December 17, 2012 by Vicki
Louisa May Alcott’s classic tale Little Women has always been one of my favourites. As an adult reader, however, I discovered a vast wealth of ideas hidden behind this classic tale. Christianity informs this tale with its own morality and belief structure. Early in the story, the girls identify themselves as pilgrims struggling with their own burdens just as Christian did in the Pilgrim’s Progress. Each of the March daughters identified their own burdens that they needed to conquer; for Jo, it was her anger and quick tongue, for Beth, it was her hatred of dishes and dusting, for Meg, it was her desire for wealth, and for Amy, it was her vanity. Little Women focused on how each one struggled with their burdens. It does focus on Jo, as the main character, but never forgets the other three daughters and their burdens. The idea that each one’s struggle was a pilgrimage provided comfort and strength for all of the main characters. I could not help but identify with this ideology. Identifying your own personal villains can help enormously in dealing with each outbreak of them. I hope that my Action Plan will accomplish the same goal as their various pilgrimages. I know my various resolutions identified quite a few of my personal villains.
I could emphasize with Jo’s struggles with her personal burdens. She had to mediate between her own nature and the constraints laid upon by her status as a young lady. She tries so hard to continue having her independence while still being considered a lady. Her failure to balance these two requirement occasionally cost her greatly such as when Aunt March takes Amy instead of Jo to Europe. Jo, however, always tries and never gives up. By the end of the novel, Jo has found and created a life for herself where her independence is valued and her company desired.
Jo’s ability to live independently is a result of her mother’s careful training and love. I think all of the March girl’s benefited from having the living example of their mother before them. Mrs March, to me, represents a true lady. She did not hold herself above any other human being. She worked hard both for her community and for her family. She taught her girls charity and compassion. She understood that children learn best from experience and, consequently, allowed them a variety of experiences from within the safety of their own homes. Everywhere she went, she was respected and admired. None could fault her, despite her sharing the same difficulties as Jo in regards to her temper.
What does this concept mean “being a lady.” It has come under scrutiny for being a construction of the patriarchy and yet, we all know women who we respect because we consider them “a lady.” I do not believe it has anything to do with wealth for I have know true ladies who struggled to make ends meet. I have also know women of great wealth, who I would never consider a lady. I suspect that self respect and respect for others form a huge part of being a lady. A woman who respects herself will always behave in a ladylike manner. Is this a construction or is this simple respect for ourselves? In Little Women, Mrs March is a lady and she shines above many of the other mothers in the community. She does not have a great amount of money and the wealth that she does posses she shares gladly with the community. Little Women explores the concept of “being a lady” within the historical context.
I loved reading Little Women and believe that I garnered more from it as an adult reader than I did as a child. I am glad to have shared in the March’s struggles, loves, and victories. I do not, generally, like a book that makes me cry. Little Women made me cry and I love the novel even more because it could touch my heart so deeply.