Little Women was the July selection for the Year of Feminist Classics reading project, so this post less review-y and more of a response to a larger online conversation going on at the YoFC blog — beware of spoilers!
Up until a couple of weeks ago, I’m pretty sure I was one of the few people on earth who had never read Louisa May Alcott’s classic, Little Women. A lot of people read it as children — or at least as teenagers — and it’s assigned reading in many classrooms. But me? Nope. I managed to make it through my first three decades of life without ever having touched the book, with only vague memories of the Winona Ryder film adaptation as my cultural reference.
Little Women is the the coming of age story of the four young March sisters; Mr. March is a chaplain who is off somewhere serving in the Civil War, so it’s up to his wife to run the household and raise their four daughters to become upstanding young women. As the Year of Feminist Classics book introductory post points out, the book can be looked at from a couple of angles: is it a feminist-minded book about female independence, or does its message instead advocate conformity to traditional gender roles? I think the case can be made for both angles and I think Little Women is a combination of both, though I’m also leaning more towards the conformity message.
The biggest thing the book has going for it in terms of female independence is the headstrong Jo March, the sister who hates everything having to do with learning to be a proper woman. She never wants to get married and would much prefer to create her own financial independence by being a writer. She’s already gotten the ball rolling by selling some of her writing, and this early success in her young life will undoubtedly giver her more confidence to become a successful writer in the future. Being independent, unafraid to speak your mind, and going for what makes you happy in life: those are feminist-minded messages if I ever saw them.