Little Women is two volumes in one, telling the story of the four March sisters, Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy. For today's readers, there might seem to be quite a bit of "unnecessary" passages that sidetrack into moral lessons. For its time, though, such diversions are minimal, and if one goes into it expecting such things, it is not at all a distraction.
Alcott's writing is very engaging, and the characters she creates endearing. Jo is undeniably the one we're all supposed to love, but each of the sisters has something that draws us to her and wants us to know her story. It is easy to want to get lost in the story, and the tale itself takes us back to another time when life is generally thought to have been "simpler."Little Women lets us know that, simpler or not, life was not any easier back then.
Little Women is praised by many feminist critics for its groundbreaking approach to the roles women might play in society. While it might seem very traditional to today's readers, it is noteworthy that the women in the story take on somewhat unconventional roles for their own time. Jo is character who most obviously forges her own way, but really, each of the sisters does something in the story that pushed the envelope a bit.
In its concern for Christian values, Little Women is a book that explores how one goes about living out the teachings one receives. Structuring the early part of the book aroundPilgrim's Progress, Alcott gives us something of a modern day exploration of the same principles expressed in allegorical form in that classic work.
I am not sure that I would say that Little Women is timeless, as I've heard some readers comment. Rather, I think it is completely of its time, and is all the more enjoyable for that. And, beyond enjoyment, it also highlights that some issues aren't just a question of one's historical situation, but are rather a part of the human condition. It's enjoyable to be able to explore that condition through a tale that is so well crafted.
© Shelly Bryant, 2013