By Elizabeth Schroll
As a recent bride, I am familiar with the numerous preparations involved in planning the day Alcott describes as “the sweetest chapter in the romance of womanhood,” not to mention the many emotions this major life change elicits for the happy couple and their loved ones. However, I found the prospect of examining the chapter devoted to Meg’s wedding day daunting. With her love of frills and the boring (to my younger self) John Brooke, Meg never interested me. I have more of a Beth personality—shy but passionate about family and cats—with (I hope) a dash of Jo’s flair and (I pretend) Amy’s elegance. Rereading Alcott’s novel gave me new perspective on Meg. She still isn’t my favorite, but she deserves her fair share of attention. Judging by the narrator’s approving descriptions, I’m not alone in this assessment.
When readers are introduced to Meg, she is complaining about being “poor.” This impression is colored by the narrator’s explanation that Meg is “rather vain” about her pretty hands (ch. 1) but that “in spite of her small vanities, Margaret had a sweet and pious nature” (ch. 2). As the narrative unfolds, we see Meg moving beyond her little vanities and learning life lessons essential to a successful marriage—putting others before self, working toward common goals, and valuing what truly matters, to name a few.
When Meg and Jo attend a New Year’s Eve party, Meg unwisely wears shoes that are lovely but too small. The narrator notes this vanity and judges Meg for it: “Meg’s high-heeled slippers were very tight and hurt her, though she would not own it . . . which was not exactly comfortable; but, dear me, let us be elegant or die!” (ch. 3). Lovingly scolding Meg for letting vanity trump prudence, the narrator also reveals that enjoying life depends on your state of mind rather than your bank account. Meg is not destined to a life devoid of fun, if she can learn to be content with what she has.
Spending two weeks with her rich friend Annie Moffat is a litmus test of Meg’s character. Ironically, the empty feeling this experience gives Meg makes her more content with her life, splendid though it is not. She learns, too, that dressing up as someone she isn’t does no one any favors, least of all herself.
When asked to describe her dearest castle in the air, Meg identifies the wealthy lifestyle she viewed at Annie Moffat’s: “a lovely house” with “luxurious things” and “plenty of servants” (ch. 13). By the time John offers Meg a much different vision of happiness—a small home filled with love and the happiness borne of earning a living—Meg has changed her tune. When their wedding day dawns, Meg has learned to value this life so unlike her youthful daydreams. That the narrator approves is evident in her description of Meg: “all that was best and sweetest in heart and soul seemed to bloom into her face that day, making it fair and tender, with a charm more beautiful than beauty.” Rather than wearing shoes that are too small or a dress that doesn’t suit her, Meg declares: “I don’t want a fashionable wedding, but only those about me whom I love, and to them I wish to look and be my familiar self.” Furthermore, she is “too happy to care what anyone says or thinks” about her wedding decisions. Oho! Is this the same Meg who once loved finery and cared so much for others’ opinions that she’d risk spraining an ankle to achieve approbation?
If so, she deserves credit. Having just planned a wedding, I am well aware of the expectations placed on the bride to do things a certain way on that special day, and I admire those who ignore such expectations (well-intentioned as they may have been) to honor their own values. The narrator reveals similar pride in Meg’s wedding decisions: she describes guests as “enjoying the sunshine without and within” and admits, “It wasn’t at all the thing, I’m afraid, but the minute she was fairly married, Meg cried, ‘The first kiss for Marmee!’ and, turning, gave it with her heart on her lips.” Rather than conforming to societal pressures, Meg manages to do what feels natural on her wedding day, honoring those she loves and demonstrating that her hard-won lessons about happiness were more fulfilling than the fleeting niceties she’d once aspired to attain.
Elizabeth Schroll has an M.A. in English from Kansas State University. She resides in Colorado with her husband—and soon, much to her excitement, a cat—and copy-edits books for NavPress. When she isn’t working, Elizabeth can usually be found reading, singing, hiking, or engaged in sundry other activities that involve experiencing the beautiful Colorado sunshine and scenery firsthand.
Still from Little Women (1994), directed by Gillian Armstrong.