Meanwhile, back at the Dovecote, Meg is wearing herself thin by devoting all of her time and energy to the twins. Mr. Brooke feels neglected, and he begins spending more and more time at the house of a friend of his.
Meg’s attempt to become the ideal mother has ironically turned her into a less than ideal wife. Mr. Brooke’s loss of interest in Meg is seen as her own fault.
Meg begins to feel abandoned, and she goes to Mrs. March for advice. Marmee explains that Meg has “made the mistake that most young wives make – forgotten your duty to your husband in your love for your children.” Mrs. March suggests that Meg let Hannah come over to help out more often, and that she give Mr. Brooke more responsibilities regarding Demi.
Mrs. March’s advice is both staunchly patriarchal and mildly feminist. On the one hand, to blame Mr. Brooke’s behavior on Meg is clearly patriarchal (women are supposed to please their husbands). On the other hand, her advice for Mr. Brooke to be more involved in raising his children flies in the face of traditional patriarchal gender roles.
Meg tries this formula, and discovers that Mr. Brooke is far better at disciplining the children than she is. One night, when Meg plans a special evening for her and Mr. Brooke, Demi throws a tantrum and refuses to go to bed. Mr. Brooke is finally the only one able to tame the toddler. When he comes downstairs, he’s pleased to find that Meg tries to engage him in a conversation about politics. In turn, he asks her questions about the bonnet she’s working on.
Alcott’s assertion that men should be involved in their children’s upbringing is again feminist, insofar as it subverts the traditional role of the distant, unemotional father. Meg then works to please her husband by feigning an interest in politics.
Meg reveals to her husband that she’s trying to take Mrs. March’s advice, and Mr. Brooke is overjoyed. In the end, though experiments such as this, the Brooke household achieves happiness by increments. Meg thus learns that “a woman’s happiest kingdom is home.”
Ultimately, Little Women is a conservative text thanks to moments like this. The notion that women are happiest in the home is a patriarchal ideal.