Little Women Louisa May Alcott was greatly influenced by the transcendentalists of her time. Transcendentalists believed that humans should pay more attention to their inner beings, rather than dawdle on superficial ways of living. In the novel, Little Women, published in 1868, Alcott uses her characters’ ordeals to stress that wealth is not the key to happiness. To begin with, it is important to stay genuine and not yearn for material items. Meg, the oldest of four sisters, attends a party where the best clothing that she owns cannot begin to compare with those of her wealthy friends.
When her friends offer to “doll” her up with fancy items, Meg accepts, but ends up having a horrible time. By the end of the night, Meg thinks, “I wish I’d been sensible, and worn my own things; then I should not have disgusted other people or felt so uncomfortable and ashamed of myself” (Alcott p. 96). This shows that Meg had to pay the high price of enjoying the party in order to temporarily own a few pretty clothes. One who is vain will not necessarily be happy.
In addition, happiness can exist in a house full of love, family and content, regardless of its assets. Although the March sisters live in a snug-fitting home, it seems so much more welcoming than the enormous European mansions that Amy, the youngest sister, stays in when she travels abroad (Alcott p. 434). This demonstrates that Amy misses her own home because it is richer in livelihood than the empty mansions. When Meg starts a family of her own, her tiny house is frequently visited by many people.
Even her wealthy friend, Sallie Moffat, drops by often, “looking about her with wistful eyes, as if trying to discover the charm, that she might use it in her great house, full of splendid loneliness; for there were no riotous, sunny-faced babies there, and [her husband] lived in a world of his own, where there was no place for her” (Alcott p. 408). This is important because it shows that a wealthier friend is jealous of Meg’s home, even though Meg’s family is poor. A loving family is worth more in happiness than any material item.
Nevertheless, money is pleasant to have, as long as one is happy. Although Amy has initially planned to marry Fred Vaughn for his riches, she declines when he finally proposes to her (Alcott p. 434). She realizes that she would rather be poor than to lead a marriage with no mutual love. Mrs. March best sums this up as, “Money is a needful and precious thing, — and, when well used, a noble thing, — but I never want you to think it is the first or only prize to strive for.
I’d rather see you poor men’s wives, if you were happy, beloved, contented, than queens on thrones, without self-respect and peace” (Alcott p. 101). The girls’ mother has the best wishes in mind for her children, and she emphasizes how wealth is no match for contentment. Riches are only beneficent when individuals are happy. As is evident, wealth is not the focus of happiness. Luxury cannot compare to a loving home or being true to one’s self. It can, however, be a wonderful addition to an already pleasant life. Alcott informs readers that happiness, rather than possessions, is the priority of life.