Practical Transcendentalism for the Cult of True Womanhood

Alcott’s didactic novel, Work: A Story of Experience, tells the story of Christie Devon’s experiences as a Northern middle-class woman working in the years before, during and after the Civil War. I contend that Christie, Alcott’s most auto-biographical character, appears as a kind of practical female counterpoint to Thoreau’s take on how to achieve Transcendental enlightenment. The "rules" of the Doctrine of Separate Spheres pushed men to live a public life and women to live a private one. In reaction, Thoreau tells men that they have to go into the woods alone and live deliberately to find their connection to the Infinite, while Alcott tells women that they need to go into the world and that, in addition to finding the voice of the Infinite within themselves, they can help others find their own voice.

Author: Janet Tuthill-Beam