Saturday, March 7, 2015

Little Women Read-Along: Burdens (Ch. 4)


A bit of a grim title for this one, huh?  And not at all subtle about what a big theme of the book is, either!  Burdens, and how we bear them, is obviously a major focus of this book.

Speaking of lack of subtlety... Alcott is not afraid to impart lessons to her audience in obvious ways, is she?  Like Jo, I enjoy stories that have a morals, "if they are real and not too preachy" (p. 40).  What do you think of Alcott's lessons and morals in this book?  Do you find them too preachy?  That's our Discussion Question for the day.

In the introduction to my copy, there's a mention of the fact that while Alcott does dispense a lot of advice and wisdom, that was pretty usual for children's books in her day.  What set Little Women apart from its counterparts was the fact that these girls are not perfect, but struggle to become better people.  A lot more realistic (and, to my mind, inspiring) than an already-perfect person like, say, Little Lord Fauntleroy.

Meanwhile, the girls have all gone off to do their daily duties.  I feel sorriest for Meg, having to deal with a house full of spoiled brats all day.  Amy has to go to school with people who look down on her, which is not pleasant either.  I think I'd like to have Jo or Beth's places best -- either read someone to sleep and then curl up in their library, or just stay home and be useful.  I think Jo and Aunt March are actually a lot alike, don't you?  Both obstinate and peppery and fond of adventure stories.

The whole "works righteousness" thing gets emphasized again here too.  First Beth tells herself, "I know I'll get my music some time, if I'm good" (p. 37), and at the end of the chapter, the girls discuss their blessings and "try to deserve them, lest they should be taken away entirely, instead of increased" (p. 40).


Favorite Lines:

"I like good strong words that mean something" (p. 33).

24 comments:

  1. I love your favourite line... it's adorable.

    Oh yes, I feel so sorry for poor Meg. I love how she admits she's so 'fond of luxury' in the beginning - all these sisters admit their flaws, and I love it.

    No, I don't find Louisa May Alcott's books preachy. They *could* sometimes be less preachy, but they aren't annoyingly preachy. Not at all preachy for most books written in that time! She sends little messages through her characters in a delightful, simple way.

    ~ Naomi

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    1. I think it would be especially hard for Meg to work in a house filled with luxuries that she herself can't have. Seeing them would be a constant reminder, which is much harder than simply not having them. Like being on a diet on Halloween.

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  2. I don't mind the author talking to the reader and sometimes imparting lessons, but sometimes Alcott crosses the line. That story she told wasn't really a story but more like a sermon on how each of them needed to act... However, this isn't the worse one if I remember correctly :)

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    1. It was a sermon from Marmee, though, not directly Alcott telling her readers what to do, which makes it a teeny bit better, I think :-)

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  3. Alcott did tell the morals in obvious ways, but I don't think it's too preachy. Instead, it's a heart-warming reading, understanding that something so simple could produce such happiness.
    Anyway, it's interesting that that four girls have really different characters. The differences lead us into four different kind of lives.

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    1. I think Alcott weaves her moralizing in to her story pretty naturally, so the readers come to enjoy learning from her.

      And yes, I love that they're all so different!

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  4. I've never found Little Women too preachy and I agree with what you said in your previous comment in that Alcott weaves the morals into the story pretty naturally.

    I think we could really do with more books like Little Women in children's literature right now. A lot of the books that I see in libraries and bookstores are just silly, trashy books about snot and poop. Erm... sorry for lowering the tone!

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    1. This is true -- too much of all fiction these days is focused on entertaining, which I believe is only half of the reason for fiction to exist. The other reason is to instruct (according to Horace, and I agree with him), and that gets left behind too often these days.

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  5. The moralizing might be a wee bit heavy-handed in places... I generally like stories to *show* the lesson, not spell it out for me, as in Mrs. March's tale. But it's not over-the-top, and it helps that, as you say, the characters are realistically flawed. Who hasn't had a cranky morning when everything seems to go wrong, and it's a struggle to feel gratitude for anything? Also, you're right about Little Lord Fauntleroy being too perfect- I think Burnett did a much better job with Mary Lennox in "The Secret Garden." She's a much more believable character.

