Since I read Little Women when I was 13 or so, I have regaled it as my favourite book. Even as I matured and read books that captured me more or had a deeper impact on my emotions, I continued to hold fast to the March sisters and the world Alcott had created for them.
More than ten years later, I finally decided to test the story and see how it would fare in my esteem, and I can only say I’m so glad I did.
In re-reading Little Women at a later stage in my life, I found myself drawn to characters in different ways. Elements that I looked over at the time became precious attributes of the March sisters as they transitioned into womanhood; and that transition, while in a time period where being a woman meant something quite different to what I envision for myself, became something I could relate to much more.
Below I’ve outlined a few of the changes (which of course reflect back on me) that I found within this second reading; particularly when it comes to the characters in the novel.
Mrs. March, the girls’ mother, whom I had unconsciously ignored in my previous reading, suddenly became the very evident substance that held the family together. Thus, I appreciated her all the more as a character in the story.
Amy, whom I had seen as nothing more than a vain and steadfastly ambitious personality, demonstrated many more intricacies to her character than I had dared notice before. While she is unquestionably vain in her youth, as she grows older she becomes practical in understanding her station in society and how she should act according to it. This is rewarded by her Aunt March and Aunt Carrol with an extensive trip to Europe, where she ultimately turns into a womanly and far less conceited person. However, it is only when she allows herself to access her feelings and loves Laurie, and only then does she find happiness.
Beth, while much the same in how I interpreted her character, held much more meaning within the story than before. It is quite easy to forget that she does grow older within the book. Up until her early death, she remains constantly youthful, timid, innocent, and a quiet presence within the home. Her illness and death are also revelatory of Jo’s character. They develop Jo’s motherliness and open her heart to loving someone beyond her family. It’s sad, but lovely to observe.
Jo, Meg, and Laurie each maintained their original image for me. The one difference for each of them was just that their transformations and transitions into adulthood became that much sweeter and more relevant than before.
I found that the book, in its essence, is one that can be reread at different instances in one’s life simply because it so intimately depicts how someone (we must not forget that Laurie grows up too!) evolves from the comforts and naïveté of childhood into an adulthood that must face both the trials and beauty of life. And that, at its core, is the very beauty of the book, and the reason that I will continue to hold it within my favourites. I’ll have to read it again in another ten years!