I read Little Women by Louise May Alcott as a kid; one could say I knew the story long before I read it because there were two anime versions of the story that I grew up with. One dates from 1981
and the other from 1986
I must have read it for the first time around 1989. There was no analysis of the book for me at the time; I enjoyed their adventures and it was great to read such a big book. It must have been one of the first full novels I read. To this day, Beth’s death and how it takes its toll on Jo specifically gets me. I remember crying the first time I read the book and it still gets me teary-eyed.
So Little Women follows the March sisters as they grow up and make their way into the world, along their friendly neighbour Teddy Lawrence. When we meet them, Margaret – Meg – is 16, Josephine – Jo – is 15, Elizabeth – Beth – is 13 and Amy is 12. By the end of the book over 10 years have passed (Jo is 25 when she accepts Friedrich Bhaer’s proposal and the last chapter seems to indicated another few years have passed).
I reread the book for this challenge and while I still find the writing and the story enjoyable overall, the book doesn’t speak to me as much as it used to. The archetypes each of the girls represent don’t really speak to me anymore and I find the end of each of their storyline well… disappointing.
This is not the first book I read (notably for this challenge) where the final and only choice for a woman is to get married (Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte) but somehow this one seemed less acceptable to me. I think it’s because the characters are presented with passions, desires for themselves and what they want their lives to be; and in the end, they all relinquish these to be married. Except Beth, but that’s because she dies. As sad as Beth’s death is, I still find it very insidious within the context of the discourse.
I may be reading more into the book than Alcott intended and I’d be lying if I said it has nothing to do with the results in the USA elections. Anyway, none of the three other sisters really follow through with their dreams.
Meg keeps feeling guilty about wanting beautiful things; sure it may sound as a shallow dream, but still. Her ‘gift’ is beauty and in a way her desire to dress nicely, like Sally Moffat, is to fulfill that gift, but she doesn’t. She relies entirely on her husband to bring home the money even though she did work as a governess prior to her marriage.
Jo eventually stops writing. Somehow for her to write stories for the purpose of making money is objectionable. It seems somewhat hypocritical since writers need to be paid. At that time writers were paid by the word when they published in newspaper and that’s why we have such long novels as Les Miserables with many digressions and added information. Why would it be ok for men but not for women? And as far as we know, once she’s married Jo stops writing to focus on more womanly purposes like teaching at a school. At least she retains a job.
Amy on the other hand is a gifted painter. Unlike Jo she doesn’t seek to earn money with her art but just to paint, for the pleasure of it. However when she realizes she is no genius she stops really caring; once she marries, she stops altogether. Apart from the fact that it validates the idea that being successful – at anything – doesn’t take any type of work, it’s sad.
It doesn’t take away from the writing, which is agreeable and makes for a nice reading. The girls’ quirks are funny and believable – who can forget Amy’s desire for a lovely nose and what lengths she goes to obtain it?
I guess the two most valuable lessons in the book for me are the fact that money doesn’t make one happy and that family is extremely important.
The first one can be found in every major character of the story: Mr. and Mrs. March, Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy and the Lawrences, as well as Mr. Brook and Mr. Bhaer.
The latter tells us how sticking together particularly during tough times will make the difficulties easier to bear. For all that they argue, as siblings are wont to do, there’s a true loving relationship between the girls and they support each other through the difficult times.
That sense of loyalty and love for one’s family I can relate to. There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for my siblings and parents if ever the need arose.
Little Women had a big impact on me as a kid – not surprisingly I related to Jo the most – and even a teenager (I loved the 1990s movie with S. Sarandon, W. Rider and C. Danes among others). And I think it’s a great book for any girl (or boy for that matter) to read; there are valuable lessons to learn. A must-read if only to read from a critical perspective.
Have you read Little Women?
What did you think of it?