ERIC Number: ED339034
Record Type: RIE
Publication Date: 1991-Apr
Reference Count: N/A
The "Proper Institutions": Social Reform and the Rachel Episode in "Work."
Schmitt, Elizabeth W. B.
In her novel "Work," through the character of Rachel and her story, Louise May Alcott confronts many of the issues facing both "fallen" women and the social reformers of her day. Rachel, one of the sisterhood of the fallen, becomes an instrument of social reform after having been the victim of the sham respectability of her employer. Some early 19th Century U.S. prostitution reform efforts viewed prostitution as a voluntary vice, attempted to redress the problem with religious indoctrination, and failed. A more pragmatic approach was taken by women reformers in the 1830s who tended to see prostitutes as victims of male misconduct rather than as wanton temptresses. These reformers openly challenged the economic disparity between men and women that often led to women's fall, and often articulated feelings of identification between themselves and prostitutes. The characters in "Work" involved in Rachel's story can be seen as embodying the existing attitudes towards the reform of fallen women, and the story shows that simple human understanding can succeed where empty sermons have failed. The idea of sisterhood in "Work" creates a force capable of positive social reform. Alcott's application of this idea to the treatment of fallen women provides a positive alternative to the Magdalen Asylums of her day. She demonstrates, through the relationship of Christie and Rachel, her belief that women must help each other in order to become "a league of loving sisters" ready to share in God's work and plan for the future. (PRA)
Publication Type: Opinion Papers; Speeches/Meeting Papers
Education Level: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A
Identifiers: Prostitution; Work (Alcott)
Note: Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the College English Association (San Antonio, TX, April 18-20, 1991).