by Heidi Peterson
Growing up, Meg was always my favorite of the March sisters, but (while I've now come to appreciate Jo's complexity and character development, and also Beth's sweetness and patience) of late I've been most particularly intrigued (and impressed!) by Amy.
Not universally (but often), Amy seems to be viewed as merely, "Oh yes, the youngest sister that eventually gets Laurie." End of Story. But I think she very much deserves some attention and a closer examination in her own right.
Amy goes from being slightly spoiled at the beginning -- walking through life with her nose in the air (also exhibiting vengeful anger and a horrible lack of self-control in the incident with Jo's burned book) -- to a truly lovely, kind, cultured woman. Throughout, she is very consciously striving to live out what she believes.
Now, Alcott was pretty certainly writing from a transcendentalist worldview, i.e. leading in part to the idea of a person willing themselves to certain virtues, goodness, etc., whereas we know it's God -- and only ever God -- who can do the work in us, strengthening and giving us both the ability and desire to live out His commands. He alone is always, always initiating (doing the work in us that we absolutely never could) yet, as we're yielding to His working hand, it's definitely still a cognitive process, played out in time and space. At some point (or many points!) we have to make the conscious decision to act in ways that don't come naturally to us (being polite, gracious, forgiving, etc.) whether or not we feel like it.
On the day-to-day level, I like to think of it in terms of C.S. Lewis's words. To quote:
"The rule for all of us is perfectly simple. Do not waste time bothering whether you 'love' your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him. If you injure someone you dislike, you will find yourself disliking him more. If you do him a good turn, you will find yourself disliking him less."And I think Amy finds out this great secret.
Growing womanly over the course of the story, she's also a beautiful example of honest humility and wise discretion. She's diligent, not afraid of hard work (she never complains), and she's strong -- making her decisions and sticking with them, yet not afraid to change her mind. She isn’t afraid of wholesome confrontation, but -- dropping the petty, sinful squabbles of childhood -- becomes the woman who can rouse Laurie to reality and action. She also isn't too stubborn to change when he, in turn, candidly points out her weaknesses.
Finally Amy -- a true and gracious woman thinking first of others, seeking to bless and help them with her talents and gifts -- becomes the perfect lover and helpmeet for her husband.
(Hamlette's Note: Thank you for this beautiful portrait of Amy and the way her character growth can inspire us on our own personal journeys! Also, I loooooove the paintings you chose to illustrate this.)