Rambling about “Little Women”

My commute to work is one hour or more each way so I have to do something to entertain myself. I tend to have what I call “brain dumps” while driving and when I do, I whip out my phone and turn on the Dragon app. Then I dictate what I’m thinking. A good portion of my writing is done in this fashion.

Today I had such a “brain dump” so I thought I’d share it with you. I’ve been enjoying the Much Ado about Little Women blog and realized I’d love to write more often about what I think about Little Women.

So here goes!

Thoughts on Chapter 42, “Alone”

I have written before about this, my favorite chapter.. The most nuanced and grown-up chapter in the book, it shows Jo’s willingness to allow grief to reshape her. Consumed with honoring her dead sister Jo was determined to follow to the letter of the law Beth’s exhortation on taking care of the family by renouncing her writing ambition. Marmee’s wisdom however led Jo to understand why she found this so difficult to do—it simply wasn’t in her makeup to do what Beth had instructed. She could not be Beth and needed to find her own way to care for the family while remaining true to herself.

Choice of husbands

Part of remaining true to herself was to reject Laurie as a potential husband. In our love for Laurie we forget that he was not entirely supportive of Jo’s writing. Professor Bhaer, however, was. In fact, it was Jo’s poem about the four chests in the attic that touched his heart. He disapproved of Jo’s blood and thunder stories because he thought she was capable of better and inevitably, he was proven correct.

A new life

In allowing the creative process of grief to shape her future, Jo was able to realize a life that to her was very satisfying (even if some readers disagree). She could expand her world to help others, especially the boys she loved so dearly. She was able to start her own family. And in time, with acquired wisdom, she was able to write as she had desired.

This is why Little Women is such a satisfying read for me. Even though she resisted the idea of making Jo a married woman I think Louisa still revealed desires for herself through Jo. While I have yet to read Jo’s Boys, at least through Little Women and Little Men, Jo was free in a way that Louisa it was not. Jo did not impose the chains of duty upon herself as Louisa did.

Was it fair that Amy won the trip to Europe?

On another front, with regards to Amy getting the trip to Europe—I believe Amy deserved that trip. Unlike Jo who rendered her service to Aunt March in a begrudging way, complaining to her sisters about her aunt and clearly not enjoying her company, Amy in fact did enjoy being with Aunt March. That made Amy tmore agreeable companion. Jo felt entitled to that trip and that was wrong. While at first it appears unjust because of Jo’s service, it was the way that service was rendered that caused Amy to be chosen. There is something to be said about that verse from scripture, “God loves a cheerful giver.”

Lucky or gifted?

Like May, Amy was not just “lucky.” Calling her sister “lucky” betrayed Louisa’s/Jo’s resentment towards her sister’s natural ability to get along with others. Louisa/Jo had a lot of difficulty with casual niceties and small talk and people were put off by that. She couldn’t help being the way she was but to resent May/Amy because of her natural ability was unfair.

Who is the shy one?

Beth is often characterized as timid and shy but in many ways Jo was shy as well. Both sisters felt unworthy and in need of improvement, even redemption. Yet while Beth retreated from life, Jo pursued a better course, doing battle with her life like a warrior, determined to prove she was worthy. Beth died, and Jo lived.

What do you think?

Share your ramblings!



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23 Replies to “Rambling about “Little Women””

  1. Although Jo was being unfair to resent Amy, she really did., in real life too. It really did seem like “Amy has all the fun and I have all the work.” That was the way Louisa saw it and it actually was mostly that way. // As to the husband: I always tended to agree with Marmee that Jo and Laurie were not suited, and that the Professor, whose German Rpmantic Philosophy was much the same as Transcendentalism, was a much better match. Just let it be threadbare Gabriel Byrne with his violin concertos and not that ugly Santa Claus that played the Professor in the British version. One thing in that chapter (42) that made an impression was when Jo said, “…not because I love him any more than I did (when I refused him), but because I now care more to be loved.” But if anyone did NOT need a philosopher for a husband, it was Amy/May.

