My children’s lit class has progressed through fairy tales, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan (in the edition that is a play) and is now focused on Little Women. I first read Little Women when I was twelve or thirteen. That was the first time that I realized the term classic did not translate to boring. I was looking forward to reading this most loved American novel again and wondered if the magic would still be there…it is!
Little Women can be read as an engaging family novel. Set during the Civil War, it chronicles the March family. Marmee is wise and always eager to provide moments of learning for her daughters, Father is a man who does his duty, even when it is inconvenient and then there are the girls Meg, Jo, Amy and Beth. Each has her own personality and struggles. Most readers have a favorite March sister, who was yours? For me, it used to be Jo but this time around I found it more difficult to choose.
I had forgotten that Alcott can be very funny. The scenes of Meg’s early marital life and her jam disaster show the humorous side of the expectations in relationships. Jo, who was modeled on the author is an iconic character who represents the possibility of independence for young girls, in an era when marriage was generally expected. This time around, I was more aware of how Amy grows over the course of the novel. I enjoyed reading about her travels in Europe. Beth, deeply loved by most readers, is present in her quite quiet and loving way.
Of course there are many more characters including the irrepressible Laurie and Grandfather March. The community also comes to life with its schools, festivals, parties and daily life.
According to my professor, the novel reflects a progressive ideology, including being anti-slavery and in favor of education reform. It reflects the circle of Bronson Alcott, Emerson, etc. with an emphasis on self-reliance, open mindedness and empathy. Becoming a “good Christian woman” is emphasized and reflects the values of the time.
If you have not read Little Women, I recommend that you do. If you have a daughter, suggest it to her. She will identify with the girls as may you; you may also be inspired by Marmee’s parenting. If you have read the novel, think of the joys of reading it again.
Please let me know your thoughts about LW. I would love to hear them.