Let me start this out by saying: if you don’t like Little Women, you can just show yourself the door. And then come right back in again, because I need to convince you how wonderful Little Women is.
Little Women is and will always be one of my favorite books, and not just because of the 1994 film version (although it is partly because of the film—be still, my Christian-Bale-as-Laurie loving heart). Little Women is the story of sisters Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy. Each of the sisters has a distinct personality, which makes it very easy for you to ponder which one you identify with, Baby-sitters Club-character-style. Are you like Meg (beautiful, calm, and ladylike)? Like Jo (clumsy, strong, independent, and a writer)? Like Beth (selfless, shy, and unbelievably good)? Or like Amy (a bit snobby, aristocratic and in pursuit of high society)? Let’s face it…if you’re reading this, you’re probably like Jo.
The girls live with their mother, the saintly Marmee, while their father is off at war. We see them through their childhood tribulations, illness, death, marriage, children and everything else. Usually I say more about the book before launching into the highlights, but you know what? This whole book is a highlight. These are just my favorite parts, but rest assured, the entire book is amazing.
-First things first: Jo March is the greatest female character ever. I fully intend to name my hypothetical future daughter Josephine, and I will constantly screech “Josey-pheen!” like I’m crazy Aunt March. Jo doesn’t fit into the traditional female roles of the time. Instead of wanting to look pretty, keep a home and get married, Jo wants to write. She starts selling her stories, even when this sometimes involves publishing them anonymously (Jo March gots to get paid). She goes to New York all by herself and lives in a boarding house—I mean, I probably wouldn’t have the courage to do that in 2012, let alone in the 1860s. Jo even turns down the most eligible bachelor around—-her best friend, Laurie-—because she knows that marrying him isn’t the right decision.
-Speaking of that, how traumatized were you when Jo and Laurie didn’t end up together? This is something that, up until very recently, seemed to me a travesty on par with Andie choosing Blaine over Duckie in Pretty in Pink. I’ll admit that my devastation was at least partially (okay, mostly) because I was still thinking of Laurie as Christian Bale. That floppy hair! Re-reading Little Women, though, I was surprised that I totally understood why Jo had to turn him down. As Marmee tells her, they’re both too hot-tempered to be happy together. Jo was true to herself, and she didn’t just marry someone for money or because she merely liked him. She went after what she really wanted.
-Although Louisa May Alcott based much of Little Women on her own life, she apparently wasn’t the biggest fan of the book. She only wrote it because she was asked, and even then she didn’t enjoy it. Your toil is our gain, Louisa.
-The parties the girls went to seem totally exciting and also totally stressful. Like a high school prom, but times a million. There were just too many things to be concerned about. Like, you had to wear gloves. Gloves! And Jo’s dress was burned on the back because she always stood too close to the fire, so she had to keep her back to the wall while at the party. And remember how Jo burned off a chunk of Meg’s hair? Jo burned so many things, she was practically a pyromaniac.
-In my opinion, John Brooke (Meg’s eventual husband) was a totally underrated love interest. I know everyone (including me) is all “Laurie this, Laurie that,” but John Brooke was kind of a babe. Okay, so maybe I’m just thinking of the movie again, and my weird, seems-kind-of-inappropriate crush on Eric Stoltz. Either way, John Brooke was dedicated to Meg, he didn’t give up and he was determined to make an honest living for his family. Was he a little bit of a jerk that time Meg didn’t want his friend to come over for dinner because she ruined a batch of jelly and made a mess in the kitchen? Yes, he was. But Meg forgave him and so do I! John Brooke 4ever! Just look at these glasses:
-If this book taught me any lesson at all, it’s that you should definitely not help people or else you’ll get scarlet fever and die. Seriously, this was the reward Beth got for being selfless and taking care of the Hummels? She was just trying to help a sick baby and she gets scarlet fever? Louisa May Alcott, you may have had a heart of stone, but you sure did know how to write a tearjerker.
-Crotchety old Aunt March whisks Amy off for a long European adventure, and it sounds absolutely marvelous. There’s painting and parties and a lot of walking through gardens and more than one guy vying for Amy’s affections. If this is what a European vacation is like, I need to find a grumpy aunt right away.
-Big thanks to my friend/Louisa May Alcott consultant Lauren for introducing me to the website Suck My Alcott. Highly advised if you find yourself in need of Little Women gifs (and don’t we all, sometimes?).
On the surface, Little Women seems like a comforting, pleasant read, but it’s not just a children’s book. One of the adult realities Little Women portrays so well is the eventuality of family separation. Even though when you’re a kid it might seem like you’ll be living with your parents and siblings forever, the truth is that your time in the same home is very, very short. Little Women captures that tender ache of looking back at cherished childhood memories that can’t be relived. People grow up, get married, get sick and die. The book explores those harsh realities of aging, and shows that even as the girls gain so much (marriage, babies, books, etc.), they also endure heartbreaking loss. Even though they’re no longer “little” women, they’ll always long for the togetherness they had as children.
This is truly a story about the resilience and strength of women, and how different types of ladies (be they traditional or independent) can have happy lives. What about you? What’s your favorite part of Little Women? Were you a little bit in love with Laurie? Which March sister were you most like? Let me know in the comments! As always, if there are any books you’d like to see in Young Adult Education, leave a comment or e-mail me at email@example.com.