Little Women book review – Why Jo should not have married

Four little chests all in a row,
Dim with dust and worn by time,
All fashioned and filled long ago
By children now in their prime.
Four little keys hung side by side,
With faded ribbons, brave and gay
When fastened there with childish pride
Long ago on a rainy day./

Louisa May Alcott

If you are here, you too have been won over by this beautiful story.

Whether you got to know it through film or book the situation does not change, you fell in love with one (or all) of the 4 March sisters. Meg, Jo, Amy and Beth together had a full and interesting life and childhood but unfortunately they all had almost, with few distinctions, the same ending.

So getting to the point, Jo didn’t have to get married. And I don’t just mean to our beloved Laurie, who has won the hearts of all readers past and present, but not even to that German professor.

Our heroine had to remain free but her fate was not the only one to go in a different direction than originally thought, and in this article you will understand why.

As is often the case here, the writer’s life is seen in their best writings.

Here above all.

To understand what ‘Little Women’ really is and should have been, it is necessary to get to know Louisa May Alcott, or rather, the real Jo, more deeply.

The Life of Louisa May Alcott

Louisa May Alcott was born on November 29, 1832 in Germantown, Pennsylvania.

She had four sisters of whom she was second, in order, Anna, (Louisa), Beth and May.

Her parents were very religious and her father followed the lead of many philosophers including Rousseau and Socrates in teaching.

This greatly reflected on the childhood of the 4 sisters, who received an education without punishment and directed towards self-introspection.

Louisa’s parents were a part of the Transcendentalist movement, a popular religious movement that fought for women’s rights, was against slavery and against the power exercised by the church and the state.

Naturally, her parents’ beliefs were not very popular within the society of the time and as a result, the whole family was often banished and had to move many times.

Bronson Alcott, the father, believed that children should enjoy learning and so despite the obvious sexism of the time, he taught his daughters to read and write and created an open environment where any discussion was allowed and accepted.

Louisa grew up surrounded by educated men and women (David Thoreau, Nathanial Hawthorne, Margareth Fuller and Ralph Waldo Emerson) and adult discussions, which she was never denied.

The Alcott family was suffering financially but a wealthy friend of her father’s allowed the little woman access to his library and this was very important for her future. She read everything from ancient myths and philosophers to Shakespeare and modern works.

Louisa was very attached to her family, especially her sisters, so for a time she even worked fourteen hours a day to help financially.

This courageous woman was many things and it would be offensive to reduce her to just a writer.

She was a great activist and a very good poet. (In Little Women there is a wonderful poem written by her).
Her first poems and collections are ‘To the first Robin‘ and ‘Flower Fables‘.

For years she wrote and worked. After yet another move, a tragedy broke the hearts of the family. Her dear sister Beth died in March 1958.
At the same time her older sister Anna (Meg) married a man named John Pratt.

This was a blow to the writer, who saw it as a breaking up of their sisterhood.

The following year, Alcott began her first novel and after rejection by publishers, she continued to work on it and simultaneously worked as a nurse after the outbreak of the Civil War.

The letters she sent home at that time were published by her father and were very successful. Shortly afterwards, her revised novel, ‘Moods‘, was also accepted and published.

Years later she made her first trip to Europe as a lady-in-waiting and there she met and fell in love with the musician Ladislav Wisiniewsky(Laurie).

The writer had many passing loves but never wanted to marry. Her dream since childhood was to write and live with her talent.

Months later, she was asked by a publisher to write a book dedicated to young girls (her audience included all ages).

And so ‘Little Women‘ and later ‘Little Women: The Sisters Grow Up‘ were born.

She drew much inspiration from her own life and from her sisters, and her success was enormous. She became very popular and earned a lot, enough to live in comfort.

Alcott also wrote many short stories afterwards, for example ‘Little Men‘, ‘Under the Lilacs‘, ‘Jack and Jill, a Village Story‘ and ‘Jo’s boys, and how they turned out‘.

In the best years for her writing she also showed another of her sides, the feminist one.

She joined the women’s suffrage movement and took part in many social battles. She was also the first woman to vote in Concord, Connecticut.

She lived her life alone and with her sisters whenever possible. Unfortunately, one of them, May, died a month after giving birth to her daughter, so Alcott adopted her. She loved her niece very much and dedicated a novella to her entitled ‘Lu Sing‘.

Alcott did not have good health and it is thought to be due to prolonged contact with mercury when she worked as a nurse.
In ’88 her now very elderly father fell ill and Alcott immediately embarked on a journey to bid him a final farewell.

This decision was fatal for her, however, because on 6 March she died of a cold, unaware that her father had already died a few days earlier.

Her story was not all happiness, as is the life of all of us. But she fulfilled her dream and is still remembered as a great writer who put her personal stamp on Victorian literature.

