Document Type

Thesis - University Access Only

Award Date


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department / School



Louisa May Alcott, traditionally associated with children's domestic novels, does, in fact, apply complex transcendental philosophies to her texts. As noted in her journals and fiction, her friend and neighbor Ralph Waldo Emerson and her father, A Bronson Alcott, both avid transcendentalists, profoundly influenced her education. Yet, as a woman, a feminist, and a realist, Alcott applies her unique insight to these philosophies and applies them to traditional concepts of virtue. In doing so, she alters the concept of womanhood and its perception of love and marriage. This thesis explores Alcott's perceptions of transcendentalism in relation to her works. While criticism of Alcott is limited, an examination of the relationships between Alcott and her father and Alcott and Emerson, and her admiration of Margaret Fuller sheds light on her development of transcendental version of virtue as social code. Alcott's poignant social comments about independence, love, and marriage compel critical analysis of her characters through Ralph Waldo Emerson's transcendental concepts of spiritual growth found in Little Women and Rose in Bloom. In Little Women, Alcott places value on the quality of each of the marriages by applying Margaret Fuller's classifications of marriage as defined in Woman in the Nineteenth Century. A more extensive exploration of Emerson's concepts of self-reliance in relation to Alcott's Work: A Story of Experience reveals the importance of spiritual growth through independence and self-reliance before finding love and love's effect in the promotion of social change.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Alcott, Louisa May, 1832-1888 -- Criticism and interpretation
Transcendentalism in literature
Love in literature



Number of Pages



South Dakota State University