Jo Meets Apollyon – what does that mean?

The other day I was trying to find the chapter in Little Women where Jo shares with Marmee her fears about her quick temper and couldn’t find it. No wonder! Yesterday I listened to chapters 7 and 8 from the audio book and found out that “Jo Meets Apollyon” was what I was looking for.

But who the heck is Apollyon and what did this character have to do with Jo and her temper?

A quick look on Wikipedia gave me my answer: Apollyon (Greek for the Hebrew “Abaddon”) was known in the Christian faith as “The Destroyer.”  Wikipedia says, “In the Hebrew scriptures, Abaddon comes to mean ‘place of destruction,’ or the realm of the dead, and is associated with Sheol (see, for instance, Job 26:6, Proverbs 15:11, Proverbs 27:20 and Psalm 88:3, among others).”

Now that made sense. And Chapter 8, so far my favorite chapter in Little Women (close behind are “Beth Finds the Palace Beautiful” and “Meg Goes to Vanity Fair”) does such a brilliant job of illustrating how Jo’s worst enemy, her temper, could quickly escalate to the point of totally undoing her, and how she found salvation.

Louisa May Alcott does many things well in her writing but the thing I think she does best is describe feelings in a way such that you step right into the character’s shoes and feel those same feelings just as intensely.

I was heartsick when I learned that Amy had destroyed Jo’s manuscript. How could she?? It certainly didn’t help me like her any better (she is, so far, my least favorite of the sisters). I could SO feel Jo’s grief and anger, and could really understand she couldn’t forgive Amy’s ‘revenge’ very easily. It was frightening watching her temper grow so quickly and morph into something so dangerous. When Amy fell through the ice, I could then feel Jo’s anxiety, guilt and deep remorse. It’s the kind of remorse that makes one feel desperate, despairing that life can ever be the same again, even though everything turned out fine in the end.

The crème de la crème, however, was the truly touching conversation she had with her mother, who startled Jo when she admitted, “I am angry nearly every day of my life, Jo, but I have learned not to show it, and I still hope to learn not to feel it, though it may take me another forty years to do so.”

I could feel the bond strengthening between mother and daughter, and the sweetness of that moment was beautiful. There’s nothing much richer than that kind of sharing between parent and child.

I think I get it now why Little Women was so wildly popular in its time, and is still popular today. Despite the fact that it is set in a past we no longer can relate to, there are many timeless truths that can apply to any time and place. Louisa, in fulfilling her obligation to her publisher, created a classic despite herself!

On to Chapter 9 . . . I so look forward to my evening commute, listening to the adventures of the March sisters!


14 Replies to “Jo Meets Apollyon – what does that mean?”

  1. The Apollyon reference, along with Vanity Fair and some others, all relate to John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. This was a book the girls enjoyed and on which they based a charming let’s-pretend game which is described somewhere in Little Women. Pilgrim’s Progress is a parable of the struggle of a Christian soul. I read it many years ago and did not care for it much, but it had a lot of admirers in its day.

  2. Nancy, I’m so glad you comment on this blog. You’re right and I should have thought of that. I will have to add that book to my reading list, just so I have the proper background.

    The more I get into this stuff, the more I want to research the background for it. I just saw this really interesting book yesterday at Borders called “The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination, Second Edition” by Professor Sandra M. Gilbert and Professor Susan Gubart. Have you ever read this book, and if so, what did you think of it?

  3. Thank you for revealing the meaning of “Apollyon.” I was wondernig the same thing, but I satisfied myself thinking it must have been something from Pilgrim’s Progress and never looked it up. 🙂

    My favorite “Litttle Women”quotation is from this chapter (I always call it Chapter Eight). It is what Marmee advises Jo after she claims she will never forgive Amy:

    “My dear, don’t let the sun go down upon your anger. Forgive each other, help each other, and begin again tomorrow.”

    I know two quick temper people who promised to each other that they would follow this piece of advice and no matter how bitter fight they had and how strongly both felt that they are so right and that the other one is just stubborn :), no matter what -they will never again go to bed angry with each other. 🙂

    It cost high price to realize that there is no such a thing that is unforgivable. The price of choosing to not forgive is higher than the price of forgiveness.

    I love Chapter Eight. I could say just a simple “Amen” to everything you said about it.

  4. No, I haven’t read The Mad Woman in the Attic, but have intended to. The title refers to the mad wife in Jane Eyre who is incarcerated in the attic. In the novel, she is a person to be feared (and she does, in fact, burn the place down). On the other hand, consider the power of a husband who could on his own initiative lock his wife away.

    A later novel, Wide Sargasso Sea, tells the mad wife’s story.

    You can see where all of this is going, can’t you!

  5. Good point about the power Mr.Rochester had. A crazy wife locked away in the attic, a daughter of his French mistress as his protege and a young governess whom he wants to marry, in spite of the fact that he’s already married, – all under the same roof. 🙂

  6. Marmee is a mother we all wish we could have 🙂

    Reading biographies about Louisa it is impressive how much she was like her mother. They shared a strong bond, but it is often overlooked. Everyone focuses on Mr. Alcott.

    Amy is also my least favorite sister. I disliked her through the entire book!

    I like the person more than her character. Although, it does seem at times as though May was a bit cranky and childish and she certainly did have astonishing good luck .

