28 March 2009

A Little Perplexity

Chapter 27
This week's reading starts out with Jo beginning her career as a published author. She finds there's a market for light reading that pays quite well. While Jo is grateful for the extra money and she uses it to help her family (trips to the sea, paying the butcher bill and buying new carpet for the house), she seems to find little real satisfaction in it. In Chapter 27, page 270, is describes it like this:
"... so Jo was satisfied with the investment of her prize money, and fell to work with a cheery spirit, bent on earning more of those delightful checks. She did earn several that year, and began to feel herself a power in the house; for by the magic of a pen, her "rubbish" turned into comforts for them all."

So, it seems that she doesn't think much of the work that she is doing, and everyone has their own bit to say about it: Father says, "You can do better than this, Jo. Aim at the highest, and never mind the money." While Amy thinks "the money is the best part of it." Still, it seems that Jo feels that the results are worth writing the "rubbish". Plus, her success with her short stories gave her courage to give a go with publishing her real work: Her novel.

However, Jo takes to heart everybody's criticisms and it seems that the finished work that she submitted, little resembles the original story she had composed. Still, it ended well; the book was published and she was paid $300 for her efforts. But along with that money came a flood of "praise and blame, both so much greater than she expected that she was thrown into a state of bewilderment, from which it took her some time to recover (Chapter 27, pg. 279)."

In doing this, I think Jo learned that you can't always take to heart every little thing that people say, and she became a better person for it. The final paragraphs of Chapter 27 sum it up nicely:
"...But it did her good, for those whose opinion had real value gave her the criticism which is an author's best education; and when the first soreness was over, she could laugh at her poor little book ... and feel herself the wiser and stronger for the buffeting she had received.
"Not being a genius, like Keats, it won't kill me," she said stoutly; "and I've got the joke on my side, after all ... So I'll comfort myself with that; and when I'm ready, I'll up again and take another."

Chapter 28
Ah another installment of a deep look at what Ms. Alcott's view of marriage was. I'm afraid that I don't have as much patience with the authors views as Ritsumei seems to :) Though, I am curious if the version Ritsumei is reading (with its authors side notes and editorial comments) has anything to say about Chapter 28.

But as for me, I had a hard time with this chapter. Perhaps Ms. Alcott meant this chapter to be satirical. Maybe it's a humorous look into the very first months of marriage where the couple is undoubtedly learning to communicate for real. And I suppose there is some humor in the idea that Meg was so unreasonably determined to be "a model housekeeper" and perfect wife, and never ask for help that she brought all the trouble in the beginning of this chapter on herself.
And while the chapter begins with the statement that "[Meg and John] were very happy, even after they discovered that they couldn't live on love alone..." and "The little house ceased to be a glorified bower, but it became a home, and the young couple soon felt it was a change for the the better (pg. 280)", the story that follows doesn't seem to echo the same idea.

So, Meg says to John early on in their marriage (because she assumes it's what he wants to hear) that it's perfectly ok to bring anyone over at anytime because she'll be so perfect and the house will always be perfect it'll be no problem. Only, that was what he wanted to hear and he never questioned the reasonable-ness of it and just thought he'd won himself a capital little wife.

Then, one day, Meg, "fired with a housewifely wish to see her store-room stocked with home-made preserves", decided to attempt to make bunches of jam. Well, the jam making didn't go as smoothly as planned, and since she and John had resolved never to ask for help from anyone ever, she soldiered on alone making a complete mess of the kitchen and becoming very frustrated in the process. It was the unfortunate circumstance that this was the day that John, forgetting that Meg had this project planned, decided to drop in with a friend for dinner.. and from here the conflict begins.

Maybe it's supposed to be funny.. but I thought that the description of John was horribly arrogant and more than a little ridiculous and difficult to relate to:
"Congratulating himself that a handsome repast had been ordered that morning, feeling sure that it would be ready to the minute, and indulging in pleasant anticipations of the charming effect it would produce, when his pretty wife came running out to meet him, he escorted his friend to his mansion, with the irrepressible satisfaction of a young host and husband."
And then he was horrified that the door was locked and the house still dirty with "yesterday's mud"... he goes inside to discover what the problem is. Finding his wife in a teary, sobbing pile of stickiness, and when she explains the problem is just spoiled jelly, he laughs and says "Don't cry, dear, but just exert yourself a bit, and knock us up something to eat. We're both (his pal and himself) hungry as hunters..." Perhaps, this whole situation is meant to be funny.... but I could only roll my eyes. What ensued was a battle of wills that I was thought was very silly on both their parts. They each had determined, silently, to be "calm and kind, but firm" and be sure the other was shown "their duty" and deemed that they each deserved the first apology and spent a chill evening fuming inwardly while being well composed and polite outwardly.