    1. Yeah I think so long as Professor Bhaer is Gabriel Byrne, most of us will be happy. 🙂 And good catch re: Jo’s remarking that she is ready to be loved. That’s the crux of the whole thing.

  2. Thank you Susan for taking the time to read and comment on my blog, I’ve enjoyed the discussion 🙂

    I suspect a whole book could be written on the whole Jo-Laurie-Professor debate that’s been going on the last century and a half 😉 There were certainly many things about Jo and Laurie’s stage of life and characters at the time he first proposed that I don’t believe would have yielded a marriage of equals had she accepted. Could things have been different? I do think so, but not without of a lot of personal growth and change, and even circumstances (which I realized when I started writing the Courtship of Jo March, trying to work out under what circumstances it might have been both possible and desirable).

    Aunt Carroll not taking Jo to Europe (funded by Aunt March) – ahhh how I felt the stab when I read that! To have missed the Grand Tour! Aunt March even says “I had planned to ask Jo, but as favour burdens her and she hates French…” It seems Jo was going to be asked until she made those flyaway remarks whilst in a cross mood, which felt to me like a lesson in exercising self control (especially over our words!). Did Amy deserve the opportunity? I think they both did, they both had great talent and ambition, and had financial circumstances been different they could have. (I wonder what Laurie would have done, were both sisters in his company in Europe…!)

    Usually we think of Amy and Jo in thinking about Europe – what about Beth? Beth at one point really loved music and sought to learn, she too had ambitions until she seemed to resign herself to the fact that there was just going to never be enough money for it (or even if there was, that it would never be invested in her in that way). Beth pursuing music in Europe the way Laurie did for a time…

    1. Ooo I forgot Aunt March didn’t go. But obviously, Jo’s attitude was the game changer. It pays to be nice, not to get what you want, but just to be nice.

      I don’t see Beth ever venturing out of the private sphere, at least the way Alcott wrote it. She definitely wanted to improve as a musician but I don’t think she had any aspirations to be public about her talent.

      Have you read “Rose in Bloom”? When I read of Phebe singing in public and knowing how Beth-like she was, that to me is Beth coming out into the spotlight while still retaining her true sense of self.

      1. Yes I thought that too when I read Rose in Bloom! And Polly from An old fashioned girl, being a music teacher, also reminded me of Beth and the life she might have lived.

        I think you’re right about there being no indication in LW Beth wanted a public talent. But I do wonder, such a desire sometimes grows in stages, whether she might have felt it and had more confidence, had there been the prerequisite steps to tutor her and encourage her more… Just a thought 🙂

  3. I enjoyed the manner in which you make statements of alternate endings and make one think of why Alcott wrote the way she did..from her heart which was yes, in Grief, and so heavy. yet she somehow manged to get some spark going in each situation Maybe it was her dad and his transcendental views of hope that come in …..I love that about her books….you are so wonderful at your passion for Alcott. You are her Light..leading forward…her inspiration to women today to NOT GIVE UP no matter how dark it seems. Blessings , Merri

    1. Thanks Merri. Even through Little Women was essentially a job for a publisher and not the desire of her heart, the fact that she did eventually fall into her vortex shows that it meant a great deal to her. This is why it rings so true.

  4. True classics speak to you differently in different points of your life. Which is why they are worth reading over and over again.

  5. Yes to all. One more thought: in the Professor, Jo married her father all over again! The difference was in the timing. Later in the century, the Professor was able to be successful with his teaching methods. Did anyone notice, in Little Men, that Professor Bhaer sounds just like Mr. Alcott—right down to telling Nat to flog his hand with the ruler?

    Amy/May was never interested in that type of man.

