Little Women: A classic that resonates with readers for a lifetime
Updated: Jan 4
“Take some books and read; that’s an immense help; and books are always good company if you have the right sort.” – Louisa May Alcott
I grew up in a two-story house in Muscle Shoals. We moved there when I was in elementary school and I, an avid reader, had only one small request for my new bedroom: a window seat. I loved spending any amount of free time with my nose buried in a book, and I was known to do so for hours on end. I devoured countless books in that room on that seat (Gone with the Wind, Anne of Green Gables, Rebecca, Huckleberry Finn, The Great Gatsby…) but one shaped my life in ways that the others could not. Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women is a classic that riveted me as a young girl, sustained me as a teenager, encouraged me as a young wife and mother, and still teaches me new and vital lessons at my current stage in life. Though the words on the page remain the same, the lens through which I read them changes. It is a book that I will carry with me always and which I will never stop adoring.
I actually re-read Little Women just a few months ago. Life, as it tends to do, threw me some curveballs in 2021. Some were related to the pandemic and the general sense of upheaval and unrest in the world around me, but others were incredibly personal. In such times I find solace in many things such as my love of cooking and my work, but I had a need to find rest in a familiar friend. Books bring back such warm memories sometimes. The smell and feel of the once-dogeared pages, the worn edges of the cover, and the satisfying crackle of the spine when it’s reopened after years of resting on a shelf. It had been ten years or more since I’d read Little Women, but somehow I knew it was time to do so again.
Far be it for me to determine what makes a classic so very special, but I do have a hypothesis. I believe that it is Alcott’s ability to create beautifully flawed characters in which we can all find some part of ourselves:
Meg – the eldest, a nurturing “mother hen” to her three younger sisters who can’t help but yearn for the finer things in life;
Jo – a writer whose ambition is matched only by her strong will;
Beth – an unassuming lover of music and her family whose ultimate happiness lies at home;
Amy – in many ways the stereotypical youngest child, but also the possessor of incredible artistic talent and the ability to charm anyone she encounters.
My mistake in reading Little Women for the first time was trying to identify with one of the four sisters. I thought that I was mostly a “Meg,” being slightly shy, unwaveringly feminine, but also cautiously ambitious. When I read it the second and third time, though, I had become a bit bolder and less apologetic in my desires for independence and success. Somehow, I had become an “Amy” and maybe even a “Jo.” Not until I became a mother and recognized the true joy that comes with loving something so wholly and fully that is not oneself did I see myself as a “Beth.” Precious, selfless, meek yet strong Beth. The last time I read this beautiful novel, I found that I have exemplified each of the four sisters at some point in my life, and likely will do so again. Primarily, though, I recognized that the most beautiful thing about each sister is what I would have once classified as a “flaw.” It was a jarring revelation, both about the book and myself.
As a young girl and even a young woman, this novel taught me to be unapologetically aspirational and eternally driven. It taught me that life is not ever going to be “easy,” but beauty is all around us if we are only willing to recognize it. As a 35-year-old businesswoman and mother of two, it now teaches me the importance of recognizing one’s “flaws” as opportunities for growth and catalysts for necessary change. I am a product of a beautiful, supportive family and one of four siblings, just like my favorite sisters. I am also blessed to have had this book as a guide for so many of life’s most pivotal times. Today, I see myself mostly as a “Jo,” driven each day by a longing to leave my mark but knowing the incredible importance of teaching my children to, “Have regular hours for work and play; make each day both useful and pleasant, and prove that you understand the worth of time by employing it well. Then youth will bring few regrets, and life will become a beautiful success.”