Book Review

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Publisher: Chiltern Publishing
Genre: Coming-of-Age Drama
Pages: 288
Format: Hardcover
My Rating: 5/5 stars
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Summary

In Little Women, Louisa May Alcott turns the everyday lives of four girls into an entertaining novel of love, loss, and the exceptional power of family. Based on Alcott’s own upbringing, Little Women is a recollection of her childhood experiences, and life lessons while residing in New England during the Civil War.

The adventures of Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy March are captivating as they take on the challenges of growing up—exploring the balance between familial duty and freedom  and society’s expectations of women in the 1800’s. During the uncertainty and scarcity of wartime, the March girls brave illness, romance, societal pressures, and unconventional career ambitions under the watchful eye of their mother, Marmee. Each of the March girls comes of age and discovers who they are through their endeavors, courage, and love of family in this classic novel. 

Thoughts

Every once in a while, Hollywood brings an adaptation of Little Women to the silver screen to remind us what a treasure this story is to behold. This December, audiences will be treated to a version that is sure to introduce the novel to a new generation of women and men alike. With a powerhouse cast of Meryl Streep, Emma Watson, Saoirse Ronan, and Timothee Chalamet, it will no doubt be entertaining.

Audience members and readers will likely identify with one or more of the March family members. Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy are respectively the traditional elder sister, ferocious feminist, sensitive soul, and spoiled artist, respectively. Yet, they are fully realized characters with desires, flaws, and needs that transcend those labels. As such, the story’s relevancy has not diminished with age, and it underscores many of the challenges that even girls today face. New readers will discover timeless themes of familial duty, independence, courage, and generosity. 

What is most striking about this novel is that Alcott dared to re-imagine what a woman’s future could look like by sharing her own experiences through the character of Jo. While its feminist principles are somewhat dated—as its original publication date is 1868—Jo March remains a timeless role model. She defies convention in favor of following her own path to becoming a writer, despite the obstacle of her gender, undoubtedly helped along with the support of her family, especially Marmee. The adventures of the March family, set against the grim background of war, are both charming and life affirming—making Little Women a truly poignant novel that will remain so for each new generation of readers. 


For those of you who are interested, check out the trailer for the upcoming film below!


Guest blog post courtesy of Sharon Enck.

5 Books that Marked Changing Times

History is a rolling saga of love and war, and we are irrevocably changed by both. Generations of great writers have documented the change of times and the novelties they brought with them, and so I’ve decided to give you a few books that have truly marked the end of an era.


Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind fondly remembers the last golden days of the South antebellum, before the Civil War wrenched families apart and changed the landscape of American society.

Scarlett O’Hara, a blooming southern belle, and Rhett Butler, an outrageous pragmatist, fall in and out of love in this classic as they struggle with the pain of losing loved ones, drastically altered social positions and wartime hardships.


Mother is the most popular work of Maxim Gorky. Based on real-life events that Gorky was personally connected to, this novel is about the spiritual awakening of a young factory worker and his careworn mother in Tsarist Russia.

Pavel Vlasov starts out by taking after his hard-drinking father, but soon meets a group of revolutionaries and begins to get an education in politics and philosophy. He stops drinking and undergoes a quiet transformation into a sharp, receptive young man.

This incites curiosity in Pelageya Nilovna, Pavel’s mother. After a lifetime of abuse and poverty, she overcomes her illiteracy and political ignorance to become a revolutionary. It is because of this display of willpower and strength of character, Nilovna Vlasova, not Pavel, is considered by many to be the true protagonist of the novel.


In one of the greatest love stories to emerge from World War I, Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms is set against the background of the Italian front, where Lieutenant Frederic Henry, an American ambulance driver, falls in love with Catherine Barkley, a British nurse’s aide.

The stark reality of war brings real affection out of the playful simulation of love that the two initially engage in.

Frederic and Catherine are symbolic of the countless men and women who were kept apart by social and geographical boundaries in those uncertain times. This classic is about the illusion of glory in war and the courage to bid it farewell.


