A Louisa May Alcott Christmas: “The Little Red Purse”

From the Christmas Tales and Stories collection (Laura Ciolkowski, editor) comes a sweet, albeit typical offering from Louisa May Alcott known as “The Little Red Purse.”

red purse

Even though the essence of the story is very familiar (rich little girl learns how good it is to give to the poor), Louisa always manages to insert something that raises the story above the mundane.

The burning question

My first thought going into the story was, “How long will it be before Lu, the little girl who owns the little red purse, either loses it, ruins it, or gives it away?” You’ll have to read the story to find out if that happens or not. It kept me guessing right up to the last minute.

Lu’s weaknesses

Lu is ten and loves candy. She receives an allowance each week and often spends it on candy and usually makes herself sick. But she has another “weakness” besides love of candy: she is softhearted.

Easy come, easy go

After filling her brand new purse with coins, she set out with her Aunty to the store to buy the candy and wound up giving away nearly every cent to people along the way who were in need. In the end she just had a few pennies and bought one piece of candy. However, just as she was going to enjoy it, a stray dog came and snatched it away! It was nice to see that Lu, rather than crying over the loss like a spoiled child, found the whole thing quite amusing along with her Aunty.

Building a Christmas fund

At the crux of the story is a poor beggar girl Lucy, who comes to the family home in the pouring rain asking for food for her family. Lu takes Lucy to heart and vows to earn and save every penny towards a Christmas fund so that Lucy, her little sister Totty and their mother can have a nice Christmas.

Lu is not a perfect little angel: every now and then she falls prey to her love of candy. But in the end, she saves up a nice stash and surprises Lucy and her family with toys, candies and clothes for Christmas.

Grandfather and granddaughter

It is after this point that the story begins to speak to me. Lu’s grandfather, an invalid, has been secretly stashing coins into the little red purse so that Lu could have a bigger Christmas fund. The exchange between grandfather and granddaughter is poignant teaching the little girl how to give in a manner that is truly long lasting.

Reform has a face and a name

Louisa, ever in the spirit of reform, doesn’t make charity simply a matter of Christmas presents or giving away money. It’s personal. And this comes directly from her own mother whose crusade for the poor was not for masses, but for every poor individual. To Abba, every poor person had a name and a story. Louisa embodies this spirit and inserts it into so many of her juvenile stories. It’s oftentimes what raises the story a notch up from just being another moralistic tale.

No wonder Louisa always puts me in the Christmas spirit!

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