* CONTAINS SPOILERS
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott follows the lives of the four March sisters growing up in Massachusetts during the 19th century. In the story, the sisters learn to cope with their family’s poverty and each other’s very different personalities. With the guidance of their mother, known as Marmee, the sisters learn to accept themselves, strive for what matters most to them in life and discover how rich they are in family and friendship. It’s a gushingly sweet family drama.
Keeping in mind that Little Women was written for young girls, I thought the book was inspiring and full of excellent advice for even not-so-little women. Yes, sometimes the lectures are grating, especially when the speaker can’t get to the point, but I didn’t mind the life lessons woven into the story. For me, the strongest feature of the book and what I think captures the reader’s heart about Little Women is the characters. It is hard not to like Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy, and to relate to their struggle to reconcile their desires with the limited opportunities available to women of their time and financial situation. You can’t help but smile at their joy and sigh at their sorrow.
As a character-driven book, here are some thoughts on the main players:
Mrs. March – Maybe it’s because I’m way past the age of the March sisters and have my own family now, but I wasn’t particularly drawn to any of the sisters. I enjoyed their individual journeys into womanhood, but didn’t feel their pain like I might have twenty years ago. I actually gravitated the most towards Marmee and her constant maternal presence. I liked that she admits that it was not an easy path to becoming the wise and calm mother the girls cherish. She made plenty of mistakes along the way and still continues to struggle with her temper and patience.
Jo March – I think most readers love Jo because she embodies the kind of girl many of us would like to be at her age. Not average or one of the crowd, not afraid or insecure. She is brave, funny, driven and confident. She wants to embrace her uniqueness and do something different with her life. You can’t help admiring her intelligence and creativity, the hard work to become a serious writer, an occupation I’m sure many of us bookworms also dreamed of growing up.
Meg March – I enjoyed Meg’s story because I have also in my youth tried to keep up with the Joneses (or Sally Moffats) and felt inadequate because I didn’t have the money to keep up with the latest fashion. I also related to Meg’s conflict with Mr. Brooks when domestic life and raising a family took over her marriage. I understood how hard it was for Meg to swallow her pride and find a way to make changes.
Beth March – When I first watched the 1992 movie, I cried during Beth’s death scene, especially when Claire Dane croaks she’s not afraid to die. But I didn’t feel anything for Beth reading the book because you don’t get to know her like Meg, Jo or Amy. She is merely a ghost floating around and whispering how unimportant she is in comparison to her sisters.
Amy March – I could never feel bad for Amy in the story because she seemed destined for good things whether it was getting the turquoise ring, the trip to Europe, the natural beauty and sophistication, or marrying Laurie. Maybe I also can’t forgive her for burning Jo’s manuscript!
A quick shout out to two other characters: First, I really loved Laurie and was as deeply invested in his happiness as much as the March sisters. I thought his loyalty and devotion to the March family was incredibly sweet. Ugh, Jo! How could you pass him over? Second, I couldn’t help noticing Mr. March, who probably should have been the most important male in the lives of the March sisters, was barely present in the book. Every now and then he would say something paternal, but we don’t really get to know him. I know more about Laurie’s crusty grandfather than the father of our heroines.
In conclusion, I thought Little Women was a character-driven book that offers some wholesome advice wrapped up in a romantic family story. I do have some grievances with the book, namely a chapter full of ridiculous baby talk and an ending brimming with so much sweet joy I became nauseous … just to name a few minor things because it really is a wonderful book. Plus I don’t understand how the book is associated with Christmas. Does it have anything to do with the fact it is a story about obtaining, not wealth or status, but a good and virtuous character? Or learning that the most important thing in life is not material things, but the love of family and friends? Dwelling on some of the themes in the book, it does sound a lot like the meaning of Christmas!