Imagine a period where authors cared how teens would turn out. Authors who empathized with the 19th century aspirations of teen children impoverished in the world, yet growing richer in their knowledge of life.
Louisa May Alcott was one such writer. Oh wait, she still is, because thanks to some of her immortal works, she lives on.
Amid British classic writers such as Jane Austen, The Bronte sisters or Charles Dickens, May Alcott brought, shall we say, an American take to conventional storytelling. Little Women is a novel that brings a bold progressive perspective to women’s lives back in the early 19th century.
The book is a rewarding journey through the lives and loves of the March family sisters. Ofcourse, it really is a typical classic setting: a Civil War and the men gone to serve; impoverished wives and daughters trying to make ends meet; grandmothers and aunts teaching teenage girls to find wealthy husbands; a rebellious female protagonist and a sumptuous breakfast for the morning of a white Christmas.
Rebellion against some useless societal norms is at the heart of the novel, seen mostly through the lens of Josephine March – the protagonist. Jo wants to be a successful writer in a world where women writers (like Jane Austen) had to use a male pen name to be taken seriously.
When she says– “I like good strong words that mean something..,” or “I am not afraid of the storms, for I am learning how to sail my ship,” it feels to the reader like there’s nothing in the world that cannot be achieved.
May Alcott, however, draws the depth of her characters through their obvious reactions to circumstances. She takes the pain of building up the surroundings of each of the sisters (in the novel) so intricately that their reactions echo their innermost desires. This is probably what amazes a reader: how could four little girls living under the same roof turn out to be so different from each other, each interpreting life from their own dreams?
You feel Meg’s dilemma when she longs to look like the rich teen girls of her age; you pine for Jo when she reexamines some of her biggest mistakes and decisions of her life; you hear Beth’s melancholy when she plays the piano alone in her room; you cry with Amy when she begs for Jo’s forgiveness. And then there’s Marmee. So many readers will see their resilient mothers in Marmee: steady amid the storm, man of the house in the absence of one, sacrificial yet never self-righteous.
“Watch and pray, dear, never get tired of trying, and never think it is impossible to conquer your fault.” – Marmee
Am I the woman I dreamed of?
Some readers will find themselves asking.
This is where May Alcott’s writing shines like the sun rays cutting through the thatched roof of the March family. None of her characters aims for perfection, each of them just validates human feelings. She paints a picture of how love cannot conquer all, and how forgiveness is the hardest service a human can do to himself.
“Love Jo all your days, if you choose, but don’t let it spoil you, for it’s wicked to throw away so many good gifts because you can’t have the one you want.”
Little Women is a book of wisdom, a kind of modern day proverb, told by imperfect human hearts. It is a book for every teen man and teen woman. Or those still nursing their teen hearts.