Great Characters: Meg March

“My John wouldn’t marry for money, any more than I would. We are willing to work, and we mean to wait. I’m not afraid of being poor, for I’ve been happy so far, and I know I shall be with him, because he loves me.”

Meg March, Little Women, Louisa May Alcott

Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women is often held up as a fantastic early feminist work for girls. And it is with good reason that it is considered so. The four girls are self-sufficient and strong young women, but also each very different making very different choices for their lives. Most of the time Jo is held up as the proof that the book is so forward thinking, but today I don’t want to talk about her.

Jessie Wilcox’s illustration of the March sisters

For me, one of the most important pieces of the book and of it’s feminist message was Meg’s story. Meg is the most conventional of the sisters in many ways – she wants the things that women were supposed to want in the mid-1800s (when the story is set). She wants to be beautiful and to marry well and to be a housewife and mother. She wants pretty dresses and love. She has no designs on a career, like Jo and Amy have.

And personally, I think that’s really important for a feminist story. I think it’s amazingly important that the choice to be a stereotypical woman is allowed and celebrated just as the choices her sisters make not to be exactly what is typically envisioned are allowed. Meg’s choices are agonized over the same way that Jo and Amy’s are and are celebrated as being right for her just the same way as well. At the same time, Meg’s frustrations and wishes and the limitations of her life are not shied away from.

Anna Alcott, who inspired Meg

She had promised to love him for better for worse; and then she, his wife, had reproached him for his poverty, after spending his earnings recklessly.

Little Women, Louisa May Alcott

Being the oldest, it is unsurprising that Meg marries first and is the first to begin having children of her own. Throughout the book (and the sequels) we get a picture of what married life and motherhood are for Meg. And never does she show any sign of regretting them, even through troubles and mistakes and quarrels. She is far from a “perfect” wife, but she absolutely appreciates everything she has and chooses it for herself. Just because it is conventional doesn’t make it any less remarkable for the choosing and embracing of it.

Willa Fitzgerald as Meg in the 2017 BBC miniseries of Little Women

“My castle was the most nearly realized of all. I asked for splendid things to be sure, but in my heart I knew I should be satisfied, if I had a little home, and John, and some dear children like these. I’ve got them all, thank God, and am the happiest woman in the world;” and Meg laid her hand on her tall boy’s head, with a face full of tender and devout content.

Little Women, Louisa May Alcott

For me, the most precious part of Little Women is that it truly does celebrate that there are many paths and that all of them are ok to choose. It recognizes that Meg is not less feminist and strong and remarkable for having chosen the life she was expected to choose. And she doesn’t choose it lightly – it’s clear throughout the book that her family isn’t pushing the choice or even facilitating it in particular. And that’s what feminism is – the choice to be whatever you want and for that to be respected, whether what you want is to be an artist or a writer or a mother or all of the above.

Madame Alexander’s 1976 Meg March doll

Meg is often overlooked or sort of dismissed as being less forward thinking than her sisters, but I don’t think she is that at all. I think she sees all the choices before her and genuinely finds pleasure in keeping a good house and having a loving family. She certainly could have chosen differently and it even may have turned out easier for her if she had. But Meg celebrates her choices, even when she has to fight for them.

All four sisters make the story special and Meg and her conventional life is as integral a part of that as any of her more eccentric sisters’ lives. I love that about her and love that she shows that being a stereotypical woman is no more or less worthwhile than being any other kind of woman.

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