Thousands of people the world over know and love Louisa May Alcott’s classic story of sisterhood, Little Women. But what not as many people know is Alcott wrote a follow-up book called Little Men. (There is also Jo’s Boys, but I won’t be getting into that travesty in this article.) Little Men follows the various adventures and mishaps of the young students at Jo Bhaer’s country school, Plumfield. One of these boys, Daniel Kean (‘Dan’), has become my favorite fictional character and I’m here to tell you why.
My first introduction to Dan came when my mom read Little Men aloud to me and my siblings. I remember that experience vividly. It was difficult to like Dan at first (and probably will be for any future readers). Alcott describes him as ‘a most unprepossessing boy’ who ‘slouch[es] in’ and has a ‘half bold, half sullen look.’ Dan quickly lives up to the title Alcott gives him—he’s definitely a ‘firebrand’ in that he turns the gentle, quiet world of Plumfield on its head (and eventually, literally sets it on fire). His worst offense comes when he persuades a few of the younger boys to drink alcohol, smoke cigars, play cards, and swear. After that, they send Dan away from Plumfield.
Not the greatest character intro, right? So why is Dan my favorite fictional character?
Well, to begin with, he returns to Plumfield. He comes back, half-lame, exhausted and repentant, and hoping against hope to find a welcome there. After a (very slight) hesitation, the Bhaers accept him back into their midst. That is where Dan really changes. He isn’t perfect (perfect characters are dull anyway) but the best part about him is he tries to do good. Before, he literally looked for bad things to do to test and try the Bhaers—but that was all reversed once they accepted him unconditionally.
There’s really no better way to describe Dan’s change of heart and mind than to talk about the incident of the stolen quarters. The chapter that deals with this event was what first captured my interest as a child, listening to my mom read. The memory of it was what made me seek out Little Men as a teenager, read it, and really fall in love with Dan. It’s what made him become my favorite fictional character.
A quick setting of the scene: one of the students, Tommy, leaves four of his quarters lying out in the barn. Another student, Nat, is falsely accused of the crime. Nat is a good friend of Dan’s and, when the students treat Nat with suspicion and dislike, Dan confesses to the crime to take all of that distrust on himself. The only catch? Dan didn’t take the quarters any more than Nat did. He willingly endures shame and averted eyes and scorn from the other boys. He takes responsibility for the theft, even though it means disappointing the only people he respects in the world. All so that Nat won’t be accused and despised anymore.
I won’t tell you the outcome of the whole thing, in case you read the book, but it is a happy one for Dan. And he continues to mature and grow and become an even better person throughout the rest of Little Men.
This all brings me to why I like Dan so much: he’s a perfect example of a well-written redemption arc. (Which is my favorite plot device/character arc.) So many of my favorite fictional characters go through this arc—Edmund Pevensie being probably the most famous of them all. Dan’s character development and growth was the first redemption arc I ever really knew of; through all this time it’s remained my favorite. And so has he.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Eva-Joy Schonhaar is an aspiring author who has written several novels and hopes to be published some day soon. She’s a Christian fangirl who drinks insane amounts of coffee, thinks that chocolate chip cookies solve pretty much everything, and always uses the Oxford Comma. In her spare time she can be found geeking out over superheroes and reading The Hunger Games for the millionth time.