Defeating Covid-19 with ‘Little Women’

This post contains full spoilers about ‘Little Women’!

Louisa May Alcott’s semi-autobiographical novel has charmed the hearts of Americans for generations. I only took notice of it following the release of Greta Gerwig’s adaptation in December 2019, which prompted me to read the book. Although I wouldn’t describe it as the most gripping read, it has heart, and I can understand why so many readers care greatly for the four March sisters. Their own distinct characters ensure they are individuals, who stand apart from one another. Each could probably have their own novel, and it’s surprising that Alcott can pull off such distinctly different women in a world and time where women were mainly domesticated and marginalised. There are timeless lessons that one can pick up from the novel, which, in this period of uncertainty are really more relevant than ever.

The novel also succeeds in being a feminist novel without having the need to ram it down your throat. Its tender and touching emphasis on the matriarchy and its importance is well handled on several occasions, see here:

‘They all drew to the fire, mother in the big chair with Beth at her feet, Meg and Amy perched on either arm of the chair, and Jo leaning on the back, where no one would see any sign of emotion if the letter should happen to be touching’[1]

The image of the ‘little women’ crowding around their mother is a heart-warming one, which subtly tells the reader that, although they want their father, they don’t need necessarily him. In other words, a family doesn’t need a strong, patriarchal figure to ensure all hell doesn’t break lose. It’s subtle, but it’s there. The girls and their mother form an interconnected network of sisterhood, which gives them enough strength to overcome to the trials and tribulations within the novel. With their mother at the centre, these girls feel they can face anything, which is a true testament to the power of motherhood and the matriarchy. Laurie too benefits from this, as before the sisters came to him, he was a lonely, ‘solitary’ figure.[2] This emphasises the benefits of the matriarchy, and the healing power that it brings. This also, by extension, explains the benefits of family, and how we need to rely on each other in times of crisis, such as Covid-19.

Although some people may think that the novel is written about women for women, the lessons within can be universally applied. Meg, the eldest March daughter takes some time away from her home to be with friends but is ridiculed and is the subject of ‘foolish gossip.’[3] Mother March swoops in to comfort her distressed daughter, to emphasise that, above all else, the happiness of her daughters is of primary importance.[4] From this we learn what is important in life, that people are happy. It also teaches people that women shouldn’t tear down other women, and by extension no one should tear down or mock anyone else. Especially in times of crisis such as this, people should be supportive of one another, but this gesture also should extend to the normal as well as the abnormal. Some people criticise Meg, as her dream is to be a loving wife and mother. People jump in to say that this is anti-feminist, as her desire essentially is to serve. However, surely feminism advocates the idea that women should be allowed to do what they want to do, and this is what Meg does. Her dreams are no more or no less than any other character, and Mother March’s sentiment that, all she wants is for her daughters to be happy, emphasises the importance of motherly love and subtly advocates autonomy for all, regardless of gender.

The novel’s enduring message is one of hope, as following Beth’s death, things appear pretty bleak for the March family. Styled as the most innocent and pure of all the sisters, several incidences of foreshadowing implied to me that Beth may not survive. Despite this major disruption to the March family dynamic, through relying on the lessons their mother has taught them, and by binding together as a family, the end of the novel seems hopeful. Meg, Jo and Amy are happily married, which is what they wanted, and their parents are pleased with this development also. The family’s reliance on each other is what pulls them through their grief, and it appears that this message in particular is more relevant than ever. The last image echoes that of the earlier pages, with Mrs March gathering her family together, expressing her love and devotion to her children. This again, emphasises the importance of family, and its ability to act as a constant in all of our lives. Although Beth’s untimely death disrupted this constant, the maintenance of the March’s remaining family networks, bonds between mother and daughter, sister and sister, wife and husband and all other familial ties, ensured that the March family returned to stability, through their resilience, strength and undying hope.

So, in these troubled times, take a lesson from the ‘little women,’ support each other, have faith and have hope.

Thanks for reading!

Stay safe, stay inside. Read something cheerful.

[1] Lousia May Alcott, Little Women, (London, Penguin English Library, 2018) p. 13.

[2] Ibid., p. 69.

[3] Ibid., p. 112.

[4] Ibid., p. 114.

Published by harpalkhambay

I am an English Literature and History graduate, and wanted a space to explore topics within those fields that interest me.

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