Review (with spoilers)

As I read the first book, the emotion that constantly accompanied me was joy. You see these sweet little girls learning to live as honest and capable people.

They learn to feel empathy, to be kind and to understand what is right for them and what is just whims.

There are many Christian references here too, (as in Narnia, see everything in my book review). It is very easy to find religion, especially Christianity, in classic books so it is no surprise.

Basically, the first book makes you imagine you are among those girls in front of a nice warm fire telling stories. It is very warm and they are all happy, except for a few little bumps along the way.

The second one, on the other hand, is a whole different story.

For all the characters, but as we will see, Jo is the one who suffers the most.

The second begins with Meg‘s family starting to take shape. Not only does she become a good wife, something she always wanted, but also a devoted mother.

Here we see her growing up and moving out of her childhood home.

Her moving away from her beloved sisters and all that they signify.

She who, instead of confessing in her mother’s arms, has to take on all the responsibilities that come with the role. She has to take care of a new house and new people herself.

Beth‘s condition, on the other hand, begins to deteriorate. If in the first one saw the shy child who loved to play the piano, now she remains just a worn-out person. She hardly leaves the house and her whole life is her sisters, her mother and her father.

In the second, the thing I missed most was her friendship with Laurie’s grandfather. Their affection for each other really warmed my heart and gave more depth to two characters who often ended up in the background.

Around the same time Amy also leaves.

She starts travelling and moves away from her family for years. And she will never see Beth again. She begins to imitate all the great women she sees and has the desire to become like them.

Despite being the youngest of the March sisters, she already acts like a great woman with experience.

In all this, however, Jo remains alone and, apart from a short trip, always stays in the house where she grew up. And just as happened to the writer, she sees all this change as a break from the warm and cosy family household.

Who should represent Louisa May Alcott? (with spoilers)

Well it seems obvious to me. Ours, all passion and hard work, dear Jo. Even at first glance you can immediately see the things they have in common. Both highly educated and lovers of writing. Both devoted themselves heart and soul to their families. And both do not want to marry. In fact, this last thing never fails to irritate me ever since I became aware of it.

The character of Jo, who represents Alcott in every way, should have ended up like her. Never marry, to anyone, and instead become a great writer.

This, however, did not please the publisher who read the novel and he said he would not publish it with this ending. Only if all the little women got married and had children.

I can’t be sure but I think that’s why Jo’s wedding left me quite bored and annoyed.

I think Alcott did it as a act of rebellion.

The man she is marrying is not only much older than her but is completely out of touch with who Jo is. Jo glowed with joy and passion, she wanted to have fun and travel, meet lots of people and enjoy herself just like a ‘man’. And she couldn’t do any of that.

The man she eventually married was calm and quiet and the only thing he wanted was a home and a family. All Jo didn’t want to settle for.

I would pay gold to read the real first ending that Alcott had written because the existing one is very disappointing.

I know that Amy and Laurie together are not very liked as a couple and to be honest, they didn’t convince me either.

After reading the book, however, I appreciate them more but what I really don’t like is that I no longer recognise them.

Yes, the excuse used is that they have “grown up and matured“. But they are simply other characters.

Amy is no longer herself and no longer loves her beloved paintings, Laurie no longer jokes and exults as much as before.

They seem dull. And their change together with Jo’s, who becomes sad, joyless who has ‘love’ as her only happiness, and who no longer writes (very unbelievable), all of that just brings me a lot of sadness.

The writer certainly succeeded in her intent, however, and made me just as unsatisfied with the ending as she was. And for that I respect her (even if I will always complain in a corner).

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The Ending (with spoilers)

There are some things with which I naturally disagree.

For example:

  • Making Amy’s daughter, nicknamed Beth, a child of poor health. I would have preferred a healthy child bursting with life, just to see in her a second chance for Beth’s beautiful soul.
  • Amy not coming home to say goodbye to Beth one last time
  • Amy and Jo forgetting to follow their dreams

I cannot deny that I closed the book with tears of joy in my eyes.

The idea of putting Mrs March, her deep love, at the centre of the ending is simply brilliant. Anyone who reads these books cannot help but love that courageous woman who, even in the face of so much pain, has never ceased to be a support for those she loves.

I love that she finds herself at the centre of her large family, but above all, surrounded by her four daughters. (Because as they often say, Beth is always there with them).

The ending is happy.

The sisters are pleased with their large, united family and are grateful to have this life. Many things could have been different.

Every single time they mentioned Beth my eyes filled with tears without even realising it. I would have liked to have seen a little Aunt Beth in that group but in the end I think this is everyone’s broken wish.

The ending can be considered open in some aspects.

Sure, Amy and Jo have a lot of duties now and a lot less time. But in the end there is a note of hope for their dreams which despite not having come true yet have their whole lives to blossom.

A bittersweet ending that left me with a big smile and a heart full of nostalgia.

And what did you think? Have you read the two books?

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