One book that I was genuinely excited to pick up for the Rory Gilmore challenge, was Little Women by Lousia May Alcott. I somehow went through life and never picked this book up before. The novel is targeted towards younger readers, so it’s a possibility that I disregarded it when I was older. Little Women tells the story of the March sisters: Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy. It takes place during the Civil War in America, and goes through the life of the girls from their early teenage years, to their early adulthood. Although the book is about all four girls, I felt like Jo was the main character while reading. Jo is mentioned the most in the novel, especially during the latter half when Jo is in her 20s.
I really enjoyed this novel. Although I’m in my mid-20s, Jo is only a year younger than me by the end of the novel. No being so close in age made her character feel more relatable to me. I did, however, find it strange that this novel is considered a children’s classic when the book is focused on teen girls/adult women. Personally, I would categorize this novel as a YA novel, or even a precursor to the YA genre. The novel is a great bildungsroman, that really shows the coming-of-age stories of all four March girls. Little Women even has that love triangle that majority of YA novels have now. The only time I felt that the novel was more geared toward children was the first half of the book. It’s episodic, and if you read a chapter and forgot to read the book in a while, you wouldn’t have felt lost. I couldn’t say that for the second part of the novel. There was more connectivity between chapters, almost as if Alcott’s writing was maturing with the girls. I liked that a lot. Furthermore, Alcott showed the maturity of the girls very realistically, and showed how they developed and matured as naturally as you would expect people their age. Which brings me back to Jo.
Jo feels like the black sheep of the family, but not necessarily in a bad way. She is constantly going against societal expectations throughout the novel, even in extremely difficult situations. As a child, she wants to join the war, she cuts her hair short, and doesn’t want to be ladylike. Whereas as an adult she’s content with not being married, when her sisters are all thinking about that step in life. She’s almost the antithesis of her sisters Meg and Amy. Both perform gender roles very strictly, and are either ashamed or astonished by Jo’s decisions. This is one of the themes that bothered me the most, because gender roles are deemed so important to all the March girls. None of the girls feel like they’re allowed to go past their obligations of being a wife and mother. And it is only Jo that really escapes it, although she ultimately succumbs to them in the end. Jo is a shining example of what girls and women will eventually evolve to: being more independent and more comfortable about being true to themselves rather than adhering to set gender roles.
Another thing the March girls try to escape is their class. They are constantly being reminded that they aren’t rich. They don’t have money to go to balls, buy a grand piano, or pretty new dresses whenever they fancy. Although they are constantly worried about class situation, they are essentially rich adjacent. The Marches’ aunt is flithy rich, and their neighbour Mr. Lawrence is as well. They may talk about how they don’t have much, but they can afford to hire a house servant, Hannah, all year round. There are even poorer families mentioned in the novel, but you’re supposed to feel bad for the Marches so Alcott makes it sound like they are beyond poor. However, they are what we would call middle class today. It felt strange reading them complain about their “poor” life when they seemed to have a very comfortable life during that time. Again, Meg and Amy are concerned about wealth, when Jo and Beth are the ones who seem to be the most satisifed with their life.
I have a bone to pick with the ending of the novel, but this paragraph will contain spoilers so skip along if you don’t want to know. Let’s talk about Laurie. Oh, Laurie. He is Jo’s best friend, and they grow up together going through life’s ups and downs. For me, Laurie is quite likable yet punachable at the same time. He’s a ne’er-do-well with a heart of gold you may say. Now, near the end of the novel, it is revealed that Laurie is in love with Jo, but she rejects him because she doesn’t feel the same. Cool, that’s fine. I really liked that ending of that story line. However, Alcott then decides to introduce Professor Baehr, a 40 year old who Jo falls in love with just before Laurie’s confession. Baehr is 15 years older than Jo, and almost feels fatherly to her. Now, I understand that Alcott might not have been allowed to end Jo’s story as an independent woman who doesn’t get married. But instead of writing a confidante to Jo, she essentially writes her a teacher who will guide her on how to be married, and a mother. So, when Laurie is crushed, what does he do? He turns to AMY! What?! I feel like that was completely out of left field. Throughout the novel, he seemed more interested in Meg, and spoke to her as an equal. If Laurie ended up with Meg, I would have believed it. But instead, he goes off with Amy, the youngest March girl because he has no other option available to him. I really don’t like this part of the novel, and I don’t think I ever will.
I think Little Women will be a novel that sticks with me forever. It’s a wonderfully cute book about familial love, friendship, and navigating through life by societal expectations and restrictions. I really loved how the novel shows how siblings can get along really well, but also have their hardships. Although the novel came out during the civil war, I still feel like there’s a lot to relate to even today. I highly recommend Little Women, and I think it would be the perfect novel to read in your early teens for the first time! I know I read it in my mid-20s, but since the girls are that old in the end, it still felt relatable to their struggles in early adulthood.
I’m giving Little Women by Louisa May Alcott a 4/5 on my Goodreads, and overall a highly recommended novel for everyone reading this post!
Have you read Little Women? What are your thoughts on the novel? Let me know in the comments! 😄