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ECHOES OF LITERARY SISTERHOOD: LOUISA MAY ALCOTT AND KATE CHOPIN Harbour Winn Oklahoma City University Although the enormous impact of Louisa May Alcott's Little Women on the imagination of female readers is established, her wide influence on female writers is only now being recognized. One of her literary sisters is certainly Kate Chopin. Born nineteen years after Alcott , Chopin—and some of her female characters—experience the struggle of the serious woman artist to break away from traditional and internalized obligations as well as to subvert patriarchal culture. These parallels to Alcott and some of her female characters could simply represent the associations between any two women writers. An intertextual study of Little Women, The Awakening, and a late Chopin story, "Charlie," however, suggests Chopin's awareness of her sisterhood with Alcott. In this late story Chopin seems able to develop with unusual explicitness for her time what Alcott could only suggest. Those suggestions prove to have been nurturing, however, for Alcott provides Chopin with an important model in her artistic exploration to unmask the forms of conventional female identity.1 Both Alcott's Jo and Edna Pontellier of The Awakening strive for self-assertion through artistic independence, and Jo's writing and Edna's sketching represent departures from their expected roles. The debonair, romantic young men that each is initially attracted to eventually prove inadequate for the developmental and artistic needs of Jo and Edna even though Laurie and Robert, respectively, represent feminized versions of masculinity. Jo's refusal of Laurie's proposal because she loves her liberty mirrors the pleasure and self-sufficiency Edna experiences when she is alone, her husband off to New York on the trip her father had insisted it was her duty to undertake. While alone, Edna reads, and Chopin mentions particularly that she reads Emerson—Alcott's Concord neighbor. The interconnectedness of the texts is most evident, however, in Chopin's association of Edna's longing for freedom from convention with the strong-winged "bird that would soar above the level plain" and fly out to sea.2 In Little Women, when Jo is caring for Beth at the seaside, Beth speaks of Jo in the same image: "You are the gull, Jo, strong and wild, fond of the storm and the wind, flying far out to sea, and happy all alone."3 That Edna's exploration of self in flight involves sexual passion while Jo's self in flight does not might seem to disguise Chopin's indebtedness ; unlike Alcott, however, she did not include children in her 206Ñores audience for The Awakening and thus was not restrained by this taboo . Writing thirty years later than Alcott, Chopin was able to pioneer the breaking of another taboo, the discussion of female passion, even at the cost of her own reputation. The parallels between the central protagonists of Little Women and Chopin's "Charlie" reinforce their literary sisterhood. Belonging to the tradition of literary tomboys, both are commonly called by a masculine nickname, Jo for Josephine and Charlie for Charlotte. Charlie's father even thinks of her as "that ideal son he had always hoped for and that had never come."4 Charlie's unorthodox manner includes "a costume of her own devising, something between bloomers and a divided skirt which she called her 'trouserlets' " (p. 182) and short cropped hair, the latter resembling Jo's hair after she cuts it to raise money for her mother's travel to nurse her sick father. Among their all-female siblings, three for Jo and six for Charlie, associations abound: an older, more beautiful sister marries first; the young male with whom each is initially infatuated eventually marries another sister; both lose the opportunity for a trip abroad with an aunt because she regards their behavior as unladylike; an ostentatious and fashionable sister—Jo's Amy and Charlie's Amanda—accompanies the aunt abroad; both are protective of a shy sister who plays the piano; both families must adjust to and care for a wounded father, Jo's from his Civil War wound and Charlie's from his sugar mill accident. The wounds of the fathers also raise deeper questions about subversion of...


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pp. 205-208
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