The (little) women of the March family have held the standard for female awesomeness in classic literature since Moll Flanders or Jane Eyre. They run the gamut – quiet Beth, willful Amy, vivacious Jo, accomplished Meg, and all held together by the masterful Marmee – but they are all equally comprised of both failings and triumphs. But through fights, poverty, death, and marriage, they stay together and strong. Originally published in 1868 by Louisa May Alcott, Little Women is followed by two sequels: Little Men, and Jo’s Boys. The 1994 movie version is worth a look as well!
One of the most engaging attributes of the book is that it traces the lives of the sisters from adolescence to maturity, and readers are brought along as the girls learn about the world and about themselves. Jo grows in her writing and her confidence, Meg in her aspirations and love, Beth her quiet strength, and Amy from impetuous girl to self-aware woman. It’s not an easy or painless road, but it doesn’t beat down any of them. Rather, it guides them to re-examine their values and to decide what is really most important.
My copy of Little Women bears an inscription to my mother from her 6th grade teacher in 1967, which stands testament to both the importance and accessibility of this book. The struggles that the Marches face – peer pressure, sexism, poverty, loss of a loved one – remain contemporary today, and the age and personality range of the sisters ensures that each reader will find something familiar to grab onto. For me, it was the passionate (some might say rash) natures of Amy and Jo that provided endless entertainment: waltzing in the burned dress, buying limes, selling hair, suffering crotchety Aunt March, their artistic aspirations and dealings with Laurie. They are unfailing in their self-certainty, whether they be wrong or right, and never ever docile. But I’ve also been shy Beth or let vanity get the best of me like Meg.
The most important point that this book makes is that even if you have the best of intentions, you will make some pretty terrible mistakes in your life. It’s inevitable, and the only thing you can do is to pick up the pieces and keep going on. For the March sisters, they always have each other to help and to offer advice in future. Never let it be said that the girls let their circumstances get them down. Women they are all, but “little” they are not!