by Louisa May Alcott
“Once upon a time, there were four girls, who had enough to eat and drink and wear, a good many comforts and pleasures, kind friends and parents who loved them dearly, and yet they were not contented. “
Hearing the word “classic” can be a little intimidating for the aspiring reader. When most hear the term, they are bombarded with images of War and Peace or Moby Dick, both of which are tomes large enough to kill a person if thrown with the right amount of force. But classics don’t have to be a scary thing, and in most cases, there are reasons why a certain volume is deemed as a classic and has had such staying power over the decades.
Little Women is one such novel, as the beloved tale of the March sisters during a Post-Civil War America. Written in the 1800’s by hardworking abolitionist and feminist, Louisa May Alcott, the story offers a unique insight into life for a woman in times of blatant and generally accepted gender prejudices and features the timeless drama of transition from adolescence into adulthood.
In an attempt to help make ends meet for their impoverished family the two eldest sisters, Meg and Jo, begin their days with work outside of the familial home. Meg is beautiful and charming, but as the eldest and with no immediate father to provide, she understands that a large part of her duties means doing her best to take care of her family. She is a dreamer and quietly spoken, and just as softly as her demeanor suggests, she begins to fall in love with a neighbor boy’s handsome tutor. Jo is the next in the chronological line, and is arguably the most interesting of all four of the March sisters. A tomboy with a strong and rebellious heart, Jo says what’s on her mind and struggles to conform to the cookie-cutter expectations of how women should behave. As the primary caretaker to her elderly and wealthy great-aunt on top of helping at home, Jo considers herself (for lack of better words) the man of the house.
Jo’s headstrong and outspoken attitude soon catches the eye of Laurie, the attractive grandson of Mr. Laurence in the neighborhood. As Laurie becomes more infatuated with the girl who always seems just out of his veritable reach, Mr. Laurence takes an interest in Beth March, an aspiring musician. He sees her as a delicate and sweet young child and his gift of a piano to her is a much appreciated reprieve from the housework that Beth spends her days completing. But soon enough, Beth’s health begins to become precarious as she falls ill with scarlet fever after tending to a family nearby, leaving the girls feeling helpless and afraid. Jo leaves her position with her aunt and sends her youngest sister Amy there in her stead, and the older sisters work on getting Beth into better health while sending for their mother who is away Washington.
Meanwhile, Jo is using writing as an outlet for her sharp anger and frustrations, and is pleased to find that she is experiencing much success. Her independence is established and after moving on from her family a bit, Jo wraps herself even more into a world of scholarly ambitions. Meg finally sees her dreams of becoming a wife and mother to fruition and Amy, the baby of the family, ends up surprising them all. And while most in Jo’s life are proud of her determination and forward pull, Laurie finds himself in the position of boy grown into man, and as such, from simple admirer to a man in love, creating more problems than can be readily allowed.
Little Women has pulled at the heartstrings of the young and old since the 1800’s, being adapted into film and plays alike. Each sister’s character is strongly written and appropriate for both times of years past and present day. Readers will also find that each character has their own distinct personality and storyline, and because of that, it is not hard to find a bit of yourself while following the March sisters on their travels into adulthood.
Giving Little Women a 5 out of 5 star rating, I recommend this for readers ages 13 and up and for male and female readers alike. If this novel is enjoyed, there is a pair of sequels : Little Men and Jo’s Boys.