I love reading. Each book puts me into a different sphere of existence and all readers can relate to that feeling. I’ve read many books that have touched me, inspired me and motivated me. But no book has stayed with me the way Little Women by Louisa May Alcott has.
Books put their readers in various shoes. During the journey, the reader travels with the book and everything makes sense- the peculiar universe the character dwells in, their motivations and desires along with the plot, and the ride is enjoyable and interesting. But once the last page is turned and the book kept away, seldom does anything stay behind.
Because while we may love to live as superheroes, wizards and vampires, enjoy the struggles of an astronaut alone on space, and enjoy the thrill of living on the sea, the fact is we cannot directly relate to these characters. Their hopes and aspirations make sense to us, but we will never be them. Their stories often allow us to escape the mundanities of day to day life, but apart from that, we do not think of them.
Little women stands out from other books because of this. There effectively is no plot, no rising climax. One could even just describe it as a book that simply documents the lives of four young women in America. But in there lies its beauty. Most of us don’t have super exciting lives. We aren’t superheroes by night, don’t live double lives, and don’t have secret labs behind our walls. We live with our family and friends and have struggles and dreams that are ordinary in every aspect but still fundamentally touch us as humans.
The book talks about family life and has something we can all relate to. It talks about innocent childhood adventures and friendships that remain a cherished memory in all of our lives. Summer evenings, races under the trees, grass under your head as you look up at the sky. These are the tiny moments that Little women captures.
It captures the heartache of saying goodbye to your childhood and seeing your friends grow up and mature, as they leave you behind with nothing but memories of simpler times. It also paints a picture of the loneliness that most of us feel when we see our old friends become unknown faces.
Little women talks about weighty issues in a beautiful soft tone. Like a mother talking to her child on her lap, the book guides us through the hurdles of the world with whispered words of endearment. It refers to loss, depression, loneliness, anger and jealousy with no condescension or contempt.
When Beth has no dreams for the future, but to live happily with her family, we’re all reminded of the innocent dreams we had as children.
When Amy stormed through multiple art mediums struggling to find her niche, only to find out she didn’t possess a natural talent, I felt her emotions as if they were mine. When she finally breaks down to confess, ‘I want to be great or nothing. I won’t be a commonplace dauber so I don’t intend to try anymore’, the reader forges a deep bond to her. Aren’t we all familiar with the realization that sometimes no matter how much work we put in, somethings are just not meant to be?
When Jo scribbles in the dark of night on her notebook, while she’s dealing with Beth’s death, her emotions touch the reader. When she looks around at all her friends grow up and is overcome by the desire to keep them close and not let them drift apart when she says goodbye to her childhood and when she experiences the temptations of fame and money, each moment strikes home. There is so much to learn from Jo’s character as well as understand. The way she is often roused by a quick temper and finds it difficult to control her emotions. She is stifled by the societal norms for women at her time, and her words convey the frustration that women often felt then, and still feel today about society.
She says,
“Women, they have minds, and they have souls, as well as just hearts. And they’ve got ambition, and they’ve got talent, as well as just beauty. I’m so sick of people saying that love is all a woman is fit for”.
But she doesn’t shy away from the fact that despite ambition and success, she feels lonely. She is not a perfect character in any way but we see pieces of our self in her. My favourite moment is when she chops off her hair. She bravely donates her hair, independently raising money and rejecting the expectations for women at the same time. But is at night, when she cries holding her short hair, that the reader truly loves her character. We often nobly sacrifice things and keep a brave face in front of people, yet a small selfish voice inside our heads often tosses a tear of loss down. These feelings are natural and what makes us human after all.
In many ways, Meg March is the unexpected poster child of feminism. Contrary to Jo’s modern approach to life where she doesn’t want to marry, desires to earn her own money, and rejects societal norms; Meg represents the traditional view of femininity. She likes looking pretty, wants to be married and have children and enjoys being the ‘delicate’ heroine of the book. Honestly, I didn’t relate much to her nor did I appreciate her too much. I almost ignored her flippantly, when I came across this quote,
“Just because my dreams are different than yours doesn’t make them unimportant.”
And WOW. Often nowadays, women like Meg are ignored because they do not conform to the definition of feminism. But this is exactly why feminism is important because it pushes women to do whatever makes them happy. Caring for her children is what made her happy and it doesn’t make her weak or ambitionless. And that is a very important concept.
There is so much I like about this book, but the thing I love the most is that is simplistic in its inherent nature. The book revolves around the lives of these four sisters and watches them grow up. The language is simple, sweet and nostalgic and weaves the story out of light thread. Little Women has a soft, delicate feel to it, which is further emphasized by Alcott’s language which is suffused with a sentimental light.
In simple words, Little Women is like a summer sunset, nothing flashy but comforting and beautiful at the same time.
All in all, give it a go!
-Adyesha Singhdeo