Little Women was one of my favorite books when I first read it. I must have been ten or eleven years old at the time, and had not encountered many other books that were “for kids” and were anything like this book.
I was impressed that it was as big as the books for adults, and, that it was not “dumbed down”, like many of the other books I had read at that time. The world still had some years to go before bookstores and libraries created a “young adult” or “teen” section, and, there didn’t seem to be many authors who were seeking that particular audience back then.
As I read Little Women now, as an adult, I find that I still enjoyed it, but not nearly as much as I did when I was younger.
The story focuses on the March family. It’s around the time of the Civil War in America, and the father of the family is off involved with that for a big chunk of the book. The Civil War, and the political environment that surrounds it are barely mentioned in this story. It’s really about four sisters, their mom, and some friends and extended family.
Mrs. March, or “Marmee”, is the perfect example of what a mother should be. Meg, the oldest girl, is working as a governess, is almost old enough to begin to think about marriage, but is much to innocent to have even realized it. Jo is second oldest, an exuberant tomboy, who has a job reading to an elderly aunt. She reads every book she can get her hands on, and also writes quite a bit herself.
Beth, the next girl, is sweetness itself, and overwhelmingly innocent and good. She plays the piano and sings, and cares for pets, dolls, and the family in small ways. Amy, the youngest, is beautiful (the only blond haired blue eyed child in the family) and a bit self-centered about both her beauty and her developing art talent.
Also, there is Laurie, the boy next door, who is more or less unofficially adopted by the March family. He is sometimes brother, sometimes friend, and later on, something more to some of the girls.
The girls grow from little girls to “little women” as the book continues, and have various experiences along the way. Many of the chapters are almost like little lessons that the young girl who would be the intended reader can take away with her after she is done reading the book. It also shows a good picture of what life would have been like if you were a woman living in America at that time. Completely different social rules from what one sees today!
One thing that I noticed this time around was the overwhelmingly Christian bent of the book! I completely overlooked that aspect when I was younger. I was raised Catholic, and so, maybe the heavy Christianity didn’t seem odd to me back then. But its a very big part of this book!
The Mother gives each girl her own little book and asks them to use it daily and depend upon it in hard times. It might be a Bible, or, book of Psalms, or something, or, might be copies of a book also mentioned in Little Women called Pilgrim’s Progress.
From what I understand, that book is also heavily Christian, so, either way, whatever the little books were, it comes to the same thing. It was almost annoying to be constantly be tripping over Christianity when I read this book this time around, since I did not remember it, and did not expect to encounter it so much.
When I first read the book, I immediately related to Jo. We were a lot alike. She was as much of a tomboy as I was at the time (and might still be) she loved books, she ate apples all the time, and basically did as she pleased, and to hell with the social conventions! She is still my favorite character in the book, and definately the most developed one.
My copy of Little Women is a Barnes and Noble Classic, and has all sorts of interesting facts in it about the book and the author. I read that Alcott may have based Jo on herself. Both had sisters, both were writers, both had a sister die, and one marry, around the same time, and both cared for parents after those events. That explains a lot to me.
A few things caught me by suprize the first time I read the book. Beth actually died! I had never before read a book where a really good and pure character dies. It was especially shocking because that character was a main character, a child, and is in a book intended for children to read. That was a shock the first time around, and still had an impact when I read it again, even though I knew what was coming this time.
I was also suprized the first time I read the book that Laurie married Amy, and not Jo, his constant companion. I could not understand why on earth she refused him, and what could have made him fall for Amy instead. But, being older and hopefully wiser this time around, I would have to say that the choices they all made concerning marriage made more sense now.
I have a feeling that if I read this book again years and years from now, I would probably have even more observations that I was oblivious to now. It’s one of “The Classics” that I like a lot, and will most likely read again someday. I recommend it to female readers, both young and older and “old”. I am not sure exactly what male readers would get from this book, being that it is so very feminine.