  7. I think it’s only fair to point out that Charlotte Bronte didn’t write Wide Sargasso Sea. it was a later novel, all right, but written by someone who helped themselves to Bronte’s characters.

  8. Poor Amy…no one seems to like her! I probably sympathized with Amy more than most because not only was I the younger sister, I drew and painted, daily, from early childhood…and was a blue-eyed blonde. 🙂 Also, my sister was six years older and we had nothing in common. She was sometimes very tough on me, another parallel to Jo and Amy!

    Having said that, I adored and rooted for Jo – who wouldn’t? And identified with her as well, being a passionate reader, aspiring writer, and independent spirit. How I wanted her to say “Yes” to Laurie!! Alas! Though of course Laurie and Amy were perfect for each other.

    Beth was wonderful also, the tender-hearted animal lover of the family…that was special. Cannot even estimate the times I cried reading (yet once again) “The Valley of the Shadow”.

    The sister that interested me the least was Meg, very little exciting seemed to happen to her, inwardly or outwardly, at least until John Brooke came along!

    Loved Marmee! To have a mother like her!! I, too, think that her inspiration, Mrs. Alcott, has been sadly neglected history-wise in favor of Louisa’s father, who actually brought a great deal of hardship upon his wife and daughters. He couldn’t have been more different from Mr. March.

    1. Welcome Charlotte! I like Amy. 🙂 Beth is my favorite and Jo is the most interesting. And I love Laurie but also love the Professor. Mr. March was almost a non-character. While his absence in the first half of the book is explained by his serving in the Civil War as a chaplain, you’d hardly know he was back when he did return. And it wasn’t just because he was an invalid. I doubt any reader could have handled Bronson, he was such a conundrum (but a fascinating study).

  9. What I really liked in the 2018 film was the way it showed how both Amy and Jo constantly teased each others as kids and in the book burning Jo´s book was the culprit of that. Amy did not understood Jo´s masculine trajectory and independent nature and Jo constantly mocked Amy´s desire to be a lady. One of my all time favorite chapters in Good Wives is the “Calls” because now they have respectful disagreements but once again it is Jo´s temper and her despise towards the female labour why she looses the trip to Europe.

    1. Except for the lady-like thing, I think Jo and Amy were a lot alike in temperament. But because Amy wanted to be a lady, she understood the value of self-control and practiced it beautifully.

  10. 2018 version is probably the only one that doesn´t tone down Jo´s aggressiveness 2017 pbs version also did good job with it. In the 1949 film and in the 1994 movie viewers don´t get any explanations why Jo can´t go to Europe..probably because the Calls shows that Jo is a human being with faults but that also takes away a lot from Amy´s character.

      1. Very true. My biggest resentment towards Laurie´s character doesn´t come from the books but from the Hollywood portrayal of him which never shows his temper. It leaves people confused to why Jo did not choose him. In the first book Laurie has constant mood changes and they escalate on the second book where he is a complete mess, a beautiful mess but still a mess. He is lacking direction and I think that is why he was pinning on Jo because she had tendency to mother him. The proposal is a power play and it his way of avoiding any responsibilities. It is highlighted again when Amy lectures him (something that he needs to hear) and Laurie says he can´t understand why Jo rejected him because he finished his studies like she wanted. Up until to that point Laurie is a manboy and without Amy he would have remained like that. In Good Wives there isn´t either any glimpses inside to Laurie´s head where he would be thinking about his future with Jo or her great qualities or whatever it is that people think when they are in love. Feels like the only reason he wants to marry her is that he should not have to face the problems he has in his own life that he is too afraid to handle. This to me makes Amy´s and Laurie´s relationship so powerful. When Laurie is in Europe he does dream about Amy often and in New York Bhaer does dream about Jo and actually wonders what it would be like to have a family with her.

        Because of Jo´s strong masculine trajectory when she was a teenager she had hard time to see any wrong in Laurie´s behaviour even when some of his pranks hurt other people. I´v been thinking a lot about their influence on each others in many ways Jo was drowning into internalised misogyny. All the way up till she is in her early 20´s she is always making fun of the feminine which is why she often clashes with Amy. Culprit of this happens when she looses the trip to Europe because of that. These ideas of masculinity that she has had are all shattered when Laurie changes and no longer sees her as his brother/sister. None of that is shown in the films and it is distressing because it is what gives Amy´s and Laurie´s relationship it´s appeal since Amy is the only one who gets through him. The Hollywood Laurie is shown as someone who´s only purpose in life is to be pretty and to be in love with Jo and I can´t even express my discomforts with that notion because it completely dismisses his personality and character arc.

        Then there is the parallel between Bhaer and Beth which is often ignored. Jo´s immediate family accepts and tolerates Jo´s boyish ways and Jo at times feels judged by the outside world. Beth is the only one who sees her as a full person and she is the one who Jo allows herself to be vulnerable with. Bhaer celebrates and admires Jo´s need for independence. Once again the proposal is a good example, he doesn´t even ask her to marry him but he asks if she could love him. As someone who is always of Fritz´s corner it bothers me when people blame it on him for changing Jo to be more “feminine” but it is a natural process and each of her sisters teach her a lesson. After loosing the trip to Europe through Amy Jo learns not to despise the world of the feminine as much as she has. Taking care of Beth brings out her tender-side and Beth´s passing beautifies the domestic tasks and from Meg Jo learns that being in a relationship with someone who shares the same values can be worth of pursuing.

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