Goodreads: Little Women
Series: Little Women #1
Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy March are doing their best to grow up into women their father would be proud of. If only he weren’t so far away at the war! Still, despite their poverty, they try to be happy. Along with their neighbor Laurie, they have plenty of good times, from producing plays in the garret to writing their own newspaper.
Little Women is one of those classics that never grows old. Perhaps it is because the titular little women range in age (12 to 16 at the start) and so can present an array of experiences sure to resonate with a wide audience. Perhaps it is because they age over the course of the book (Jo ends it at the age of 30) and so can encompass the humiliations of childhood, the first blush of love, the trials of married life, and the rocky starts of careers. Or perhaps it is because the characters are so vibrant, so lifelike. Who would not want to spend a day with the March family? Whatever the charm, Little Women endures.
And Little Women endures despite the complaints of some readers, who find the tale too wholesome, too moralizing. But this, I believe, is part of its charm. The book, it is true, makes no secret of its desire to instill good morals in its readers. It opens, after all, with the girls playing Pilgrim’s Progress and receiving Bibles or New Testaments for Christmas. Yes, it wants it readers to learn to fight vanity, to control their tempers, to become generous and loving and uncomplaining. But the book really believes in all this. It does not feel like a moral tale, but like the inspirational example of a friend. And, in the end, even though we may be uncomfortable with a book that points out that we are not perfect, its message that we can all try to do better is a message I believe that many people still need and want to hear.
I have always appreciated Little Women for its encompassing look at womanhood, from Jo’s fiery independence to Beth’s comfort in domestic life to Meg’s struggles to be the wife and mother she thinks she ought to be. There is no one right path here, no correct way to be a woman. Rather, all the girls’ choices are valuable just as all their personalities are appreciated. Each one gets to be the focus so that readers can see their flaws as well as their strengths, and learn to love them even when they are weak.
And you get to grow along with them. Today, we might not think that a chapter about learning how to balance childcare with a relationship with your husband is the type of thing children want to or should read. We might not think that a child or teen wants to read about a character in her late 20s falling in love with a man nearly forty. Or that any child wants to read about a thirty-year-old running a school. And yet it works. The work is beloved by many. Because it gives a glimpse ahead. It says that life is weird and unexpected and sometimes painful or tragic. But life goes on. And you have a hand in shaping it. It tells its readers that they have agency and that they are important, no matter the path they choose.