10 Great Ideas from Little Women
- Money and possessions do not equate to happiness.
- Count your blessings and be grateful for what you have in life.
- Conceit spoils the finest genius.
- Don’t let the sun go down upon your anger; forgive each other, help each other, and begin again tomorrow.
- When you’re feeling down, do something good for another.
- Pursue your own path in life, not merely what society and others expect from you.
- Teamwork allows you to get more done in less time.
- Have a purpose in life because it will keep you moving forward. So dream big dreams and have a sense of where you are going in life.
- Family is important – a family that plays together stays together.
- Death is a fact of life.
Why Little Women by Louisa May Alcott Still Matters Today
Little Women is a story about a traditional family – father, mother and four daughters. All families, traditional and non-traditional, form a community, which teaches its members how to function in the broader community. Life is very busy today, and family members often do not have enough time to sit down together. Little Womenreminds us how important it is for family members to communicate with each other. The March family had dinner together, at which time they would talk about how their day went.
Why Louisa May Alcott is qualified to write Little Women
Little Women is semi-autobiographical, and the character, Jo March is based on Louisa May Alcott’s life. Louisa May Alcott was the second daughter of the educator and transcendentalist Amos Bronson Alcott and Abba May Alcott. Jo March’s life was more idyllic than Alcott’s. Alcott was dominated by her father and she had to bear the financial burden of her sisters and mother.
Louisa May Alcott is best known for Little Women (1868) and the seven novels that followed in the “Little Women” series. Like in the novel, Alcott is the second of four girls, and all children were homeschooled by their father. He encouraged them to keep a journal, together they wrote a family newspaper and plays in which they performed. The four girls also learned how to sew and take care of the home. Alcott drew on her experiences, as well as those of her sisters Anna and Elizabeth, to write Little Women, which she wrote in two months. The book was so very well received that fans asked the publisher for more stories about the March sisters – Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy. Alcott never married, took care of her aged parents, as well as adopted her sister Anna’s son and was also legal guardian of her sister May’s daughter.
Alcott was exposed to great writers such as Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Margaret Fuller – all were her mentors. As a child, she went on nature walks with Thoreau. And she borrowed books from Emerson, and wrote short stories for his children.
To get the most from this Little Woman SummaReview, after you have read it, answer the following questions:
- Is this a book you’d like to read for yourself? Why? Why not?
- What has made an impression on you while reading?
- Which character is most like you?
- Were there any kernels of wisdom in this reading?
- What are five takeaways from the SummaReview?
- What is one action that you can take as a result of reading this SummaReview?
The Novel, Little Women
While reading Little Women there were many times I felt like the book glorified poverty too much. However, the flawed characters balanced the story, and made them endearing because readers will find traits in one of the sisters that they can see in themselves. There is a lot of reference to The Pilgrim’s Progress, which I have never read, but research uncovered this, “In writing Little Women, Alcott alluded overtly in numerous instances to John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress (published in two parts in 1678 and 1684), a Christian allegory that was among her father Bronson Alcott’s favorite stories and one of the most well-known texts of the nineteenth century.”
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott is divided into two parts. In Part I the “little women” are growing up and in Part II they are adults. The story is set during the American Civil War and when it starts, Mr March is away at the war and funds are limited. It’s just before Christmas and the girls are lamenting about not having a lot of money to spend on Christmas presents. From the outset the reader gets insights into the personalities of Margaret (Meg) aged 16, Josephine (Jo) aged 15, Elizabeth (Beth) aged 13, and Amy aged 12.
On Christmas Day each of the four girls receives a book, different colours as a gift from Marmee (Mrs March). It’s not quite clear if the books are journals or copies of The Pilgrim’s Progress. The girls are taught to be selfless by their parents, and on Christmas Day their mother asks them to sacrifice their breakfast so that it be given to a family in need. Later, they perform The Witch’s Curse, an Operatic Tragedy. The girls get a welcome surprise when their wealthy neighbour, Mr Laurence gives them ice cream, cake and fruit, and French bonbons.
A neighbour, Mrs. Gardiner, invites Meg and Jo to her house for a New Year’s Eve party. The girls do not have new clothes so they have to make do with what they have. While curling Meg’s hair, Jo accidentally burns the ends. At the party, they meet Laurie, Mr Laurence’s grandson. Jo and Laurie hang out at the party and it’s the beginning of a long friendship. Laurie is an orphan who now lives with his grandfather.