      1. Yes, Louisa paints the Transcendentalist and the German Romantic as one and the same. I was a German major and the literature of that period has a lot of natural images: life-giving water, night pregnant with day, Der Sandmann being actually Der Glassmann (don’t they make glass out of sand?), God in Nature etc.—-but I don’t recall the bit about perfecting oneself.
        Anyhow, thank you for the nice thoughts about Beth on her 182nd Birthday!🎂🎈

  6. Great post! Here’s a current thought running through my head…what about Laurie and Beth? Here me out…

    The main reason that Jo and Beth are so important to one another is that each is good for the other. Beth teaches Jo to be patient, kind, and unselfish, and Jo shakes Beth up occasionally while remaining her confidante, defender, and closest friend. If Jo and Laurie are so similar, is it impossible that Laurie and Beth could have developed a similar dynamic? I would argue that Jo finds Beth in her eventual partner, Bhaer, who is a bastion of morality and grace, and who pushes her to be better – it seems entirely possible to me that Beth could have found Jo in Laurie.

    Jo herself suspects that Beth is crushing on Laurie at one point: “She will make quite an angel of him, and he will make life delightfully easy and pleasant for the dear.” Beth would be able to tame Laurie, as she did Jo, but, as with Jo, she would be able to do so in a way that did not prevent him from losing his identity. And Laurie could make all of Beth’s dreams come true: as much music as she could want, the finances to help every poor family in Concord, and, perhaps most importantly, the closeness to her own family that she so treasures. Just think how happy it would make old Mr. Laurence!

    Practicality? When Jo finally asks Beth about Laurie, Beth replies that of course she has no feelings for him – he is Jo’s. Once it becomes clear that there is no romance to be had there, doesn’t it seem possible that Beth could fall for him? After all, “though Laurie flirted with Amy, and joked with Jo, his manner to Beth had always been peculiarly kind and gentle.” Jo would be delighted to see her Teddy paired with her Beth. They would bring out the best in one another.

    Long-term, the obvious problem is that Beth would be dreadfully uncomfortable in the high society that Laurie would be a part of. Admittedly, that’s a big problem. But that’s only an issue if Beth lives – if things played out as they did in the book, with Beth’s early demise, a small love affair between the two would be beautiful and absolutely heart-breaking.

    That’s my rambling…thoughts??

    1. What a great comment! I love your thinking on this. It is true, Laurie would have been good for Beth. Beth’s real life prototype, Elizabeth, did have a couple of suitors. We know of one when she was 18 but the relationship was discouraged by her mother. I also just found out the other day in reading one of Anna’s letters that she also had a boy interested in her when they were in Walpole and she was so sick. Anna thought they would have made a great match. What a shame that never could have happened!

  7. Yes, again you said a wise mouthful. Also, Amy winning the trip to Europe just made good sense to the whole story. Once again Jo was resentful of her little sister: “It’s always so. Amy has all the fun and I have all the work.”

  8. I wonder about Beth’s romance at 17 and why Mrs. Alcott discouraged it. Do you think it’s because she wanted Lizzy to prepare for the Normal School? I wonder if Lizzy was too shy to be an effective teacher?

    1. Too shy to be a teacher? Yes I think so. As to why the romance was broken off, Abba was determined that her daughters have trades and that they could support themselves. She was not high on marriage at the time you can well imagine. The incident with the romance happened months after Abba tried to get Lizzie to go to the Normal.

  9. When I was a child I used to hate Amy for burning Jo´s book but everytime when I have read Little Women as an adult her character has grown on me. I also agree that she did deserve the trip to Europe. Jo and Amy were very similar and fought a lot when they were younger but teen-ager Amy had much better control over her temper than Jo and that´s why she was chosen.

      1. I got that feeling as well. Amy was very found of her aunt. I think Amy’s character arch is one of the best ones in the book. The way she grows from a vain spoiled child to an adult caring woman.

      2. Yes! I am glad someone can see beyond the immature, spoiled-brat Amy to the gracious woman she became. Poor Amy doesn’t get the credit she deserves.

      3. She hasn’t been played very well in the films and many ignore her and Laurie’s romance. I thought they were perfect and bring out the best each others. I hope that the new 2019 film shows Amy as the wonderful character she is. This is why I don’t like the whole laurie/fritz debate. It encourages people to hate certain characters.

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