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The Inheritance is a beautiful story book tale spun with all the irony and innocence of Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty. Written by Louisa May Alcott, at age seventeen, it presents one of the only classics created by a teenager. Although some may only read this novel due to the popularity of the author and her other works, many will be pleasantly surprised at the talent contained in the pages. This talent in Alcott's The Inheritance is manifested in the areas of character, theme, and irony. Character is such an important part of a novel because a character can influence so much of what a reader thinks and feels. Edith Adelon, is a poor orphan living as a companion to a rich girl, Amy Hamilton, on a vast English estate.
She is pretty, sweet, and well loved by everyone in the house including Lady Hamilton, her daughter Amy, and her son Arthur. Although the reader is led to love this beautiful girl, one cannot ignore the sadness and shyness that surrounds her. As the novel unfolds, hints are given concerning Edith's complex personality. She is described as a girl, beautiful indeed, but a deep sadness seemed to shadow her pale face. The sunlight that shone softly on her rich, dark hair, folded round her drooping head, fell also on bright tears in the large, mournful eyes, which looked so sadly at the happy group beyond. Her painting lay before her, but the brushes were untouched and she seemed lost in lonely thoughts (Alcott 3 - 4).
No one listens as raptly to Edith's history as Lord Percy, the family friend that has come to visit the Hamilton's. He is awestruck by her beauty and gentle in the manner in which he attempts to open her up and understand her. Lord Percy silently studied the various characters around him, and in the pure, pale face of [Edith] he found a charm that daily pleased him more and more, for in it he could read the history of a gentle, patient heart (Alcott 14). The intricacy and lovableness of the character of Edith causes anyone to enjoy her role in this novel. The theme is also a complex part of this novel. The major theme identified in The Inheritance is that of good vs.
evil. Cousin Ida, a rich young relative of the Hamilton's is on an extended visit with the family. She resents Edith's beauty and charm because Ida wants Lord Percy to admire and marry her. Idas disdain of Edith is evidenced when she bitterly states, You are young and lovely, and in spite of poverty and humble birth, you win respect and admiration from those above you. You have no right to stand between me and my happiness as you do, and I hate you for it (Alcott 50). Ida feels that Edith is undeserving of the Hamilton's' love and is disgusted when she is treated with respect when she, in Idas mind, is only a servant.
To get rid of the perceived threat of Edith, Ida tries to cast bad light on the girls character and accused her of stealing. Edith represents all that is good and honest, while Ida is the epitome of evil and deceitfulness. In this novel, many of the other characters are categorized into either evil or good. The last literary device included in this novel is the use of irony.
The irony of the story is realized when Edith discovers a document containing a surprising secret. Evidently, Edith's father was actually the deceased Lord Hamilton's brother and she is his heir entitled to the entire Hamilton estate. At first, Edith is elated. She knows that she can marry Lord Percy and that she cannot be looked down upon because she is in the same class as her friends. Yet the more she thinks about is the more she regrets the others finding out. She does not want to take away the estate from the kind Hamilton's and she would rather just enjoy knowing she is part of a real family.
Therefore she attempts to burn the will and sacrifices her dreams for the sake of her beloved family. This decision is described as a struggle in that gentle heart, which cared little for wealth but longed so earnestly for love and kindness and so sadly felt the sorrow of a lonely life, but still strong and deep lay her fadeless gratitude. Silently she put away the bright dreams she had cherished and banished from her lonely bosom all the sweet hopes she had made of tenderness and joy. Placing the papers in her desk, she hastened out to finish the great sacrifice she had begun (Alcott 110). Lord Percy, however, through the help of other sympathetic characters finds out the truth and reveals Edith's true birth to the Hamilton's. Lord Percy declares, She knew that if she claimed it, you were poor, and she would silently destroy all proof of her high birth, and with a noble womans truest love, has chosen poverty and the wealth of a sinless heart and put aside all earthly riches, showing us the holiest gratitude and how deeply we have wronged her (Alcott 138).
Together the family approaches Edith humbly, and the facts come out. The tearful discussion ends as everyone agrees to keep the situation almost exactly as before. Edith will live happily with the family as a trusted daughter and Ida is dismissed as a thief and a liar. In conclusion, The Inheritance has merit as a classic, not through the name of the author, but in its own right as an example of character, theme, and irony.
Although it is been called Alcott's forgotten work, it is extremely difficult to forget the strong and sweet heroine. Ironically, because this was Alcott's first book, it was written with the least experience, yet it has such a very intriguing plot. As a result of this first attempt of writing, a foundation and inspiration might have been laid for Alcott's other novels. These famous works could very well owe some credit to The Inheritance and its basis in Alcott's writing.
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