We learn that Mr March lost his property while trying to help an unfortunate friend resulting in his two eldest daughters having to work. Meg works as a governess teaching small children and Jo acts as a companion to her elderly Aunt March. Meg takes Amy under her wings while Jo does the same for Beth, and both pairs of sisters develop a strong bond. The March family is a closely knit one and they take time each evening to check in with each other to see how their day went.
Because of this kind of relationship, Jo feels sorry for Laurie who is always by himself and leads a very sheltered life. She marches over to his home and at the time, he was ill, so she reads to him and visits for hours. Laurie is welcome into the March family and they do a lot of things together. It’s not always smooth sailing and the girls are not angels. Amy burns a book that Jo is working on because her sister refuses to let her attend The Seven Castles of the Diamond Lake. A rift develops between the sisters and Jo refuses to forgive Amy. It takes a near tragic event for Jo to forgive her sister. Marmee talks to them about their hot tempers and Jo promises to work on taming hers.
The “little women” in Alcott’s book choose their destinies. When they are young Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy describe what they dream for themselves as adults when they describe their castles in the air. Meg chooses marriage, children and a lovely home; Beth describes a life at home with her parents, taking care of the family; Amy chooses to be “go to Rome, do fine pictures be the best artist in the whole world” (151 -152); and Jo exclaims, “I’d have a stable full of Arabian steeds, rooms piled with books, and I’d write out of a magic inkstand, so that my works should be as famous as Laurie’s music” (152). Laurie describes a life of travel, “After I’d seen as much of the world as I want to, I’d like to settle in Germany and have just as much music as I choose. I’m to be a famous musician myself, and all creation is to rush to hear me; and I’m never to be bothered about money or business, but just enjoy myself and live for what I like.”
Meg is invited by the Moffats, a wealthy family, to spend a fortnight with them. For a short time, Meg forgets about who she is and what her values are when she allows the Moffat to dress her up for a ball and be on display. But this is very human because most of us want to have beautiful things, and we want to be admired.
At one point, the March girls decide they want to be lazy so they take a week off and the house is in disarray. They quickly learn that for things to go smoothly they have to be consistent. The girls are very inventive and know how to keep themselves occupied. They have the Pickwick Club, a literary club, and the Busy Bee Society, which they allow Laurie to join.
When the family receives news that their father is seriously ill, Jo cuts off her hair for $25 to help offset the cost for her mother to travel to nurse her husband back to health. While the mother is away the girls are not as selfless as they are taught to be, except for Beth who is the only one who visits the Hummels a family in need. She discovers that the baby is quite ill, and babysits to give an older sister respite from the task. The baby dies and the doctor diagnoses that it’s from scarlet fever. Beth contracts the disease, which almost kills her. Though she recovers, the illness weakens her system and a few years later she would succumb to it.
When the girls grow up, Meg marries Laurie’s tutor, Mr Brooke, and has twins. She quickly learns that married life is not as idyllic and peaceful as she imagined – it’s filled with many ups and downs and couples have to work hard at the relationship. Jo is published and uses her $100 to send her mom and Beth to the seaside. They hope that Beth will regain her strength.
Laurie is in love with Jo who rejects him. Laurie is shattered and travels to Europe with his grandfather. He becomes lazy and forgets his dreams, living a life of an idle rich man. Amy gets the opportunity to travel across Europe and she learns that she doesn’t have what it takes to be a successful artist. Laurie visits Amy in Europe and she observes his laziness and calls him on it. She is very critical of him, and friends are supposed to say something when you are not behaving appropriately. You see a friendship blossoming into love and Laurie transfers the kind of love he has for Jo to Amy and vice versa.
It’s heartrending for the reader when they learn that Beth is dying, though she is at peace with it. Her father prepares her for death and Beth asks Jo to always take care of the family. Jo is devastated by Beth’s death and her parents try to comfort her. Her mother suggests that she starts writing again. Jo eventually finds love and still takes care of the family. Aunt March dies and leaves Plumfield, her home, to Jo who transforms it into a home where she and her husband, the Professor Bhaer teach boys – both rich and poor – so they grow up in a loving and caring environment. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott is a coming of age story, and although it was written close to 150 years ago, many of its lessons are timeless. Little Women changed me, and made me question some of the choices I have made in life.
I recommend Little Women by Louisa May Alcott because it’s a book that will touch your heart. In addition, it was a groundbreaking book at the time because the girls grew up and pursued their own paths in life, not merely what society expected of them. Please let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.
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