Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Little Women, Warning: SPOILERS

I have to confess that I cheated. I was reading Little Women and I wanted to be directed so I could look for things to talk about later, so I read a list of reading group questions supplied by the internet and I got all in a huff. I had only read through the first half, so I knew the characters well, and had a good idea of where I wanted the story to go. The questions not only revealed to me that Beth was going to die, but the Jo was not going to marry Laurrie. I was outraged. I almost made up my mind that I wasn’t going to like the book. But after reading it, I really did like it. Here’s some of the questions, and I’ll write what I think about them, and anyone who’s read it can respond.

Do you find it surprising that once Laurie is rejected by Jo, he falls in love with Amy? Do you feel his characterization is complete and he is acting within the "norm" of the personality Alcott has created for him, or does Alcott simply dispose of him once our heroine rejects him?

I don’t find it surprising at all. Like Jo says, she’s like the wind while Amy is like the sun and while a romance between Jo and Laurie would have been more interesting, or more fun, it wouldn’t have been more work to keep it happy. As far as the “norm” of the personality, I think it is out of the norm of his character, and this is what I think the book is about to some degree: that you can choose to learn from life, be it good or bad. Laurie had been a gadabout his whole life and had made an effort to learn from the good (i.e. trying to improve himself to win Jo), but when the Jo refused him, he was resigned to be unhappy. Amy showed him that you move forward no matter what.

As far as the shake-up goes, in general I think Alcott wanted to show that you don’t have to settle for so-so love. You don’t have to be married unless there is the potential for both parties to be ‘Julie-Andrews-spinning-on-a-mountain-top happy’.

The last two chapters find Jo setting aside her budding literary career to run a school with her husband. Why do you think Alcott made her strongest feminine figure sacrifice her own life plans for her husband's?

Boo to this whole question. It makes me irritated that people have forgotten what Alcott was trying to say in the last two chapters. That someone could read that and think only of the worldly glory that Jo was giving up with her writing and not see the joy that she invited into her life by surrounding herself with family and children is truly lamentable. Jo’s writing never really made her supremely happy because she was just ‘talented’ and not a genius, and thus could never create that wonderful masterpiece she dreamed of in her castle in the sky. But with getting married and opening a school, she realized the most wonderfully feminine part of herself and was really happy. And, as a point of order, the idea to open the school was Jo’s in the first place, not Mr. Baer’s.

The other questions were mostly dumb and obvious, but I just wanted to say that I really agree with the lessons taught by Marmee to her daughters. I especially like the ones imparted to Meg about making the home pleasant for her family and not letting her children eclipse her husband. I didn’t mark the page, but it really rang true to me when Marmee says something like, “you are the sunshine of your home.” As women, we have the opportunity to be very literally the glue that holds our home together. I know for me, I get bogged down in the every day minutiae of running a home (and going to school) like making sure that we have milk in the refrigerator and singing Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star for the millionth time in a row. But with the book, Alcott shows us that life is hard and housework is very real (I know I don’t sew one-tenth the amount that the March girls did) but like the last page of the book, when Marmee gathers her family around her, we too will have a reward so delicious that it can make sweet the bitter and everything will be more than worth it.


Caitlin said...

I am so glad that you liked it! I too found Marmee's lessons to Meg the most enjoyable. It is refreshing to read something that isn't trying to be "women's lib" friendly and written with a skewed PC lens. I think we often make the mistake of thinking that the problems that face women today are unique to our modern society. I was surprised to see myself in Meg's drama, Jo's stubbornness, Beth's faith, and Amy's vanity. I was laughing out load as I heard John argue "But Meg, you told me to bring someone over whenever I wanted!" Classic.

I did a little research before my book club and I read that Alcott's original manuscript ended with Jo remaining single. It was only after being pressured by her publisher that she wrote The Professor in. I never would have guessed that he was an afterthought.

One last thing. Don't think it would be awkward if your sister married a man that was once in love with you? Weird.

Science Teacher Mommy said...

This is one of the finest movie adaptations in my DVD collection. I also love the sequels to the novel. Jo ends up running her school and have a whole bunch of sons. It is called Jo's Boys. But there are others. I think at different times in my life I have really identified with different characters. Mostly Jo. (As a lot of reader-girls do) Jealous of Amy. Knowing I should be more like Beth. . . .