The Limits of Nurture: Louisa May Alcott’s Adoption Fiction

Carol J. Singley

in Adopting America: Childhood, Kinship, and National Identity in Literature

Published in print March 2011 | ISBN: 9780199779390
Published online May 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780199895106 | DOI:
The Limits of Nurture: Louisa May Alcott’s Adoption Fiction

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Louisa May Alcott’s tales of adoption reflect her feminism as well her interest in reform. These fictional representations of children in naturalized and denaturalized families reveal ongoing tensions between acceptance and rejection of mainstream values. Genteel, genealogical biases are evident in her depiction of Dan Kean in Jo’s Boys (1886). The most troubled and romantic of the Plumfield boys, Dan is fundamentally different, that is, different by nature, and no amount of adoptive care bridges the gap between his original, wild state and the cultivated young man Jo expects him to become. Dan’s case demonstrates the limits of adoption and the failure of bourgeois ideals to shape a society influenced as much by Darwin as by nurture or faith.

Keywords: Louisa May Alcott; Jo’s Boys; Under the Lilacs; Dan Kean; Jo Bhaer; Charles Loring Brace; Children’s Aid Society; social reform; feminist; domesticity; adoptive mother; middle class; bourgeois; Darwin

Chapter.  10313 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (19th Century)

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