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!


9 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).

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