Eckley Scholar Megan Baker ’21 Decodes Queerness within Little Women
Oct. 16, 2020
BLOOMINGTON, Ill. — Through her summer-long research as a 2020 Eckley Scholar, Megan
Baker ’21 offers a new interpretation for the unconventional female protagonist of
Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, one that highlights the long-standing exploration of queerness within classic literature.
The 2019 film adaption of Alcott’s novel prompted Baker, a senior English literature and political science double major, to delve into the question of Jo March’s gender
identity by closely scrutinizing the source material. “Scholars and readers have called
Jo a tomboy, a feminist, and a modern girl,” Baker explained. “But these readers have
missed something vital in the novel, the fact that Jo is persistently and insistently
The assertion that Jo March's masculinity is more complicated than her simply being
a tomboy formed the foundation of Baker's research. She analyzed the novel and previous
scholarship on Jo March, outlined her argument in great depth, and wrote multiple
drafts to refine her ideas.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Baker collaborated remotely with her faculty sponsor
Molly Robey, an experience that was unusual but enriching nevertheless. “When she
agreed to be my faculty sponsor, I knew this project would be successful. It meant
so much to me that she saw the potential in my ideas and wanted to help make the project
Baker’s work demonstrates that writers and thinkers of the past grappled with many
of the same questions about gender identity that still permeate our society today.
“Through the exploration of gender in Alcott’s novel, we find that Little Women demonstrates a fluid, open understanding of femininity and masculinity, and how they
are performed in men and women alike,” said Baker.
The hallmark of an Eckley Fellowship is the opportunity for students to pursue a scholarly
question outside the classroom walls, and for Baker, this freedom led to personal
intellectual growth. “This wasn’t for a class, there was no prompt, no rubric, no
expectations outside of what I envisioned,” said Baker. “That is invigorating and
terrifying. But this experience helped me grow as a writer, a reader, and a scholar.”