Book: Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Date finished: 2/13/2010
I have a vivid memory of sitting on the couch with my mom when I was a little girl reading Little Women together. My parents made sure that classics were always in our house and the copy of Little Women we were reading was part of our Reader’s Digest paperback collection for children. I’m sure my brother was there when we were reading this book (I’d sat through some of his selections), but in my memories, I don’t remember him being there.
I think that’s because at its core, Little Women is a novel about womanhood and the bond between a woman and her daughters. It’s the women who take the forefront in this novel; women who make the important decisions; and men who are vital but also sometimes peripheral. First published in two parts, part one is almost primarily the story of Marmee and her daughters who are making it all on their own (with the help of Hannah) without a man to take care of them, since Mr. March has gone away as a chaplain during the Civil War. Theodore Laurence and his grandfather enter the storyline, but the first section of the book is more about how the March family affects and changes the Laurences than anything else.
The second half of the book is three years later and follows the girls’ lives. Meg is newly married and becomes a new mother; Jo goes away to New York City, earns a living, and writes scandalous stories; Amy travels abroad; Beth keeps the home fires burning even as her health fades. I think this novel is a classic because there’s a part of each of us that relates to each of the March daughters: we desire to be practical and pretty like Meg; outspoken and brave like Jo; beautiful and genteel like Amy, and hardworking, admirable, and faithful like Beth. I dare to say I would be bored with a book that just centered on one of the sisters, but it’s the interplay between all four that make the novel complete and a classic.
When I first started re-reading this book, I wasn’t very impressed with the opening chapters. They weren’t boring, but nothing much happened and I felt like the writing as sometimes a bit stilted and the dialogue strained. But as I continued to read, I found myself longing to read more, wanting to know what was happening with my friends. I cringed at Meg’s first arguments with her husband and cheered Marmee’s advice. I understood Jo’s pain when she told Laurie she didn’t love him the way he loved her and admired her bravery. I understood Jo’s sisterly affection and service to her dying sister and found myself crying when Beth died. I smiled from ear-to-ear when Laurie came to comfort Amy after Beth’s death and the two finally figured out they were in love.
When I came to the end of the book and gazed upon the scene Louisa May Alcott set for me—Marmee’s 60th birthday, all her daughters gathered with the memory of their beloved Beth always on their hearts, their husbands and children surrounding them with chatter, songs, sorrows, and strengths—all I could think was that Alcott had written the perfect ending and was giving me one last glimpse of my friends. Each daughter expresses her love for her mother; each discusses how differently their lives turned out than what they had planned. And each attests that in the end, the plan that God set before them was the right one—complete with its burdens and its overwhelming joys. And so, the book ends just as it began, with a mother surrounded by her daughters whose contentment isn’t solely dependent upon the things that money can buy or this world can offer.