There are few who don’t know Lousia May Alcott’s March sisters. After being adapted into a film, Little Women continued to gain lovers of the four sisters: Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy.
The story is set in Boston at the time after the Civil War. The four sisters are struggling with poverty and the qualms of growing up to be elegant young ladies in the 19th century. The novel is semi-autobiographical with outdated (but appropriate in 1868) gender roles.
The most popular sister remains Jo because of her courage and her radical tomboyishness breaking gender roles. Followed by Jo, the next most loved in line is Beth. She is good-natured and sweet but is often frail in her health. Meg is the eldest sister with conventional familial values and Amy is the youngest and the most spoiled.
Alcott herself must see her reflection in Jo, the tomboy who loves writing. Jo befriends the rich boy from next door, Laurie. The first few chapters become the foundation of themes like poverty, rich-poor stark contrasts, women empowerment, and family.
Numerous pages portray the everyday lives of the March sisters and the reader grows to know each one’s personality through these passages. While like most female readers, I related with Jo, I couldn’t help but fall in love with Beth. The dynamic between Jo and Beth is something I cherished the most in Little Women:
“There are many Beths in the world, shy and quiet, sitting in corners till needed, and living for others so cheerfully that no one sees the sacrifices till the little cricket on the hearth stops chirping, and the sweet, sunshiny presence vanishes, leaving silence and shadow behind.”
Interested in finding out which March sister you are like? I love The Take’s take on it:
Little Women is a read for all ages. It’s still read by children in primary schools and women in their early 20s. Each character in the story has an arc and depth. Whether it’s Laurie, Laurie’s tutor (who later becomes Meg’s husband), Marmee, or the servant Hannah.
The book holds up many family values of the time, which is a missing piece from many books in historical fiction. The March sisters, as annoyed with each other & as different as they are, stick together.
The Little Women’s story continues in Alcott’s sequel novel, Good Wives. The story progression then..sucked (more on that later). The book begins at Christmas and ends exactly one year later at the next Christmas. This timing is crucial to show the readers how the “Little” women have changed and become “not so little” anymore.
The book talks not only of the war outside but the war within. The women struggle not just to make ends meet financially, but to remain true to themselves, to hold up their values, and to remain grateful in the most trying times.
That being said, the book has its flaws.
Shortcomings of “Little Women”
Readers all over the world love to discuss the ending of the book. In Good Wives, all the sisters hold up the conventional side of what the culture expected of them. This is good for March sister Meg, who was already truly wishing for those things. But for March sister, Jo, readers are disappointed.
- The book is LONG. If you are not one for appreciating finer details, be assured, you will get bored of the book’s long descriptions about everything and everyone.
- There seems to be a “moral lesson” of domesticity for women in every chapter. Many conventional values of the time would seem outdated to read today.
- The writing style is easy to read and engaging. But there are references, sayings, and sentences that can be archaic and hard to follow.
The ending is truly off. Alcott did many things towards the end of the story to simply please her publisher and answer readers who wanted to know who Jo marries. Meg simply fades into the background and her story lacks punch. Amy’s pairing with Laurie is forced. Beth’s dying is questionable. There are versions of the book that leave the ending to be imagined by the reader. Some of those versions are still in publication.
Many readers continue to debate about the message of Little Women for young girls. Many do not see it to be the positive upliftment it is usually seen to be. But the book remains one of the best reads, whatever conclusion you draw from it. The March sisters are definitely worth a shot.
Read this book here.