oppression they suffer.
In Chapter 9, Meg’s attraction to the luxury of Annie Moffat’s life and subsequent longing for finery and riches of her own sets her up as an example of how materialistic desires can corrupt a good person. Laurie’s disapproving lecture at the ball reminds Meg that she should not put on airs or pretend to be someone she is not. Throughout Little Women, Alcott condemns judging people by their exteriors, telling us that it is not shameful to be poor or to be a woman. The importance Alcott places on the mind and soul—people’s interiors—reflects transcendental values.
The fact that the sisters mimic the all-male society of Dickens’s novel is characterized as humorous, but the club’s activities highlight the limited role available to women in nineteenth-century America. The announcements in the newspaper the girls produce are revealing: the first relates that a “Strong-Minded Lecturer,” a woman named Miss Oranthy Bluggage, will give a talk on “Woman and Her Position;” and the last mentions a lauded new play, presumably written by Jo. These strong feminist announcements are balanced by announcements for a cooking class, “The Dustpan Society,” and doll’s clothes. Although the tone of these announcements is comical, Alcott seems to be making the point that for the March sisters, traditional women’s work and more unconventional womanly strength exist side by side. Moreover, Alcott pokes fun at her own rather moralizing, oversimplifying depiction of the sisters in the section of the newspaper labeled “Weekly Report,” which reads simply: “Meg—Good. Jo—Bad. Beth—Very good. Amy—Middling.” For readers who might scoff at the simplistic, one-dimensional portrayal of the girls, the Weekly Report is Alcott’s humorous admission of her own authorial choices.