Representating Little Women And Treasure Island English Literature Essay

For this option, you might want to explore nineteenth-century ideological viewpoints of concepts such as family, gender, class and religion. It would be valuable to include some brief discussion of other contemporary texts. One possible approach would be to consider the following questions. How do the novels reflect their differing historical contexts? What evidence can be found for authorial intent, and how can differing prose techniques outlined on the DVD-ROM, including narrative voice, intertextuality and focalisation, help us establish authorial intent?

You might find it helpful to revise the material in Activity 1.3 in the Study Guide as a starting point.

What were the viewpoints of nineteenth-century ideological viewpoints of concepts such as family, gender, class and religion

. Introduction

Children’s Literature is forever formed by shifting ideologies; this in the nineteenth century represented the ideals and values of a diadiac society, ruled predominantly by the church .Enforcing religious viewpoints on the idealistic family life, gender roles were obligatory in respectability, and a woman’s place was within the home.

The nineteenth century was an exceedingly turbulent time, with its staunch Victorian values, child labour, class boundaries, industrialism and colonialism. Much of children’s literature developing through this period echoed the needs of the society and was as Kimberley Reynolds suggests ‘used quite consciously as a form of social control’.()

Two seemingly very diverse novels Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women” (1868) and Robert Louis Stephenson’s “Treasure Island” (1881), emerged in this period.

Both consciously gender directed; it is to be determined how far they follow the trend of the writing at the time. By investigating the nineteenth century ideological viewpoints, comparative contemporary texts and historical contexts it may be determined if the authors apparent intent is indeed a manner of social control, or if it shows a new movement in the liberation of writing for the children’s author, and their readers.

Novels in this early era, echoed the values of society, and were used to produce ‘model’ children instructing on manners, religious doctrine, and morals. Issues echoed in one of the popular evangelical texts of the time, Mary Martha Sherwood’s The History of the Fairchild Family (1818), promoting that children had to be disciplined or be condemded to heavenly punishment , a renowned severe book , its child characters are beaten , starved and incarcerated in the pursuit of puritan idealism (Grenby, 2009).

Children’s literature in the first half of the century , had two key movements , the extremely didactic , and fantasy adventure based entertainment , shown predominantly in the cheaply produced sensation texts , such as the penny dreadful and dime novels . Significantly Stephenson appreciated this popular sensational fiction (Kim Reynolds DVD) , a fact that transposed into his own writings . We see these trends merge in the Victorian era , and from the 1860’s emerges the Golden Age of children’s literature( Grenby ,2009) , when books contained fantasy , realism, fun and adventure ,often said to be epitomized in Lewis Carrols ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ (1865). Children’s books began to fulfil a need that was not addressed in the didactic literature, and to coerce through entertainment, we see social control disguised within an entertaining story.

Sited during and beyond the American Civil war , Alcott’s Little Women depicts the story of four sisters and how they grow up into women. Begrudgingly written to order , specifically for girls , she writes in her journal “she never liked girls, nor knew many, except my sisters; but our queer plays and experiences may prove interesting though I doubt it’ (Alcott 1975, pviii). Alcott herself was very unconventional for her time, in a culture where her only recourse was to marry and tend a home, she remained a spinster, supported her family, and had strong beliefs on equality. Her novel although unquestionably based on her own life , on the surface showed none of the freedom she herself achieved. The only concession she seemingly made for the March girls was to allow Joe whom she based on herself, to strive for the freedom in her writing and her life. Fantasy and adventure books were the then market favorite and the domesticity of Little Women brought realism in literature, and focused on the realities and instruction of everyday life.

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Contrastingly Treasure Island followed the trend of the sensational stories of the Penny Dreadfuls , and maintained the tradition of earlier novels such as the well imitated Defoe’s ” Robinson Crusoe”() , and the similar Ballantyne’s “Coral island “() . Unlike Alcott, Stephenson’s novel was originally for family entertainment not financial gain . Embodied in the era of the British Empire, Treasure Island with gentleman’s morals and English compatriotism conveys social instruction more via playful entertainment, embodying the fast paced adventure story that draws the reader as a child into the swashbuckler romance, of pirates and buried treasure.

In opposition Little Women seemingly, is extremely instructional, and representative of women authors of the time, following Yonges’s “The Daisy Chain”(), which has similarities to the Little Women narrative. Marmee steers the girls towards womanhood, marriage and obedience, she sees no other course in life for her children, as she says “To be loved and chosen by a good man is the best and sweetest thing which can happen to a woman” (Alcott p.95).

She could be see as representing the patriarchal institution that suppresses them all, as she stifles any rebellion from her girls, ‘Marmee is the model little woman’ (Fetterley, cited in Montgomery 2009). Quietly quelling Joes unrealistic ambition to become a writer , when she writes her sensation story, ” much to the disquiet of her mother, who was always a little anxious when ‘genius took to burning'”( Alcott p258). Also abruptly stemming any notions of Meg complaining of her marriage ‘Be careful, very careful, not to wake his anger against yourself, for peace and happiness depend on his respect’ (Alcott ,269). The overtly suppression of women with the novel can make it difficult reading today, but it succeeded in its time as it met the needs of its readers, continuing today as the novel has never been out of print.

Possibly as running covertly throughout the book , there seems to be apparent undercurrent of rebellion. As Judith Fetterley ( cited in Montgomery 2009), states the war is an obvious metaphor for the internal conflict within Alcott , and so in the story itself . Even the ever instructional marmee has a clandestine rebellious undercurrent, admitting her daily anger and its suppression by her husband ‘ I am angry nearly every day of my life , Jo; but I have learned not to show it'(Alcott, p78) , although not altogether happy with her life, she continues to guide her daughters to the same. The theme of rebellious social instruction is apparent but well hidden .

