The Absent Male in Little Women
"No gentlemen were admitted" writes Louisa May Alcott in Little Women to describe the all-female private
revue the March sisters perform. And as the novel progresses, one cannot help but wonder if this same
sentiment does indeed echo throughout the novel, as male characters are conspicuously absent while all the
pivotal parts are played by the women characters.

This gender imbalance -- in that there are more female characters than male in Little Women -- is
especially obvious when male authority figures such as Mr March and Mr Lawrence are markedly absent
for most of the novel. When they do appear, they are in need of love and care from the women. Mr
Lawrence, who is nursing a broken heart over the death of his daughter, is healed by Beth's gentle manners,
while Mr March's broken constitution is nursed back to health by his loving wife and daughters.

The only male character who appears prominently in Little Women is Laurie, who, although the richest and
most eligible bachelor for miles, is drawn to the motherly smile and warmth of the little cottage, despite the
luxuries of his mansion next door. John Brooke, Laurie?s tutor and Meg?s husband, too, is drawn to the
homey atmosphere of the March residence, having recently lost his mother.

In a bold move that differentiates Alcott from her contemporaries, the male characters in Little Women are
all not capable of providing sustenance to their womenfolk as they are incapacitated (either by a war injury,
an emotional scar, or an impoverished background). The women are thus forced to take on varied roles in
order to provide materially and emotionally for the family. They are the ones who shoulder the burden in
situations not unlike those of the Alcott family.

Is it by chance, or is premeditation, that most of Alcott?s novels feature an absent father? And when he does
reappear, he is very often silent, ill or injured. It is obvious Alcott has problems portraying strong male
characters, probably from the fact that she hadn?t seen too many of them.

Furthermore, Alcott is not able to describe a situation where love is emoted expressively from men. In all
her novels, the male characters disappoint -- in one way or the other. In many ways, they are very similar to
her own father. Bronson Alcott was a man who preferred dreaming, shirking his fatherly and husbandly
duties, and was prone to going on extended trips without his family. Bronson Alcott deserted his family for
months at a time purportedly to earn a living. But he was not very successful in that area. Once he came
back with a new scarf and a dollar in his pocket to a hungry family waiting for the money to buy some
much needed bread. He handed over the token that he was paid to Alcott with the careless remark: ?Well,
Louisa, there?s little money, but I had a great time and was asked to come again.?
In Little Women, the appearance of these hapless males in search of a mother figure to comfort them
celebrates the Good Mother, a role played by Marmee and her four daughters. The Good Mother figure, as
explained by French feminist writer Helene Cixous in her manifesto The Laugh of the Medusa, is a woman
who is an omnipotent, generous dispenser of love, nourishment and plenitute. And in a departure from the
patriachal system that she grew up in, Alcott proclaims women as the source of life, power, energy and
advice. In Good Wives (pages 211 - 213), Marmee says to Meg, beginning with: "May I speak quite freely,
and will you remember that it's mother who blames as well as mother who sympathises?" before
concluding with "Don't shut yourself up in a bandbox because you are a woman, but understand what is
going on, and educate yourself to take your part in the world's work, for it all affects you and yours." Then
later on in Good Wives (page 318), Jo exclaim about Marmee: "How goo!

d she is to me! What do girls do who haven't any mothers to help them through their troubles?"

Alcott's portrayal of a strong mother figure is no surprise considering that she was very much influenced by
her mother, and much of her journals was annotated by her mother who read them and made notes within
them. Just as Abba Alcott was very caught up with women?s rights, so too was Alcott. The suffrage
movement, equality in housework,