Didactic Fiction in Alcott's Little Women .
On the surface, children's literature appears to be very straightforward and light-hearted, failing to carry within a particular story any deeper inherent meaning "the language is simplistic, there's a limited viewpoint, and characters oftentimes are portrayed as caricatures. As would be expected, little respect is given to this genre of writing, having been brushed aside as simplistic and trivial. George Orwell, a profound literary figure in his own right, said: "the worst books are often the most important because they are usually the ones that are read earliest in life- (Hunt, 1). Because of this lack of acknowledgment by the literary establishment, the critic P. Hunt maintains that children's books should be displaced from the literary canon altogether (7). But when viewed from both a critical and emotional standpoint, children's literature occupies a very dense subgroup of the Literary Canon. It appeals to a broad dual readership of children and adults. With this, a children's author carries the burden of having to satisfy two different needs (that of the child, who primarily seeks to be entertained and awed; and that of the adult, who is in search for morals and values to pass along to their children) at once. Such is the complexity of children's literature. The argument I put forward in this paper is such: children's literature is a vital tool in didactic fiction, as in the words of Phillip Pullman, it teaches lessons "about what it means to be human, to grow up, to suffer and learn- (assignment handout, 11/3/03). I will argue why, and discuss how, Little Women and Peter Pan fall into this category of educating their respective readers.
Little Women is first and foremost a girl's novel "it is written by a girl, about girls, and for girls. It has been said that Little Women has in it the universal theme of human nature (Meigs, 213).