Her Daily Bread: Food and Labor in Louisa May Alcott
In the opening episode of Louisa May Alcott's Little Women (1868 -69), bread satisfies the March daughters' hunger following their gift of "comfort" to the Hummels, a neighboring family in need. This scene demonstrates a recurring theme for Alcott, that of women and charity, sacrifice, and domesticity. Bread becomes significant in this scene specifically through its long domestic historicity. Indeed, women and bread are connected as early as the Gospel of Matthew, in a recipe for making bread. In this passage a woman increases the kingdom of heaven through her cooking skills. This expresses an ideal for Alcott throughout her successful books for children, which she refers to in Jo's Boys as "moral pap for the young", as well as her books for adults.3 Bread is a foodstuff as rich as all of western civilization, and Alcott works with this multiplicity of meanings in her writings. Throughout Alcott, bread represents food itself, the â€œdaily breadâ€ of labor, and the significantly different "daily bread" of true fulfillment, whether through religion, work, or self-sacrifice. John Matteson observes, "few books narrate more acts of unselfish generosity than Little Women."
Dolan, Kathryn. "Her Daily Bread: Food and Labor in Louisa May Alcott." American Literary Realism, University of Illinois Press, 2015, pp.40-57.
The definitive version is available at https://doi.org/10.5406/amerlitereal.48.1.0040
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01 Jan 2015