little women book review

little women book review

The Importance of Little Women in Literature

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1. Introduction

The book has originality, taking a story from her (Alcott’s) own family and casting it as a ‘domestic melodrama’. This element can be found in a great deal of modern film and literature and, while not always considered ‘great art’, it is always popular. From things such as Desperate Housewives to The OC, people love melodrama. Alcott crafts her characters so that it is very simple to clearly distinguish the good from the bad, and seldom has a villain been so universally bad and a heroine so universally good. This quality of moral absolutism is something that many people wish the world were still like.

In this essay, I will discuss in detail the aspects of Little Women that are responsible for it being named a ‘classic’. A book may be a great read, but does that qualify it as a classic piece of literature? Little Women is so well loved because it is timeless; it has something in it for everyone. It plays a dual role between children’s and adults literature. It has been said to possess extremely unrealistic moral lessons for children and, in contrast, the ‘coming of age’ story makes it very relevant for adults.

My sister suggested the book to me, and I sat quietly down to the delightful task of reading it to her. About 100 pages in, she announced she thought it was the worst book she has read (we are both avid readers). I was shocked, how could she say that? The book was well written, had great character studies and themes of family loyalty and duty. She said she was just bored. All she hears of this classic is that it is a great book, she was well aware that Little Women was semi-autobiographical, very influential and has met critical acclaim over the years. But what exactly makes it so great? This is the question I seek to answer.

2. Themes Explored in Little Women

In contrast, Alcott uses the relationship between Jo and Laurie to show the bankruptcy of love where behavior is disconnected from money or social status. This is very accurately presented given the fact that Jo is the second eldest sister and Laurie is the only son of his wealthy uncle. This sets them up as the children of two higher-class families, yet it is clear throughout the novel that Jo and Laurie are not concerned with any social stigma or difference in wealth. Laurie’s character is always very carefree and Jo is a tomboy and aspiring writer who has no concern for social etiquette. Because of this, they are always presented as equals and are each other’s best and most loyal friend. It is shown that Laurie loves Jo more than Jo loves Laurie, but he knows this and is content to wait for Jo as he understands she is not yet ready for marriage, if she ever will be. This situation is capped when Jo rejects Laurie’s proposal at which point Laurie simply states “I’ll wait, and if it’s possible, I’ll change her mind.” The theme of love in Little Women is concluded by the relationship between Beth and her kittens. Although this seems trivial compared to other relationships in the novel, Alcott uses Beth as a representation of docility and universal loving-kindness paired with the kittens as a metaphor of nurse and patient during a time of illness. This is a very symbolic and moving chapter in which Alcott reinforces love as a selfless act and an embodiment of charity towards others.

This explains why Alcott presents the theme of love in the context of how relationships develop before and after the war. Although war is never mentioned in the novel, it is clear that the father’s absence is attributed to the war as the family is left with no money and the four daughters must learn to be content with their social position. Love between Meg and John is centered around the concepts of materialism and peer pressure. This sounds negative, but in the context of their intended status as a higher-class family that has experienced a huge fall in wealth, it illustrates how they are still clinging to the belief that they are of a higher social status than what they actually are. This couple is in love and gets married, but it takes some time before they are content with their situation because they feel obliged to regain Meg her status. This is demonstrated by John’s acceptance of a higher-paying job as a tutor even though he dislikes it.

Little Women addresses themes such as love, money, independence, and marriage, all of which are as important now as they were several hundred years ago. Alcott uses the March family to show how these themes are interrelated and how they can be addressed with a sense of morality and obligation. During a time of war and economic depression, love would not have been a central priority for families.

3. Impact of Little Women on Feminism

The novel has often been cited as a major influence on the Women’s Rights Movement in America. It is seen as the beginning of a new age in literature for girls. Boys at that time were often given books that instilled morals and values, and the strength of character. Up to this point, girls’ stories often were as simple morality tales with the purpose of instilling manners. As one author of the time said, girls’ stories always seemed to “begin in the second volume, because the first part was always the courtship, and we would skip that, because we knew exactly how it would turn out.” The novel serves as a means of instruction for young women. The novel has generated a vast fan culture with a history of fan fiction, plays, and musicals created about the story and its characters. In the 20th century, the book and the author were subject to “appreciation” and “reappraisal” as a means to respond to the changing role (and rules) of women. Several “new editions” were published with original illustrations in the 60s and 70s. After Alcott’s death, the novel continued as a film with a more conservative production in 1918. The major 1933 production, and the 1949 known as the first technicolor version. This period also saw the publication of three “juvenile” prequels about the mother of the March sisters. These were Little Women and Little Women – Part II by Helen R. Van Dolson, and Jo’s Boys by Marie Hill. Little Men has also been subject to several productions with a Japanese TV series and an animated cartoon. The modern period has seen several television adaptations as well as a 1994 major feature film. In 2001, a new miniseries of Little Men was made.

4. Literary Significance of Little Women

Aside from imparting a new form of realism into the writing for children, Alcott’s novel utilized an expression of her own views on the role of children in society and how she felt that the family is the most important factor for the development of children. For over one hundred years, Little Women has connected with millions of readers, young and old. Alcott’s realistic dialogue and empathy towards her characters are what have given the novel lasting power. In Susan Sarandon’s Masterpiece Theatre presentation, it was said that Alcott’s work has a timeless quality. Because it’s a coming of age novel, its themes are universal and can be appreciated by different generations. Alcott consistently explored the question of a juvenile woman’s role in the home and the outside world; something which has been the subject of much literary works since but never in the same form of innocence. By creating such a memorable work which is still acclaimed by many, Little Women helped to give an identity to its author and a lasting place in history for juveniles and adults alike.

Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy each have different aspirations. Their interactions with people outside of their family help them to grow as individuals, while cementing their status as good role models for children. According to Sarah Elbert, Alcott created a new form of literature, one that took elements from romantic children’s fiction and combined it with others, in a new and more realistic form of writing. Elbert argued that within Little Women lies the first vision of the “All-American girl” and that her varied, but moral, aspirations are what helped the author to break away from “the idealized form” which was present in preceding works.

5. Conclusion

It is the hope of this continued research that more people will see Little Women for what it is. That they will look at it as a great work of literature and an important piece for its time. Consideration of such an approach reveals that this novel puts domestic goods into new and critical relation with national identity. At a time when war had fractured the United States into factions and had made its future as a nation seem very uncertain. Little Women is in many ways a manifesto or construction of ideal domestic conditions for the production of good citizens. At the same time, it offers a series of complex meditations on the place of narrowly defined feminine virtues in a national identity based on hard, martial ideals. Finally, public good purchased with military service is for the March family an absolutely existent reality, a truth validated by Marmee’s own perception and confirmed by the safe return of her husband. As such conditions were seemingly rare during the war, the separation of this ideal domestic sphere from the reality of life in Civil War era America Lounsberry sets up is of great importance to later generations seeking to understand and identify the periods historical base.

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