Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Published: 2006, Borders Classics (Originally 1868 and 1869)
Genre: Classic Literature
I want to do something splendid...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.
Sisters Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy March are trying to make the most of their current situation. Their father is fighting for the Union in the Civil War, leaving them at home with their mother, affectionately referred to as Marmee. Their wartime lives have required a lot of sacrifices, including their first Christmas without the promise of presents. The sisters are resilient, however, full of love and creativity, and make the most of those difficult years and the many changes they experience as they grow from young teenagers into women.
Something about the Autumn air always puts me in the mood for classic literature. Earlier this past season I was looking for something from my shelves and found my copy of Little Women. I’d read an abridged version when I was younger and of course have seen the 1994 film version (more than once), but I’d never read the full-length novel, so I figured now was as good a time as any to do so.
Little Women is very much a product of its time, didactic and moral-driven, with a focus on young women learning how to be the best they can possibly be. Each of the sisters has her unique share of flaws, but by the end each one has also learned how to handle her worst aspects and become the sort of woman who will make both her parents proud. Tomboyish Jo’s transition into a more respectable woman is the hardest one to witness, but fortunately there are still traces of that Jo in the Jo at the end. At times the focus on morality feels a bit heavy-handed, but by and large the novel’s charm easily makes up for those parts.
And this is a very charming novel. Witnessing the love that the sisters have for one another, for their parents, and for their neighbors Mr. Laurence and his grandson Laurie is heartwarming, as is their general mentality to make the most out of whatever unpleasant difficulties may be thrown their way.
Little Women is essentially a coming of age story, but the focus is on four distinct individuals. As I mentioned above, their growth is primarily demonstrated through their ability to cope with their flaws. For Meg, that means she learns to become less vain. For Jo, that means she learns how to balance her male desires with her more feminine side. For Beth, that means she overcomes her timidity and accepts her importance within her family. For Amy, that means she becomes less bratty and more humble. Best of all, each sister’s growth is in many ways due to her sisters’ help.
Where the story falters the most is probably in the romance. Three of the four sisters end up married by the end of the novel, and none of the romances felt entirely believable. Meg’s romance is the most demonstrative of the time, so that one I had the least amount of problems with. Both Jo’s and Amy’s romances, however, felt underdeveloped and ill-fitting, at least in my mind. But fortunately the romance is only a small aspect of the changes these sisters undergo over the course of fifteen or so years.
For its focus on the ups and downs of sisterhood alone, Little Women is well worth a read. It’s a little story, never aspiring to do anything else than relate the growth of these four sisters and the people whose lives they affect, and yet there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s the sort of story readers will close in contentment, with a smile on their faces.
Rating: 4 stars