Little Women, Big Lessons

Little Women

Little Women

For a while now I have been wondering why no reading list I have ever received had Little Women as a novel to study. I wondered what made the novel so unreadable in a school or university English class to warrant its exclusion. I just simply couldn’t figure it out. The book is considered a classic but no one seems interested in studying it. With the curiosity of why Little Women is such an unpopular study resource, I jumped into the story.

Little Women is the tale of the four March girls, Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy, who live a modest life during war time in America. The girls have one desire: to be like their loving, good parents. But the girls have to each battle through their own demons of vanity, laziness, greed and selfishness as they metaphorically pilgrimage to their very own Celestial Cities. But will they make it? Or will their demons get the better of them?

Movie Magic

So, like all classic literature Louis May Alcott’s  novel has been made into a movie with actresses like Wynona Ryder, Claire Danes and Susan Saradon. The movie is a fairly old one (by movie standards) being released in 1994 but it’s gives that great old-time war feel because all the CGI effects and technology wasn’t present to make the movie look too modern.

I haven’t seen the whole movie from beginning to end but I would suggest (perhaps I would suggest this with all the books that have been made into movies but especially with this one), read the book first. I made the mistake of watching the movie first. Sometimes people will substitute reading the book with watching the movie but in the case of Little Women this will not work. The book describes the girl’s characters, their relationships with one another and you really need those to understand their actions in the film. Read the book first then use the film as a way of seeing the girls and  their actions. That way you’ll see if you understood the girls correctly and also get a better picture in your mind of the story.

There is one problem you may encounter watching the film and that is that there is an extra story added. In the original novel, Little Women, the story ends before the girls grow up. This is the version I read. But, some reprints have included the second story in the series, Good Wives, in the same book as the first. The film has done the same thing adding the next part of Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy’s adventures to the first part. It does make for a longer and more riveting adventure but it also means if you watch the film after you’ve read the first book, you may find a number of spoilers to the second book. Not good! I’ve still got to read Good Wives before I find the movie again to watch it. I don’t want any more spoilers.

In My Humble Opinion

So, after all that you must still be wondering about my opening conundrum: why is Little Women not used as a resource for studying?

If I’m honest, I’m still not sure what the problem with Little Women is. I mean, Little Women is a really great and riveting book. It’s set in America which could account for the problem. After all, most classic literature is set in England. Austen, Shelley, Carroll, Forster and Dickens all set their stories in conventional English societies. But, I still don’t see how this can be such an impenetrable obstacle. Many of the conventions present in England were also present in America especially in regard to women. So, what’s the problem with the setting being America?

Actually, I think it far more likely that the stigmatism of Little Women comes from the references to Christianity and the intertextual (a big word English students use which means that there is reference to another book) references to John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. I am guessing that course designers fear prescribing Little Women either because of the Christian references that they think make it unsuitable for those who do not share those beliefs of because of the Pilgrim’s Progress references.

For my part, I think that any person (Christian or not) can benefit from learning lessons in perseverance, industriousness, humility and selflessness. The girls in Little Women may belong to a Christian household but are these values not what everyone strives for: perfection? Whether you believe as the girls do or not, it doesn’t hinder you from understanding why they do what they do and the hardships they face because every single one of us battles with the same things at one point in time or another, regardless of our beliefs. And anyway, many of the other classic novels also have references to Christianity (Pride and Prejudice is one example in particular).

As for the references to Pilgrim’s Progress…. I haven’t read this one yet. I’m not entirely sure if I want to. But, this didn’t stop me from understanding Little Women.  The girls basically explain the story-lie for Pilgrim’s Progress as they discuss the game they used to enjoy playing and this helps to understand the references to John Bunyan’s book.

Little Women is a great book about the trials of growing up and I think it deserves to be on everyone’s reading list even if it’s not on any school or university reading list.

Happy Reading!

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