Special thanks to Sarina Byron, a new BSR contributor who wrote this great review! Sarina is a British Author and Contributing Writer living in California. Sarina enjoys bringing forth a different perspective and encouraging a different way of thinking through her writing. Visit her blog to read her reviews, and check the end of the review for a link to her Instagram.
When I read Little Women at 8 years of age, I learnt valuable lessons about being good. When I read it again at 19, I learnt how to handle ambitions and aspirations. Now, as I read it again at 33, I have learnt how willpower exceeds all parenting and one can only inspire by example. Most of all, though, this time around I wondered how Ms Alcott did not find it tiresome to spend her days inside the head of girls ranging from 9 to 16 in age.
Recalling one’s experiences at that age is one thing, but spending day after day in the head of little girls quite another. Considering the printed version is a beautiful balance of everyday and extraordinary situations, tender feelings, kind intentions, savoury and unsavoury emotions, and reckless words, one wonders if an edifying manual such as this could have been written without experiencing some of the conditions first hand.
See what you make of what you read below, and should that inspire you to pick up the book, let me know if you agree with seeing the author in our beloved Jo.
“What a pleasant life she might have if she only chose.” Louisa M. Alcott
Choices, choices. We fight hard to uphold a system that retains our right to make choices for ourselves; nonetheless, we find making certain choices a hard task. We know we are meant to choose integrity, grace, kindness, hard work, and gratitude. But which of us has not considered the opposite sometimes? Heart-warmingly, the characters in the book—both male and female—demonstrate with candour the trying choices with which they are faced. One cannot help noticing how different the trials, triumphs, and tribulations of each of the sisters are. Unlike sisters in real life that share some interests and behaviours, the March sisters are diametric opposites bound together only by an overdeveloped conscience, which could be attributed to their assiduous parents.
Bien sur, this is what makes the book as gripping as it is. Everyone finds themselves in one of the characters and can cringe and revel in the rejoicings or exertions of their chosen one. Meg offers us her experiences as a governess and her longing for the splendour of all things past. Jo generously shares her deepest desire, that she were a boy so she could dress like a boy, which suited her outfit preferences much more. She also wished she didn’t have to abide by the silly rules of propriety to which the young women of the time were bound. Beth, well Beth is most content in her little world but wishes to get better at playing the piano every day. Last of all, a “most important person, at least in her own eyes,” Amy aspires to have a perfect vocabulary, aristocratic nose, and an even better wardrobe.
“Whilst we wait, we may all work, so that these hard days need not to be wasted.” Mrs. March
Little Women brings together time periods from as far back as 1678 when The Pilgrim’s Progress, the book that inspired the March sisters’ daily lives was first published to 1868, in which the book is set, to now, when the book is still a favourite in literary circles. I was convinced when I re-read Little Women today amidst much conversation about gender fluidity, binary and non-binary identification, having women in powerful positions, and the stigma of mental health that more than one situation in the book may seem archaic. Inspecting each situation and counsel given to the characters, this does not hold true in most situations.
There is no mention of different rules or consequences for boys and girls, but there is a laser sharp focus on remaining true to one’s journey to the “The Celestial City.” The girls gladly include Laurie in this voyage and diligently help him find his way back when he sways. If anything, their idyllic, virtue-bound existence makes them aspirational. The balance could have easily tipped into irritating if the author neglected to share the characters’ true feelings with us.
“Never think it impossible to conquer your faults.” Mrs. March
Unlike most protagonists of today, the girls share the depths of their darkest desires, going so far as burning a sister’s life’s work (as Amy did), neglecting to give safety advice to Amy (as she followed Jo and Laurie to the frozen lake), allowing others to dress her up to feel fashionable (as Meg did), and not realising how blessed she was in having the luxury to feel shy (as Beth did when she saw a poor lady begging for fish).
The characters shared their true motivations behind every decision, making the book all the more meaningful. One never gets the feeling of being preached at by some demigod. Rather, every annoyance is deeply felt by the reader as it is by the character. After all, can a pretty girl like Meg who has grown up in the lap of luxury resist being dressed up in borrowed finery when visiting with the Moffats?
Meg had the misfortune of remembering what the good times felt like, which made her burden even heavier. She resented working for the Kings and desperately wanted pretty things like the girls she met at the parties. Her mother’s sage advice that money was not all that mattered crumbled like a buttery pie crust in her mind when confronted with a silk dress. But all the characters in the book teach us to try, try until we succeed or at least until we feel better.
“Conceit spoils the finest genius.” Mrs. March
Surely with such determination to be good, the girls ought to have developed some amount of conceit. As always, Ms Alcott does not disappoint. She allows us to partake in situations when the girls suffer setbacks on account of their conceit or suffer a blow to their vanity. At Laurie’s picnic with his English friends, Miss Kate immediately changed her friendly manner to that of condescension when she realised Meg was employed as a governess. This was not the worst slight Meg had suffered. The Moffats’ judgment of her friendship with Laurie was surely worse, but this was more keenly felt as Meg herself disliked her occupation. The author must have strong feelings about this, too, as she was quick to point out for all her talk about being well-versed in German, Kate’s reading of German lacked all oratory skills.
Perhaps the most telling was the week when all four girls decided they would not like to do any chores and simply enjoy themselves. Each assumed herself so deserving of a complete devotion to her talents that no one spared a single thought about who would pick up the load they were laying down. As our experience of the chapter revealed, a most valuable lesson was learnt in the process. Actions have consequences and one is never free of the responsibility of the consequences of our actions. This lesson was learnt by the March girls and the reader alike.
Set in the backdrop of the American Civil War, Little Women brings our attention to the war within. The war to remain true to ourselves, to have a purpose at all times, to make sure we do something for others, to repel temptations that contrast with our values, and to always remain cheerful and grateful.
Let us know what you think about this review of Little Women and Sarina’s great review in the comments! No spoilers on this page, please!
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