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Her Daily Bread: Food and Labor in Louisa May Alcott
American Literary Realism
  • Kathryn Cornell Dolan, Missouri University of Science and Technology
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 “daily bread” 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."
English and Technical Communication
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© 2015 University of Illinois Press, All rights reserved.
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Kathryn Cornell Dolan. "Her Daily Bread: Food and Labor in Louisa May Alcott" American Literary Realism Iss. 1 (2015) p. 40 - 57 ISSN: 0002-9823
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