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Alcott’s father greatly admired John Bunyan’s pilgrims progress, and she uses this strongly in her book, adding her own adaptation to the preface ‘For little tripping maids may follow God Along the ways which saintly feet have trod’ (preface) . Overtly encouraging girls to follow god perhaps ,yet interpretations could be covertly admonishing female stereotypes and even encouraging women into the clergy.

Stephenson denies that his TI is intended for anything other than entertainment , Its diadiac content can almost be seen as accidental, shown in Stephenson’s own introduction to the ‘hesitant purchaser’ how every child should enjoy this adventure. (Stephenson ,1981, preface)

More so than instruct within his novel, unlike Alcott, he produces a traditional quest of a novel, giving us a coming of age story that guides boys to understand the adult world. Its historical context reveals somewhat the man Jim Hawkins is modeled to become . The Doctor, Squire and Captain Smollet , are portrayed as the role models steadfast honorable and dependable English gentlemen, later in opposition to their respectability their characters are proved to be flawed , in sight of power and greed. Victorian society dictates that Jim grow to be an English Gentleman to carry on the empire , although this is only made possible within his acquisition of money. The underclass are portrayed by the mutinous seamen , and Long John Silver the enigmatic father figure. An opposing and alluring role model , perhaps an element of Stephenson’s rebellious nature against society .

As Billy Bones terrorizes and enthralls the Admiral Benbow clientele , dr Livsley represents Victorian gentile society in his distaste of him, the underclass , “I have only one thing to say to you, sir … if you keep on drinking rum, the world will soon be quit of a very dirty scoundrel!”( ). Long John Silver holds the same power , yet is an enigma of the time , educated, holding a bank account, deceiving the doctor, and so society as a whole ‘ but I will say this, John Silver suits me ‘ (). It is through Silver , Jim is instructed on the duplicity of people , shown in Silvers moral ambiguity , a pirate and a gentleman, he embodies what Victorian society fears most .

By using Jim Hawkins as the as the first person narrator , Stephenson allows the reader to engage in the fear and excitement of a young boy , seeing the events through his eyes , we see how amoral the world can be , Instructing children in the dangers of corruption . We also have respect for Jims decisions and actions , and see him in a more adult manner, allowing him to grow. Although throughout the book the prose is kept for children , When Doctor Livesly takes narrative , we see the clouded minds of the adult , and how they can be inept and uncompromising . Showing perhaps its social instruction is to inform , and empower the child , to see the world as it really is. In opposition to this, in Little Woman , through its third person omniscient narrative , We know all the characters personalities, thoughts and feelings intimately , and have knowledge of future events , echoed in TI , when the older Jim narrates . Alcott gives references and foreshadows the girls future lives, throughout and we always continue to view them as children , instructed continually by adults, or moral incidents.


Alcott and Stephenson, used their novels to portray a world in which they saw the child of their time, in a way it would be accepted not only by their young readers, but by the morals, and dogma that their world contained.

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Their books Little Woman and Treasure Island were Instructional, but broke away from the unbending format of previous children’s literature in that they gave their readers the ability to interpret and judge.

Although Little Women ,is seen as giving a form of social instruction ,in contrast it is debated if Treasure Island is actually considered as a socially instructive novel. Maixner (cited in Haslam 2009) states ‘So far from being an improving or moral writer was Stephenson that in his fiction the joys of children are outside our world altogether’ Arguing against Loxley implies there is a subtext within the swashbuckling romance promoting personal colonialist benefit (cited in Haslam 2009 ) .This can be see somewhat in Stephensons final lines ‘Oxen and wain-ropes would not bring me back again to that accursed island’ still haunted by his adventure , Jim now knows the darker , and lawless side of human nature , wanting no more of the treasure , he is left with the insight into the instability and mistrust of the civilized world . Concluding his novel with the words of a pirate ”Pieces of eight! pieces of eight!’ ,could show perhaps in some way the danger of the pirate remains ,and the futility of desire and pursing wealth will bring out the worst in all.

As children read for pleasure , it is perhaps only as adults we look to see subliminal meanings to children’s literature , and this is shown well in treasure island where and Little women , where the context differs in critiscm .

It raises the question, are all children’s novels diadaic?, simply because the authors own ideals and morals are drawn upon in their writings . A question that can be equally applied to Alcotts Little Women, as in reply to her critiscm s, she states she ‘had no intention of writing a conscious subversion of an instructional book’ , yet her book has been viewed as a betrayal of Alcott’s own ideals, shown vividly in Joe’s marriage , which Alcott was cajoled into ‘”Jo” should have remained a literary spinster ‘( Alcott, xxiii ).

However interpretations also reveal covertly the book gave its young readers the ability to see a way beyond the acceptance of traditional life., demonstrated in Beth’s death perhaps as Fetterly states Alcott’s own covert suggestion that complete conversion to the perfect ‘little woman’ is indeed to die. Or a metaphor that the old traditions of womanhood are dying out , to be replaced by the Joe’s , in their independent lives.(reader 2)

, ‘You must take my place Jo, and be everything to father and mother when I’m gone ‘( Alcott p402)

Both authors claim innocence in incorporating any subliminal instructional messages within their texts, and indeed this may well have been their intention. However as it is believed that any novel is in essence diadiac …..Quote …….

Both Stephenson and Alcott used their own life experiences and expectations of society to create their novels, which in itself gave them diadiac content, however subliminal or unintentional. Little Women and Treasure Island contain a form of social control, but they show the desired control of the author, not implicitly that of society.

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