“I’ve got the key to my castle in the air, but whether I can unlock the door remains to be seen.”
-Louisa May Alcott, Little Women
In 1868, Louisa May Alcott was asked by her publisher to write a novel about girls that would be appealing to the masses. This was something new and challenging to her as she had spent all her life writing short stories. Also, she didn’t want to write a story from the female perspective as the only story she knew of was of her sisters. She was initially hesitant but chose to write the novel. Little did she know that her book would be an instant success and would still be read and admired by people centuries after her death.
Little Women was published in 1868 and recounts the story of four sisters: Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy March. The book is loosely based off of Alcott’s own life, and many believe that she is the Jo March of her family. It is set in Massachusetts at the time of the American Civil War. On their first Christmas without their father, the March sisters and their mother, Marmee March, decided to give their Christmas breakfast away to an impoverished and starving family. When they returned, they found out that their neighbour, Mr Laurence had sent over a surprise breakfast. This leads to the two families getting closer to each other, and the March Sisters getting acquainted with Theodore “Laurie” Laurence, Mr Laurence’s nephew.
One of the reasons why Little Women was an immediate success and remains relevant years after the author’s death is because of its realism and a perfect portrayal of sisterhood. The sisters are not particularly glamorous characters and lead ordinary lives, yet one likes them as they can relate to them. For example, when Jo refused to take young Amy to the theatre with Meg and Laurie, Amy burned down Jo’s manuscript, on which she had been working for ages. While this is not pretty to read, it is accurate as Amy was 12, and this is an accurate response from someone of her age. Her burning down of the manuscript led to Jo being extremely angry at her, and she vowed never to talk to her again. Yet, when Amy chased after Jo after feeling remorse, and almost died by falling through the thin ice at the river, Jo saved her and even made up with her. This shows that no matter how angry one is with their sibling, they still love them and would do anything for them.
Alcott also manages to perfectly capture the feeling of growing up and leaving your childhood innocence behind. Meg gets married and moves out, Jo rejects Laurie’s proposal and moves to New York to write, Beth becomes sick and eventually passes away, and Amy goes to Europe with her aunt where Laurie proposes to her after being rejected by Jo. Slowly they all leave their comfort zone behind and face the tribulations one faces when they become distant from family as they grow up. Yet, all the sisters reunite and show that their bond is stronger than ever.
Alcott gave her characters distinct and bold personalities and the women who read it at that time related to the March Sisters and felt the need to have more “public” identities and follow their ambitions. Alcott even planned to let Jo remain unmarried, but she eventually decided to get her married which lead to Jo abandoning her writing career, though Alcott remained unmarried all her life. This book has stayed relevant to date and is still beloved by the people. Generations of readers have fallen in love with this masterpiece. It is an extremely captivating story, one you won’t be able to put down.