Now, I suppose this situation could be a parallel to situations we might find ourselves today, and it is a good example of needing to be reasonable in expectations and practicing effective communications.. and I do agree that it was clear that someone needed to soften and be the first to apologize, but I did not care much for Ms. Alcott's description of the resolution. John was being a pooper and was essentially ignoring Meg up until the "penitent kiss" fell on his forehead. To be honest, I didn't get the feeling that they'd learned much from this episode.. they didn't seem to change the status-quo of bringing over people suddenly and so she just worked harder at being more gracious and perfect. But I guess they found their balance in the end and they were blessed with twins and everything was all better.. but I still found this chapter more than a little tiresome.

Chapter 29
And THIS chapter I was just befuddled by. Amy and Jo run around doing their social calls on their friends and neighbors. To try and do as Amy instructs, Jo acts very strangely and out of character and in general musses up each visit and Amy gets frustrated. The last visit they each essentially ignore each other and they have a good time, though Jo gets dirty and Amy is still upset.

I could see merit in both girls arguments for how to behave. Amy insists that Jo be dressed in her finest clothes and behave herself well. And Jo comments that "if people care more for my clothes than they do for me, I don't wish to see them."
It is good to be polite and treat people nicely, but at the same time.. people should like you for you.

So, they go about their visiting and during the final call, they visit Aunt March. Jo comports herself in a way that she feels is true to herself, yet in the end (as always) she upsets Aunt March and Amy is full of charm and is amiable. They essentially were being measured and, in being herself, Jo ultimately "deprived herself of several years of pleasure, and received a timely lesson in the art of holding her tongue (Chapter 29, pg. 306)". And the chapter ends with a bit of an air of mystery with Aunt March saying cryptically, "You'd better do it, Mary; I'll supply the money," and Aunt Carrol replied decidedly, "I certainly will, if her father and mother consent."

Knowing something of the story, I know this is where it is decided that Amy will go to Europe and not Jo, even though she originally was promised the trip. So, it seems that we are to take away from this chapter that it is important to be civil and to know when to hold your tongue, and I do agree that there is much to be admired in being polite and well behaved. But I wonder if there isn't also merit in being true to oneself. Jo is a little coarse, but she is honest. I think that is admirable as well.


Ritsumei said...

Though I thought that the last set of chapters were not so tiresome you found them, I was a bit irritated at this set. I don't understand a bit how it would have been a problem to go ask her Mom for help: she asked the neighbor lady, after all! It just doesn't make sense to me why she would be so stubborn about it once it was clear that she was in over her head. Mother or Hannah or both could have fixed her up in a jiffy, and no damage to the marriage. I don't understand that section at all, and I thought that asking for the help early on would very likely have prevented the problems later.

misskate said...

I know, right? It's not like Meg's asking for help would necessarily have meant that she went and gossiped about how horrible their marriage was or some other sort of nonsense that John seemed worried about.. it just would have meant that the jelly would have worked and Meg might have had time to get to dinner like normal.

Yeah, I must admit that I look forward to reading the next couple chapters, just to see if Ms. Alcott is going somewhere with all this.

Ritsumei said...

Another thing. I'd like to slap Jo. What kind of games is she playing with Laurie?? Is it just me, or doesn't it look like he's starting to fall in love with him and she's brushing him off at every turn! Knowing that she doesn't get married at the end of the book, and knowing that there's a TON of happiness in marriage, it drives me crazy to see her sending off such a nice boy. It'll be interesting to see how that plays out. I can't remember.

misskate said...

Huh.. perhaps the movie twisted the story around, but I'm pretty sure that Jo meets a special somebody at the end of the book and though their wedding isn't explicitly portrayed, I always thought it was heavily implied.

Anyway, I do agree that Jo is being a little careless with Laurie.. however, I do wonder if it isn't genuinely her just not seeing it for what it is.. (it's not just guys that can be dense about love stuff) I don't think she's being purposefully malicious.

Ritsumei said...

No, I don't think that she's purposefully malicious either, but still, it makes me want to grind my teeth a bit: Laurie is a very nice boy. And it's possible that I'm remembering the ending wrong. It's been a long time, and I haven't read ahead or even peeked cuz once the cat's out of the bag it's awfully hard to discipline myself enough to come back and re-read in order to discuss!!