In rereading the classic texts from my childhood, I experienced anger, surprise, and curiosity. I was angry that my beloved heroines did not live according to my 21st century definitions of fulfillment and self-empowerment, surprised that I never noticed the historical differences and restrictions before, and curious about what further investigation of women's opportunities during these times would reveal. This curiosity is what led me to apply Adrienne Rich's definition of "re-vision" to Patricia Meyer Spacks' definition of rereading. Reading additional literary theories and critics focused my approach to the texts and led me to the possibility that women could indeed achieve self-actualization during these times: more specifically, the possibility for the heroines of my childhood books to achieve self-actualization exists. In this project, I have attempted to discover what these protagonists need to achieve self-actualization, and I have placed my analysis of childhood heroines' ability to live to their highest potential (self-actualization) within the community of criticism surrounding these texts. Incorporating the works of landmark feminists critics (for example, Gilbert and Gubar and Rich) as well as more recent feminists (Spacks), non-feminists (Moretti) and critics specific to each text, I have attempted to create a balanced and nuanced analysis of female self-actualization in Little Women, the Anne of Green Gables series, and the Little House books. Previous feminist criticisms specific to each text favor exposing the restrictions of patriarchal society; in doing so, redemption or fulfillment for women is often overlooked or downplayed. What I hope I have done is approach these topics not with a naive ignorance of the restrictions facing these heroines during the 19th century but with a guarded and informed optimism that the strong female characters of my childhood have the ability to find fulfillment in their lives. By following the lives of three female protagonists, Jo March, Anne Shirley, and Laura Ingalls, I have reread these texts in order to better understand myself and my identification with these heroines. A contemporary woman needs to be aware of the still-imposing structures of patriarchal society, and in order to be aware, a woman must also be informed about her past: as Adrienne Rich says, "until we can understand the assumptions in which we are drenched we cannot know ourselves" (190). Understanding the assumptions built into the literature of my childhood, I can become not only a better reader, but also a better woman defining self-actualization in the twenty-first century.


Foster, Travis




Women's Studies

Publication Date


Degree Granted

Bachelor of Arts

Document Type

Senior Independent Study Thesis



© Copyright 2012 Elizabeth Mady