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Chapter 38: On the Shelf
John and Meg endure a minor storm in their marriage. Meg has been devoting all of her time and energies to the twins to the exclusion of her husband. The housework has been allowed to slide while Meg spends the day in the nursery. When John gets home from work, he has to tread lightly and speak softly to avoid disturbing sleeping children, and Meg is not interested in talking about anything other than domestic affairs. John begins spending more and more time at the home of his friends the Scots.
At length, Meg becomes depressed and feels that John is neglecting her. She turns to her mother for advice. Mrs. March explains that the fault is Megís and urges her to let John have more to do with the children and to pay more attention to John herself. She advices her to make home so pleasant that John wonít want to be anywhere else.
Meg takes the advice to heart although Demi tests her resolve on the first night by refusing to stay in bed. She allows John to take over the task in spit of Demiís screams and soon discovers that John is able to handle the children with just the right mix of firmness and love. That evening she tells him of the discussion with her mother and renews her commitment to make their home a delightful sanctuary.
Meg does make the mistake that many young mothers and wives make when children come into the home. However, it might have been more effective and given us more insight into Johnís personality if he had been the one to approach Meg about her excessive mothering to the exclusion of being a wife. When Meg turns to her mother, it adds to the emphasis on the appearance of female submission; "appearance" is the operative word here, because while Marmee herself seems the epitome of selflessness and humility, she really has directed the family all along. The life-philosophy being touted is for women to appear to be humble, self-abasing, take responsibility for everything, devote herself to being a tireless homemaker and peacekeeper, and submit to every whim of her husbandís and behave in a manner that allows him to think he is the head of the home while she is actually in control. This may not be so very different from 20 th century women except that modern women no longer bother pretending to be submissive.