I love books, be they Harry Potter or The Three Musketeers, and have a special fondness for the classics. One of my favorite books growing up was The Secret Garden, and it appealed to me on many levels. Shockingly, our main character Mary is nasty, ugly, and rude. It’s an incredibly depressing book when you begin, but as we follow Mary, there is a change in her, and she ends up helping those around her. It is, of course, a morality tale about proper behavior, finding happiness, and strength of will. I’ve read it many times, as a child and as an adult, and it’s one of the many books I’ve kept my childhood copy of to pass on to the next generation.
This brings us to Louisa May Alcott. I’m currently in a literature class that assigned a book I’d heard of, but never read, Little Women. It’s a classic, set in the 1800’s in the time of the American Civil War, and follows a woman and her four daughters. It’s also a morality tale and coming of age story. As the family struggles to get by with their husband/father away as a chaplain for the army, each daughter grows older, trying to find her place in the world.
I hated it.
It all sounded so promising, and yet…I couldn’t finish the last chapters, which as far as I’m concerned, is never acceptable when reading a book. As I’ve said before, I enjoy classic literature, and books set in other times. I watch Downton Abbey, Call the Midwife, and Lord of the Rings, but let me impress upon you how very much I do not care about Little Women. The worst part is, I don’t even know why!
The values in the story are fine. They include family, self-sacrifice, valuing what you have, and changing from childish to adult behavior. In those terms, it’s remarkably like the secret garden. In addition, Alcott’s writing style combines omniscience and inviting language that should draw the reader in. The four sisters have different enough personalities that I should be able to find common ground with someone in the story.
Perhaps that is the reason I disliked this book so much.
Overall, it’s really not that objectionable, but I couldn’t relate to anything that happened.
In fact, it seemed as though nothing actually happened in this book. The author kept up a constant commentary about how to be a better daughter without backing it up with plot events. I was pulled out of the text many times by Alcott’s descriptions of selfishness or vanity, when the characters had perhaps a single reference to such an event.
I can’t see myself reading this book aloud in a classroom, to children of any age. I imagine we’d all die of boredom, but as I sat in literature class yesterday, listening to everyone talk about how much they enjoyed Little Women, I realized I must have missed something. Most of the class had read the book as children, and have fond memories of it. Some, like me, were reading it for the first time, and were caught up in the history, descriptions of a life our grandparent’s lived.
As an added interest bonus, apparently Louisa May Alcott was a feminist and suffragette. In Little Women, one of the girls has independent and ‘tomboyish’ behavior. She ends up rejecting a first offer of marriage, and later meets someone else she much prefers. Alcott hints that this is quite acceptable, when it’s decidedly daring for the 1800’s. The historical context of Little Women guides the plot, but I don’t really see the feminism, coming of age trials, or sisterly/family bonds. I know they are there, but I didn’t experience them, and the meaning in this book is lost on me.
It is my sincere hope that someone has some brabble on Little women, because I would value additional perspective. I was so bored, and so stifled reading through it, that I haven’t been able to completely finish. I’ll probably make myself in a month or two.
What did you think of Little Women, and Why? What parts seem like interesting historical setting, and what, for you, translates to more modern context? Who or what did you relate to in this story? I would value assistance in better appreciating this book.
Additionally, here are a couple of articles and blog posts on Little Women: #20 of the 100 best books, Thoughts on Little Women, or this one which argues the book’s feminism. It’s very interesting to see the differences of opinion on this book.