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Little Women Book Review
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
The Book Little Women
I have just finished reading the delightful novel Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. This is a classic of American literature enjoyed by many generations of readers and especially myself.
When I was a young boy in the early 50s, Louisa May Alcott was introduced to me in a card game called Authors which I can still remember playing with my mother. At that time, I remember seeing her picture on playing cards along with other famous American authors such as Nathaniel Hawthorne, Washington Irving, and Mark Twain.
Readers of all ages have delighted in Little Women which is a story loosely based on Alcott's childhood and her experience with three sisters. In scenes from American girlhood and young womanhood in the second half of the 19th century, Louisa May Alcott makes women think higher of themselves as reflected in the choices made by four sisters - Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy.
According to Regina Barreca, professor of English and Feminist Theory at the University of Connecticut, autonomy, creativity, freedom, and community are the legacies of Little Women.
Biography of Louisa May Alcott
Louisa May Alcott was born in Pennsylvania on November 29, 1832. Her father, Amos Bronson Alcott, was an unsuccessful poet who taught Louisa until she was 16. During Alcott's childhood, Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Nathaniel Hawthorne were family friends who also taught the girl.
As a girl, the Alcotts lived in Boston and Concord Massachusetts. Due to family poverty, from 1850 to 1862, Louisa May Alcott worked as a teacher, seamstress, governess, domestic helper, and writer to help support her family.
Alcott's writing career actually began in 1851. Beginning in that year, she had published poems, short stories, and thrillers under the pen name of Flora Fairfield. Based on her service as a nurse in Washington D.C. during the Civil War, Alcott published Hospital Sketches in 1863.
Louisa May Alcott started using her real name in articles written in the Atlantic Monthly and Lady's Companion during the 1860s.
After a trip to Europe in 1865, Little Woman was published in two volumes in 1868 and 1869. Other notable books written by Louisa May Alcott include Little Men (1871,) Eight Cousins (1875,) and Jo's Boys (1886.) All of these books were sequels to her masterpiece Little Women.
Louisa May Alcott was single throughout her life and died in Boston on March 6, 1888.
Biographical information is taken from Wikipedia and Biography.com
Setting and Characters of Little Women
The setting of the novel Little Women is probably in the Alcott home in Concord, Massachusetts during and following the American Civil War 1861-1865.
Major characters in the story include the four March sisters - Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy -, Mrs. March or Marmee, and Laurie or Teddy, Mr. Laurence's grandson.
At the beginning of the novel, Meg the oldest and most beautiful 16-year-old sister works as a governess during the day to help support her family.
Jo at 15 is a rebellious and tomboyish with a very bad temper. During the day, she also works outside of the house as a companion for her rich Aunt March.
The next oldest, Beth, is 13. She is delicate, sickly, and endowed with musical talent in playing the piano. She receives her education at home.
Amy, the youngest at 12, is spoiled, artistic, and very worldly. She attends school.
Mrs. March or Marmee is the wise religious mother who wants her daughters to appreciate hard work, poverty, and also be of service to the community.
Laurie or Teddy is the 15-year-old grandson of the next-door neighbor, Mr. Laurence. He is an orphan living with his grandfather. This fun-loving lad is being tutored at home by Mr. John Brooke.
The Plot of Little Women
As the book begins, it is just before Christmas in probably 1861. Mrs. March and her four daughters - Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy - are living under poor conditions in most probably the New England area of the United States. The father, Mr. March, is serving as a chaplain with the Union Army during the Civil War.
On Christmas Day, the Marches give their breakfast to a German immigrant family where the mother has just given birth. In the following days before New Year's Day, Meg and Jo attend a holiday party in a distant neighborhood. There they meet the 15-year-old boy, Laurie, who lives next door to them.
Within the next few days. Jo takes the initiative to make friends with Laurie. He quickly becomes almost a brother to all of the sisters with a special friendship for Jo.
During the next year, the friendship between the March and Laurence family (Laurie and Mr. Laurence) grows and blossoms. Laurie is included in all of the daily fun activities of the girls which include writing clubs, picnics, skating, and going to the movies.
During the year, Jo starts writing short stories for money and a romance develops between John Brooke and Meg. Jo is taught how to control her temper and Amy is punished at school for trying to impress her classmates with a stock of prohibited lemons in her desk. After Beth endears Mr. Laurence by playing the piano, he presents her with a small piano which was originally intended for his dead granddaughter.
After Mrs. March travels to Washington D.C. to be with her husband who is seriously ill with pneumonia in December of probably 1862, Beth contracts and almost dies of scarlet fever. Christmas is happy, however, as Beth's fever breaks and she starts to recover just at the time that Mr. and Mrs. March and John Brook return from Washington.
As part two of the novel begins, three years have passed and the March sisters are now almost all little women. After Meg and John Brooke get married, Laurie starts his college life. Amy who has impressed her aunt and other relatives with good manners is rewarded by them and taken on a long trip to Europe.
A while later, Jo suspects that Beth loves Laurie. To let a relationship between them develop, Jo decides to take a job as a governess in New York City during the autumn and winter in a boarding house run by Mrs. March's friend. While there, Jo does more writing and meets Professor Bahre.
Shortly after Jo returns home, Laurie graduates from college and wants to marry Jo. When Jo refuses, Laurie is heart-broken but agrees to go with his grandfather on a long trip to Europe to forget about Jo. While in Europe, Laurie meets up with Amy.
While all the above is happening, Beth is starting to seriously fail in her health probably as long-range complications of her scarlet fever. Beth eventually dies.
The end of the novel is surprising but happy. You must read this book to find out what happens to Jo, Amy, Laurie, and Professor Bahre.
Themes in Little Women
As I read Little Women, I realized four main themes expressed in this great novel. They are as follow:
1. Independence and Freedom of Women
The independence and freedom of women are clearly seen in the actions of Jo. According to Jo, women need not be tied down and supported by men or others. They can make their own living and choose their own careers.
2. Remaining True to Principles
This is a virtue given to the March sisters by their mother and father. Professor Bahre reinforces this virtue when critiquing Jo's writing. Meg and Amy also learn that they should not put on airs and pretend to be someone they are not.
This theme is expressed in the writing ability of Jo, the music of Beth, and art of Amy. It is also seen in the drama skits written and produced by all four sisters.
4. Helping the Community
Early in the book, Mrs. March shows her daughters how to be compassionate and help German immigrants. The grandfather, Mr. Laurence also displays helping the community in his philanthropy. Finally, Jo exhibits this virtue in her plans to establish a school for boys.
Scene from Louisa May Alcott: PBS
Evaluation of Little Women
I really have nothing but good things to say about Little Women. It is a great book for all ages, especially girls and young women. The plot of the book moves very smoothly and I guarantee that you will fall in love with most of the characters. This novel should be read today because it is filled with very good moral messages. These messages include the importance of work, compassion, and help for neighbors, being true to your principles, and love among siblings and love for parents.
Although some might judge Little Women as being too juvenile or pro-feminist for the time it was written, you can't deny it is a great novel for the moral messages the author succeeds in getting across to readers.
Characters in Little Women
Which character in Little Woman do you enjoy the most?
© 2015 Paul Richard Kuehn