Book Review: "Little Women" by Louisa May Alcott
Today I bring you another of my very much adored childhood readings.
The first time I read “Little women” was during my primary school years, so I could not be more than eight years old. The copy I read belonged to the Public Library, two blocks from my house, it was in Spanish and it only possessed the first part of the story. I did not purchase my own copy until I was in my late teens when I could enjoy it complete and in its original language.
“Little women,” tells the story of four young sisters during the years of the American Civil War. Their father is serving as a chaplain for the Union Army, far from home, while the girls stay at home with their mother.
The sisters are quite different from one another:
Margaret “Meg”, the older sister, wants to make a good marriage so she can live without worries, preoccupied only for enjoying herself. She is the most beautiful of the sisters and works as a governess for a rich family, a job she does not like. When the story starts she is seventeen.
Josephine “Jo”, of fifteen, dreams to be a great writer and travel around the world to have adventures. She is a tomboy and does not take great care on her aspect or manners, but she has a big heart and a cheerful disposition. Not remotely interested in anything that can be considered “ladylike”, Jo’s sharp tongue and short temper usually get her into trouble. She assists her old and grumpy great-aunt March to help her family financially.
Elizabeth, also called “Beth” or “Little tranquility” by her father is a shy girl of thirteen. Too timid to go to school, Beth stays at home and is taught by her father, and after he is gone to war, she tries to teach herself as well as she can. She is in charge of many housework activities but loves to play the piano more than anything else. Unlike her sisters, all who have dreams and plans for the future, Beth only wishes to stay at home and help to take care of the family.
Amy is only twelve, but very conscious of her own importance. She wants to be an artist when she grows up and is very good at drawing. Amy gives very much importance to her aspect and her biggest trial in life is her nose, which she does not consider pretty enough. Her manners and little airs can be petulant at times (Much to Jo’s irritation) so her mother and sisters try their best help her to correct herself.
Accompanying the March sisters’ adventures we found characters as endearing as their neighbor, rich Mr.Lawrence, his grandchild Laurie, Mr.Brooke, Laurie’s tutor, and of course, the beloved “Marmee” always willing to give help and advise to the ones who need it.
The novel centers in the troubles, dreams, and aspirations of the girls. The first part of the story shows their pass from childhood to adulthood, while the second, published sometimes under the title “Good Wives” allows us to see each one of them trying to cope with the responsibilities and desitions of the adult world and find their way in life.
I want to do something splendid before I go into my castle - something heroic or wonderful, that won’t be forgotten after I’m dead. I don’t know what, but I’m on the watch for it, and mean to astonish you all someday. I think I shall write books, and get rich and famous: that would suit me, so that’s my favourite dream."— Louisa May Alcott
Why should you be reading it?
Ever since its publication “Little women” has been described as a new kind of literature, a type of realism anticipated to its time. And today, a hundred and fifty years after its publication, it still is.
This book is directed to young people, the characters are teenagers, but it has something that novels for that public do not have nowadays. Our modern teen novels, always presenting a passionate love story between a shy and innocent girl and a bad boy who wears a leather jacket and is a vampire, a werewolf or a fallen angel can be entertaining enough for a quick read, but they completely lack any further message to the readers.
I think that at the moment it was written, the topic of different models of women may have called people’s attention. Jo’s character especially, not only for being rebellious or boyish but for her fierce independence. Times have changed, and nowadays most women are not unaware of their capacity, they are not afraid to be independent, and that is my reason to think that it is the time to notice another aspect of Jo’s story that has been much questioned.
Some readers have said that the second part of the novels only shows us the girls full of dreams of the beginning settling down and accepting life as it comes, leaving all their plans to waste. This remark is mostly made because of Jo, who at the end of “Good wives” is married and raizing children, working along with her husband in their school.
I do not agree with this view in the least: Even though the girls did not get things exactly as they pictured them when children, they found that what they used to dream was maybe not what would make them the happiest in the end. And I think that it is just part of the process of growing up: Realizing that being happy is not having everything you want, but knowing that everything you do have is worth it, that you have earned it, and that you love it, even if you have never thought you would want it in the first place.
Jo’s story is not a contradiction: Married or unmarried she will remain the same Jo. That is what I want to point. In the past, it was common for women to see marriage as their only possible goal in life, and for the ones that did not want it to be seen as odd or singular. But I think that what we are doing in the present is reversing the prejudice: Now women are expected to put their professional lives and independence first, and the ones that are house-wives or full-time mothers are looked down on.
Being a house-wife or raizing your own children are not things that you get paid for, but I would never say that they are not a job. I would never say that they made a woman be less intelligent or independent. There are women who dispose of a list of achievements and degrees, who are professionally successful but at the same time incapable of doing activities as simple as cooking a meal or washing their own clothes, or being mothers, do not know how to change a diaper. Do you see what I mean? Every time we master an ability we are leaving the learning of another one aside. It is a life choice, and it must be respected as such.
Coming back to Jo, she said that she wanted to do something very splendid with her life, do you really think that she did not? Taking care not only of her own children but of the ones who were sent to school, giving them all her love and being a friend and an example for them. Having also read “Little men” which narrates the life of Plumfield’s pupils, it was really touching to see the resemblance of adult Jo with her Marmee, who she admired so much.
There is one more thing about this novel that I would like to underline: Its continuous exposure of family values, absent in most of the literature’s modern pieces. Despite every difficulty they have to endure, the March family remains together. The closeness is evident not only between parents and children but among the sisters themselves. I have said before that they are very different and that they have their troubles and arguments, but even so, they share a lot of things. Jo and Beth’s relationship is surely the closest, and also my favorite one. Beth’s death is something I cry over every single time I read the book.
For all of the above, it is that I consider “Little women” to be a highly recommended book for all ages. And for the ones that think it to be “boring” (Because I have been told that), I ask you to reconsider your opinion and take a chance on Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy. Books like this one are not being written anymore.
If you liked my review on this book and are interested in purchasing it, you can do so at the link below.
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