Louisa May Alcott’s signature work, Little Women, is undeniably a classic. Though set in the mid-19th century, its themes and lessons are timeless, and its main characters unforgettable in the annals of great literature. It is, in fact, one of only two or three books ever to have brought a tear to my eye. Here I will expound upon this book, give a brief summary of what it is about, and explain just why I think it is a book everybody should read at least once.
Little Women is the story of the March girls growing up in the 1860’s in an unspecified New England town: Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy. Through the trials and tribulations of growing up poor with a father away serving in the Union Army, the four learn lessons in life and love under the guidance of their saint-like mother, known throughout as “Marmee”. In the course of the narrative, they make friends with other girls around town and, more importantly, the grandson of their wealthy neighbor, Mr. Lawrence.
Each of the girls has her own distinct personality and difficulties to confront. Meg (a.k.a. Margaret), the oldest, faces the troubles most common to adolescent girls: vanity, pride, love, and a certain envy of those better off than herself. Josephine (or Jo, most of the time) is an awkward, tomboyish misfit who must master her temper and flights of fancy in order to be there for her sisters when they need her most. Beth, the most angelic of the girls, is the perfect role model in some ways, though incredibly shy and later on sickly. Amy, the youngest, suffers from problems more common among school-age girls, such as jealousy, envy, and the troubles that can result from petty squabbles among classmates.
The first half of the book (the more interesting half by far) tends to rotate between the girls, spending each chapter on one particular episode in each one’s life and how they manage to get through with support from their sisters and mother. Occasionally all four will be involved at once, whether getting out of some problem or simply having as good a time as a family of “impoverished” (so they claim, though they seem to have it better off than some in the book, as the first chapter demonstrates) women in the 1860s could have.
The second part is admittedly harder to handle. There is less action, and far more preaching in the dialogues. At times, the authoress even sees the need to brush the characters and minimal plot aside in order to give a sermon directly to the audience. However, even this slow-moving, overly saccharine segment has its highlights. From the marriage of Meg and the ensuing matrimonial problems near the beginning to Beth’s tragic death near the middle and the final resolution of Jo’s problems at the end, there are emotional high and low points to be found throughout. And of course, plenty of solid moral lessons as well.
So, why would I recommend this book to everyone to read at some point? Why should even boys read a book called Little Women, when there is a separate book essentially written for them by the same hand called Little Men?
Well, first and foremost because it is a classic, and it is my opinion that everyone should be exposed to as many of those as possible at least once, even if they never revisit it again. After all, thanks to the authoress’s almost complete brushing aside of the events and now outmoded technologies of the time, the story could just as easily take place today as in the 1860s. Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, because I believe that the Christian moral principles espoused within are equally timeless. Lessons on materialism, confronting our innermost fears and demons, friendship, love, and other such important matters are just as relevant today as then, if not more so. And just because this book was written as a guide for girls on how to become good and proper adults does not make it any less accessible to boys. I myself read it at the age of 16, and enjoyed it very much.
So, there you have it: my take on Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, for what it’s worth. What do you think? Have you perhaps read this book before? If so, do you agree with my points? Disagree? I would be glad to hear your take in either case.