Book Club: Lessons We Learned From Little Women
Right now we've got a lot more time to read, which means that we can also spend time looking at some of our favorite book-inspired movies along with their original sources. Whether you're supplementing remote learning for kids at home or just want to introduce your family (or yourself!) to some classic American novels, one great place to start is Louisa May Alcott's classic "Little Women," which follows the adolescence and young adulthood of four March sisters — Jo, Beth, Amy, and Meg — as they navigate life at the end of and after the American Civil War.
The book was recently adapted into the terrific movie LITTLE WOMEN by director Greta Gerwig, with a cast that includes Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, Eliza Scanlen, Laura Dern, Timothée Chalamet, Meryl Streep, Tracy Letts, and Chris Cooper. The book and all movie versions deliver important ideas about how to live a good life — here are the biggest lessons to take away from LITTLE WOMEN.
The Value of Forgiveness
LITTLE WOMEN emphasizes some core ideas that are essential for living a balanced life. Chief among the concepts is forgiveness. Author Jo and artist Amy struggle to support one another, and the clash between their personalities comes to a head when Jo refuses to extend an invite to Amy for an event, leading Amy to respond with a destructive action that might be seen as unforgivable. Jo soon comes to realize that her familial relationship with Amy is more important than anything else, and begins to understand that forgiveness does not merely help Amy — it lightens Jo's burdens as well.
The Joy of Giving
While the March family lives in poorer conditions than they were once accustomed to, they still enjoy far greater wealth than many people around them. Alcott drew upon her own life and family when writing the characters, and wove some of their experiences into the story. The March sisters are frequently reminded of the joy of generosity — whether in the way their mother gives to those in need, or the work that Meg and Jo have to do to keep the family going, or even in the spiritual generosity Jo offers Amy through her forgiveness. There's no question that selflessness and generosity can be difficult, or that they are ideals that must be cultivated through time and effort. The value of doing so, however, is a cornerstone of the novel and movie.
Find Your Personal Passion
Each of the March sisters is trying to find a balance between their personal passions and the expectations placed upon them by family and society. While Beth dreams of a quiet domestic life, Meg achieves a different version of domesticity which is no less valid. Jo and Amy both pursue artistic achievement. Each finds the most fulfillment when they approach writing and art for their own reasons, rather than trying to fulfill the expectations of other people. In every telling of the story from Alcott's original novel to Gerwig's recent movie, the pursuit of personal passions is important to personal growth and happiness — and the greatest results come only after doing the work for its own sake.
Those lessons are only the beginning for LITTLE WOMEN. The Great Books Foundation presents lesson plans which explore LITTLE WOMEN from the perspective of critical reading. The novel and movie can show learners how characters are defined through traits and choices; both are ideal gateways for discussions of how a story can introduce us to ideas about life.
If you want to go deeper, PBS Learning Guide has an extensive resource set which guides a thorough exploration of "Little Women" for older children who are ready to study topics like history and civics. Both the novel and the recent movie adaptation are the ideal starting points for lesson plans about the progression of the Civil War and its effects on populations in the North and South.
Louisa May Alcott's novel is entertaining and inspiring, and a surprisingly deep well of ideas that can be guideposts to living a good life, even more than a century after it was originally written. We've only scratched the surface here; there's so much more to take away from every reading and viewing.
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All images courtesy of Sony Pictures.