Putting Class in Classic
In a world full of books, magic and stories, there are a select few that truly stand out. These are the ones that beacon above everything else. The rarity of such masterpieces make the endeavor even more worth it. But when you encounter one, you can easily recognize in your heart how these rare works impact you, your emotions and even your thought. When you find one, you know. You just know.
Little Women is one of these deep works. Set during the American Civil War in Massachusetts, it relates the story of the March sisters. In spite sharing a family name, they could not be any more radically different; each is a distinct character of her own. The eldest, Meg, is the epitome of beauty whilst Jo, the second born, is her antithesis – tomboyish. Beth, the third child, is sweet and good-natured but is hampered by her frail health. The youngest, Amy, is spoiled. Despite the dichotomy in their characters, one thing binds them together – the power of love.
It is this unconditional love other that binds the March sisters together. Together, they experience trials and tribulations. They experience joy, they laugh and cry together. They fall in love, they drift apart. But no matter how far they drift from each other, no matter what hardships and misunderstandings they experience, their love for each other still prevails. Despite the heartbreaks, they have each other.
“There are many Beths in the world, shy and quiet, sitting in corners till needed, and living for others so cheerfully that no one sees the sacrifices till the little cricket on the hearth stops chirping, and the sweet, sunshiny presence vanishes, leaving silence and shadow behind.” ~ Louisa May Alcott, Little Women
Often times, Jo ventures into the attic to scribble, reminiscent of the author’s own perseverance to pursue a lifetime of writing. Taking semi-autobiographical inspirations from the author’s own experiences, Little Women is a heartwarming coming-of-age story of a group of young women. Jo’s voice and perspective is stamped all over the story, a fitting tribute to Alcott’s own aspirations of becoming a writer.
There are many adjectives to describe what Little Women is. It is parts a romance story, or a romantic quest. It is a family saga that epitomizes the victory of virtues over material wealth. It is also parts an adventure story where women escape the stereotypes of their gender. In some aspects, the novel plods down the path of feminism with its portrayal of strong-willed and independent young women. The circumstances they found themselves caught in molded the March sisters, making them grow strong-willed.
The story revolved around three major themes. The story’s centrifugal point of the story is the interactions amongst the four females and their domestic life. The second theme is drawn from this domestic life and the circumstances the March family was in – the need for labor. Unsurprisingly, the last element is true love. Each theme is distinct from the other yet each is necessary in the development of the characters of the March sisters.
The March sister’s different personalities gave the story different textures. However, it was Jo March’s spunk and wit that gave the story a different complexion. Her remarkably self-assured storytelling and fiery persona gave life to an otherwise trite and dull story. There was an earnestness in her voice that drew the readers in, entranced by her Scheherazade qualities. She carried the story with a maturity beyond her years.
“Don’t laugh at the spinsters, dear girls, for often very tender, tragic romances are hidden away in the hearts that beat so quietly under the sober gowns, and many silent sacrifices of youth, health, ambition, love itself, make the faded faces beautiful in God’s sight. Even the sad, sour sisters should be kindly dealt with, because they have missed the sweetest part of life, if for no other reason.” ~ Louisa May Alcott, Little Women
Little Women, is, for the most part, a collection of critical junctures in the March sister’s lives. However, these scraps and tidbits were wonderfully sewn together by Alcott’s hands into a magical, colorful, and captivating tapestry. There was a warmth and a charm to the narrative that naturally draws readers in. The vignettes of Alcott’s story and her strive to succeed despite the odds depicts the triumphs of the human spirit over the circumstances.
The seminal point of the story is the hearth. It was the story’s domestication that rendered it an authentic and sincere quality. Alcott has a knack for capturing daily events and making them story-worthy. However, it was more than her descriptive prowess that made the story flourish. She has this ability of draw varying reactions and emotions from her readers. Her words carried with them a weight that arouses the reader’s plethora of emotions.
Beyond the writing and beyond the story, it was the characters, the March sisters who redefined the novel. They are the most important element in the story. Their individualism and colorful personalities fit readers of different kinds. Some can be Meg, some Beth or Amy. Some might even be Jo. Drawing inspiration from actual people made it easier for Alcott to develop her characters. It was, still, Alcott’s humble writing that made readers easily to relate to them.
“I don’t pretend to be wise, but I am observing, and I see a great deal more than you’d imagine. I’m interested in other people’s experiences and inconsistencies, and, though I can’t explain, I remember and use them for my own benefit.” ~ Louisa May Alcott, Little Women
Little Women is nothing but a stellar work of fiction, or pseudo-fiction. It is that wonderful piece of writing that makes reader genuflect in deep thought. It teaches them that circumstances are nothing but mere circumstances. You can choose to overcome them or be consumed by them. Life is an uphill climb filled with blind curves and bumpy portions but the March sisters remind us that these can all be overcome through perseverance, unconditional love, and an amazing support system.
The accolades keep coming for Little Women. It is a beacon that burns and will keep on burning brightly. Its earnest voice, its captivating characters and its nuanced storytelling sets it apart from the other literary works. It is works like Little Women that underlines the meaning of “class” in that trite term classic.
It’s been a couple of years since I have read Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. It was the first classic I had in a while even though I barely had any iota on who Alcott was or what Little Women was about. But at the onset of the story, I was swept and hurled into a whirlpool of wonderful and captivating storytelling. I knew I was had. I knew what I was reading was consuming me and transporting me to a world that I rarely find myself in. Little Women is the quintessence of a literary classic. Its heft, its voice and its impact transcend the elements of time.
With news of the upcoming adaptation of Little Women on the silver screen, I can’t help but feel nostalgic of the literary journey it made me experience.
Author: Louisa May Alcott
Publishing Date: 1868 (Original)
Number of Pages: 456
JO: The hot-tempered rebel who adores her pet rats and writing – but detests everything about being a girl. MEG: the high-energy romantic who loves love – and is bitter about all she can’t own. BETH: the timid, mousey invalid, terrified of everything – except kittens, dolls… and music. AMY: the spoiled beauty princess who schemes to have the life of the rich and famous…
Different as night and day, light and dark; but together they face all of life’s agony and love’s magic. For despite poverty and war, the March sisters have all they need to survive:
They have each other.
About the Author
(Photo by Wikipedia) Louisa May Alcott was born on November 29, 1832 in Germantown (now part of Philadelphia), Pennsylvania. Her family moved to Boston in 1834 where her father joined the Transcendental Club with Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau.
Alcott’s early education included lessons from Thoreau. Although most of her education were from her father, she did receive instructions from famed writers and educators like Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Margaret Fuller, all of whom were family friends. Because of poverty, Alcott needed to work at an early age. She was a teacher, a seamstress, a governess, and a writer. Writing became Alcott’s outlet from all these pressures.
Alcott’s writing career began in 1860 when she wrote for Atlantic Monthly. Published in 1864, Moods is Alcott’s first published novel. Her other works include The Mysterious Key and What It Opened (1867), An Old Fashioned Girl and Eight Cousins or The Aunt-Hill (1875). Of all her works, Little Women (1868) was her most critically and commercially successful work. It sequels, Little Men, and Jo’s Boys were published in 1868 and 1871, respectively. In the 1860s, Alcott wrote under the nom de plume, A. M. Barnard. Under this pseudonym, she published the novellas Behind a Mask or A Woman’s Power(1866), and A Long Fatal Love Chase (1866). She has also published a couple of short stories and short story collections.
Louisa May Alcott died of stroke at the age of 55 on March 6, 1888. She is buried in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord, Massachusetts, along side famous authors like Emerson,