The American classic Little Women has had a resurgence in popularity. Since the latest adaptation, it has developed a new following and Orchard House, the home of Louisa May Alcott, has received more visitors as of late than in previous decades. I hadn’t picked up Little Women in a decade and recently reread it. Not only had I forgotten key plot points and certain character developments, I realized in the past various movie adaptations had influenced me. While Jo is Alcott’s literary alter ego and we view a greater portion of the book through her eyes, Little Women isn’t solely about her. It is the story of a family. It’s the tale of four sisters.
Often movie adaptations, sideline certain characters get sidelined and minimize or eliminate subplots. Meg, Beth, and Amy are a step behind as Jo takes center stage. Meg is overlooked because she embodies the Victorian ideal of a traditional life. Beth shies away from life and after bouts of illness, she dies young. Amy longs to be an artist, travels to Europe, and dares to marry Jo’s former suitor. In the 1994 version, we see how close Jo and Beth are, and the love between all four sisters is present, but it’s still very much Jo’s story. We become distracted by who marries who, whether the sisters should have careers, and what children they have.
We forget the story begins at Christmas, during the Civil War, and times are hard. The March sisters only have each other and after offering their wishes for the holiday and life, they band together and shower their beloved Marmee with gifts. Meg works as a governess, Jo as a companion for Aunt March, Beth is the housekeeper, and Amy goes to school—and after their busy days, they dress up and act out plays in their attic. They have falling outs—like when Amy takes Jo’s manuscript and burns it—which is a typical sister thing to do. They make rash decisions—like when Jo refuses to forgive and Amy’s life ends up in danger. Jo gets angry, Amy cries. However, they are more alike than they realize. They’re ambitious and intelligent and demand the attention of the entire room. Meg feels determined to be the little lady, attend balls, and have suitors—and she finds herself embarrassed when her younger sister behaves like a tomboy and feels she has to scold her. Then there is Beth, who continually compares herself to her more worldly sisters and feels she falls short. In a year’s time, the March sisters mature and band together once more when Beth falls ill. The story comes to a close after their father returns home from war. It is a sweet ending to a heartwarming, classic tale.
Alcott originally ended the story at part one and her editors had to persuade her to write a sequel which became part two. Her fans wanted to know “who the Little Women” married. Probably she would have left her characters as young women, happy and content. She drew from life; she had based the March family on her own family. But the story had to continue, and Alcott followed the March sisters’ lives and showed them as women going out into the world. Despite Jo’s wishes for them to remain at Orchard House forever, they had to follow their own paths. Time doesn’t stand still.
Meg married and had children. Jo pursued a literary career. Amy traveled to Europe and made a suitable match. Only Beth remained at home, because of ill health. The sisterly closeness shown in part one isn’t as clear in part two. But it is there. No one knows you like your sister. They’re present in your happiest and darkest times. When Beth is dying, Jo is there to nurse her. After Beth’s death, the three remaining March sisters once more draw close, remembering they only have each other. They may have been able to recapture what they once had in their youth, but they can ensure their child—the next generation—inherit and learn the love that the March sisters had for one another.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Veronica Leigh has been published in several anthologies and her work has appeared on GoWorldTravel.com and the Artist Unleashed, and she has published a couple of fictional stories. She makes her home in Indiana with her family and her furbabies. To learn more about her, visit her blog.