It is the story of four sisters — Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy — who are as different as could be. One thing that binds them all is their love for each other and their mother’s upbringing to be the best versions of themselves. This broadly sums up the storyline of Louisa May Alcott’s classic coming-of-age novel, Little Women. However the two-part book — published in 1868 and 1869 respectively — charts a course that one from any walk of life can relate to. The two volumes were issued as a single novel titled Little Women in 1880.
From the bond between siblings, the difference between the parenting of a mother and that of a father, adolescent crushes, newlyweds building their nest, a man who has lost his son and wants his grandson to fulfil his parts — Little Women has it all.
As we said earlier, the novel revolves around the lives of the four March sisters — the heroines — Margaret "Meg" March, Josephine "Jo" March, Elizabeth "Beth" March and Amy Curtis March. And their mother, also named Margaret, called "Marmee" by the sisters.
Meg, the eldest sister, works as a governess in a household, she dreams of having a home of her own one day. The family-oriented, comely one. Jo is portrayed as a tomboy and gives two hoots about how the world judges her. Her only goal is to see her family happy. However, her nasty temper lands her in trouble every now and then. Despite having no filter between her thoughts and the spoken words, she is a writer and a rather good one at that. She also tends to her Aunt March when she is unwell. She is the “provider”. The character is apparently based on the author herself.
Beth is the classic example of Miss Goody Two-Shoes. She is the sweetest child in the family and cannot see anyone sad. She is shy, she is quiet, she plays the piano, and is happy to stay at home and help with the domestic chores.
In stark contrast is the youngest sister, Amy. She has an air of sophistication about her, paints, and is very clear about her life course — she wants to marry rich. One could call her the practical one, or the materialistic one — take your pick.
Their story will take you through the harrowing experiences each one has, a rite of passage to adulthood, leaving the innocence of childhood behind. There is a sense of a persistent “inescapable woman problem" that the women seem to brave and get on with their lives. An underlying theme of the stark social inferiority that women of that era faced, especially the poor women who were "unimportant" in the social sense. The author brings all of it out with a poignancy that is not overwhelming and a bravado that is not in your face. This is perhaps why the novel was a smash hit at the time of its publication and has never gone out of print.
The book has been adapted in popular culture many times, the latest of it being the star-packed eponymous movie released in 2019, with Emma Watson, Saoirse Ronan, Eliza Scanlen, and Florence Pugh as the four March sisters.
Read Little Women when you have the luxury of time. The book will take a while, especially because it will make you pause and connect with each of the characters and the stages of their lives.