Over the past months I have occasionally reread a childhood favorite to see what I think about it now. The Secret Garden and Anne of Green Gables, for example, came through with honors. Not only were both beautifully written, but I found them as entertaining as an adult as I did as a child.
Little Women doesn’t fare quite as well. I found some of the same parts of it affecting as I did when I was young. Who wouldn’t sympathize with these girls, bravely coping without the things their friends have, doing without their father for over a year, getting along as cheerfully as they can? However, as a child reading the book, I didn’t notice that almost every chapter ends with a moral lesson.
The novel covers about 12 years in the lives of the March family, beginning during the American Civil War. For the first half of the novel, Mr. March is away as a chaplain for the Union army. The main character is Jo March, at the start of the novel a tomboyish, gawky 15-year-old who loves writing and putting on plays, reading, and writing stories.
Her older sister Meg is more ladylike and laments having to wear old things to parties. Beth is the third sister, who is too shy to go to school. Amy is the youngest and a little spoiled. Although there are certainly events in their lives, the story is about how Marmee, their mother, raises them all to be good, productive women.
One of the closest relationships in the novel is the friendship between the family and their neighbor Laurie, a rich young man being raised by his grandfather. This and other relationships are warm ones, and the Marches all seem like real people, as do their friends.
If Alcott could have let up a bit on the moralizing, I would have enjoyed the novel more. The other two novels I mentioned earlier also have moral messages, but they leave the reader to figure them out themselves. Still, I’m sure any young girl reading this novel would be as drawn by it as I was years ago.
My comments have made me wonder what I would think of Eight Cousins, which was actually my favorite book by Alcott when I was a child. I’m a little afraid to find out.