Little Women is a novel that has been alive for far longer than I’ve been able to read. Fittingly enough, it was a novel that my mother and aunts read when they were growing up in Mexico. They, in turn, passed it along to their daughters. Since the story centers so much on mothers, daughters and sisters, the fact that it has been passed on in my family makes for a nice story.
That being said, I’ve read Little Women and its sequels Little Men and Jo’s Boys many times over the course of my life. I grew up on the Winona Ryder and Christian Bake led movie and fell in love with Greta Gerwig’s vision in her 2019 adaptation. Its impact on my life gave it a place in my Master’s thesis. So, yeah, I guess you could say I’m a fan.
In so many readings and viewings over the years, I’ve come away with different lessons and changing viewpoints. The most striking of which I’d like to share with you all. So, here goes.
1. “Just because my dreams are different than yours, it doesn’t mean they’re unimportant.”
This line is said by Meg to Jo before her wedding in Greta Gerwig’s 2019 adaptation of Little Women. Jo, in the original novel and every adaptation, always shows such a strong distaste at the idea of Meg’s growing up and future marriage. She sneers at the thought, and pouts and resists until finally she can’t because Meg will have what she wants: the man she loves and a home with him. I’d never given this much thought until I was faced with this scene, and this line, uttered so earnestly and genuinely by Emma Watson in her portrayal as the eldest March sister.
I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about it afterward. The way we all build our ideal lives in our heads and when the people we love don’t follow suit, we feel betrayed. How could they not want all the things we’d planned? Why would they settle for what we perceive is less than we deserve? It’s a bitter pill to swallow, but a beautiful lesson to learn.
Life is different for everyone, and even the people you think you know inside and out have secret wants in their hearts. Sometimes they’ll be in contradiction to what we value and what we want for ourselves. But it’s important to step back and acknowledge that, and know that the difference of opinion or desire does not invalidate either person.
2. “I’d rather take coffee than compliments right now.”
Amy says this to Laurie as she starts to lose patience with him in chapter 37 of the book. There’s no real lesson here─just the fact that compliments are nice, but nothing beats coffee. It’s also a reminder that pretty words are just pretty words if there is no action or meaning behind them.
3. Embrace your independence, you’re capable of more than society believes.
This is basically Jo’s whole personality. She lives to be free, and longs to be independent and live the life she wants. Part of her consternation with Meg’s marriage is because she’s trying so hard to escape it, because she wants to be more than a mother and a wife. Of course, she later on becomes both of those things, but she does so as a Jo with more wisdom and life experience than her younger self. She learns that you can be all of those things: the writer of your dreams, a wife and a mother. Does she have to? No, she wants to.
Even now there’s this idea that either you’re a career woman or you’re a mother─you can’t be both because, ultimately, one will suffer neglect in favor of the other. It’s a lie that society has fed into for so long that when women do both, and do them well, they (society) don’t cease until they can latch onto the smallest thing to blow out of proportion to prove their BS point. Jo is a mother, a writer, a wife and a teacher by the end of the March family saga, and flourishing on all fronts. Society doesn’t decide what happens in your life, you do.
4. Know what you want and go after it unapologetically.
Each of the March sisters knows exactly what they want out of their lives and do what they must to attain it. Yes, even Beth. People are quick to dismiss Beth because of her shy nature and simple dreams. After all, she seems to pale in comparison to her more outgoing, ambitious sisters. Yet Beth knows best of her sisters what she wants, and is steadfast in her dreams. Going back to the lesson presented in point one of this article, Beth’s dreams are just as valid and important as that of her sisters’, even if they aren’t grandiose.
To that end, Amy is also steadfast in her dreams. From the beginning of the novel she longs to be an artist, to be rich and have a grand house to live in. Amy is often put up as a comparison to Jo in terms of ambition, but I feel that it would also do well to see the similarities she shares with Beth. Seemingly the most opposite of the sisters, Amy and Beth (disregarding her death) are the March sisters who fulfill the goals they set for themselves without compromise. Amy does everything to make certain that she gets everything she wants for her life, and she does it herself. She wants to study art so she becomes so essential to Aunt March that she replaces Jo as her companion for her tour of Europe. She wants a rich husband, so she finds herself rich suitors and even falls in love with one. Beth also meets the expectations set of her to live a comfortable life in her home with the people she loves. She undergoes homeschooling, she volunteers to help the poor with her mother, she does household chores, all in an effort to live a quiet life.
From this we can learn that, sometimes, life throws us curve balls and we must change to meet them, as proven by Meg and Jo. Other times our dreams are so certain that there is no choice but to see them through, just as Amy and Beth did.
There’s so much more that could be said about this story, I could go on forever!