One cannot think of World War I without remembering the concurrent movement of the suffragettes, which spanned decades before and after the war.

My Own Story is the autobiography of Emmeline Pankhurst, founder of the Women’s Social and Political Union. Ghostwritten by Rheta Childe Dorr, it is a detailed memoir of Pankhurst’s work as an activist and the long road to electoral equality between British men and women.


The Diary of a Young Girl is a compilation of the diary entries of a pre-adolescent Jewish girl in Germany, forced into hiding with her family by the onset of the Holocaust.

Anne Frank kept a thorough record of the two years she spent in the Secret Annex, the mortification of growing up among near-strangers with various quirks, the lack of privacy and, of course, the uncertainty of life itself.

This piece of literature is remarkable for its unaffected style of prose and the sheer truthfulness and poignancy of the emotions portrayed on the pages. Anne Frank is a literary icon, immortalized through her work as an unwitting historian.


5 Academic Classics Worth a Re-Read

For us ASU students who are just starting to get used to the routine of this semester, here’s a list of six books that may have been on your school booklist in years past that it may be time to dust off again. Contrary to popular belief, most of the books we read in English class are chosen for a (very good) reason, so I thought it might be very good to revisit some of my favorites. But don’t worry, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter (as valuable as it is for every sophomore in America to endure the agony of this reading assignment) didn’t make today’s list.


To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee. First off on the list is Harper Lee’s beloved To Kill a Mockingbird, a favorite read from high school for many. As you likely remember, the narrator Scout’s refreshing tone provides a glimpse into the racially divisive setting of the 1930s American South as her father Atticus Finch defends a black man named Tom Robinson, who has been falsely accused of raping a white woman. With Scout’s honest realizations about race, class, and individual responsibility, this book is especially timely for today’s climate. It’s time to pick To Kill a Mockingbird off your high school bookshelf and take a trip back to Maycomb, Alabama during the Great Depression for a reminder that our natural conceptions of innocence and responsibility are filtered through biases of class and race.


The Diary of a Young Girl – Anne Frank. Many of us haven’t opened a copy Anne Frank’s diary since junior high, but her painfully acute realizations about human nature through the harsh realities of years of hiding during World War II are well worth another look. Though undergoing intense danger, much of her account shows the day-to-day monotony of her situation, with a realistic portrayal of what it felt like to live in her environment. Her story is critically important as one of the few non-American narratives that has entered into popular culture in defining the experiences of Jews in the Holocaust, and provides an accessible lens for viewing genocide—including those that have occurred more recently.


The Giver – Lois Lowry. Lois Lowry’s The Giver is often taught as a children’s dystopian novel, read aloud in elementary school classrooms across the nation. But, Lowry’s work also contains themes vitally important to the modern adult, especially concerning memory, interpersonal relations, and the role of government in controlling people’s lives. When 12-year-old Jonas, who lives in a seemingly utopian society, receives a unique career assignment, he begins to learn the real history of his world and ultimately makes a difficult choice to create his own destiny apart from the governmental system’s prescribed methods. His decisions, and their necessity in his world, provide great insight into our own challenges.


Things Fall Apart – China Achebe. It is wonderful that Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart is taught in high school classrooms, but sometimes this prevents us from seeing it holistically, instead treating his work as defining a particular, singular perspective on the world rather than illuminating possibilities for understanding colonialism. Achebe’s chronicle of how things fall apart when white colonizers arrive in a Nigerian village offers implicit commentary about the Nigerian culture and about the colonizing culture, as well as the complications of navigating the intersections of these conceptions.


The Little Prince – Antoine de Saint-Expuéry. After reading Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince in high school English, I had a significantly different experience revisiting this work in college French. The somewhat biographical, somewhat fantastical, account of a pilot’s encounters and adventures with the Little Prince has a much less substantial plot compared to other books on this list, however, its themes are no less critical. The Little Prince teaches important lessons through the observations of a precocious child, suggesting paradigm shifts from traditional adult mindsets to a more dream-driven lifestyle. It’s a quick read, but a valuable one.