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    1. That cranky morning reminds me of a lot of my mornings, I'm afraid. One day I almost poured the coffee grounds into the toaster...

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  6. Oh, I am really loving this read-along! And I so enjoy reading your views on each chapter! 'Burdens' is a good chapter which I can personally relate to - after all the merry making the girls felt a bit low that they once again had to pick up their burdens and trudge on! I like the lessons in Little Women - they are true to life! And don't you think there is a sprinkling of each of the March sisters in most of us...?
    It is quite true that Jo is pretty similar to Aunt March, though I think she overcame her flaws later on in life unlike the old lady...

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    1. My life is like that -- I'll have a couple of really awesome days, and then the next one or two will be crummy. And then life cycles back up again. So yes, you're right, I find that very natural.

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  7. This is probably why I'm enjoying Little Women so much, because it deals with flawed characters, and teaches lessons in context without being too preachy! I'd have to say I'm most like a mix of Jo and Amy, and so their struggles are most relatable to me. And you are so right! Jo and Aunt March are very much alike whether they realize it or not. XD

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    1. And I find it really realistic that Jo and Aunt March don't get along, because it's generally the people I'm the most like that I have the hardest time getting along with.

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  8. I think it's so interesting how Alcott perfectly mirrors that crash that I think most people get post-Christmas and parties and fun (at least, I know I do). Chapter 3 is full of fun and merry making and then, ooof, here comes real life. I really didn't think this was Alcott's worst preachy-ness. In fact, I think her preaching comes out most strongly in An Old Fashioned Girl as opposed to Little Women.

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    1. I hate that post-fun slump. Like a caffeine low or a sugar low, only a bit longer-lasting.

      I didn't remember LW being this directly moralizing, and it's been at least 20 years since I read most of her other books, so I don't remember much at all about them.

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  9. I don't think she was too preachy at all…I love the morals she weaves into her stories:)

    I loved when Jo was telling about how she started reading that book to Aunt March and then slyly stopped at a "thrilling part" :D

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    1. Jo is such a smarty, isn't she? I loved that too, how she got Aunt March very interested in her thrilling novel :-) Sneaky and funny!

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  10. Alcott's definitely not subtle. Still, I don't mind her so much as--um--Elsie Dinsmore, for instance (no offense intended towards lovers of ED! ;)).

    But Hamlette, DON'T mention Little Lord Fauntleroy! (No, it's all right, but I've loved LLF for a loooooong time! ;))

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    1. You know, I actually liked Elsie Dinsmore as a kid. I think I read like 6 of the books about her. I haven't tried her as an adult, though.

      I love A Little Princess and really like The Secret Garden, but Fauntleroy... couldn't handle him. Sorry!

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    2. Sigh. I didn't much like Elsie Dinsmore, but that was before I'd read a lot of 1800's fiction (particularly some of the less-famous 1800's fiction -- which can tend to have more "perfect" heroines). And I'm definitely not casting stones as I can tell my heroine in Ellen ended up with a lot of similar qualities. ;) Altogether I've just never taken that much time to look ED up again.

      I love Fauntleroy (it was definitely one of those imagination shapers, though I admit I haven't read it straight through for a while) and I'm not super big on Little Princess (though I love the Shirley Temple film ;)). BUT we're joined on Secret Garden and with one on either side I guess we're even! ;D

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    3. I think age plays a big role here. I first read ALP when I was probably 8 or 9, and TSG shortly after. But I was probably more like 13 or 14 when I first read LLF, and already becoming more... maybe not critical, but discerning about what kinds of storytelling pleased me and what was "good" and "bad."

      Similarly, I was probably only 10 or so when I read the Elsie books, and so I just liked that they were nice stories.

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  11. I really loved this chapter!
    I can certainly relate to the toughness of starting up again after a vacation (or just a weekend), and the ensuing grumpiness. And yes, I feel sorry for Meg, it must be so hard to have to be surrounded by things you want but know you can't have.
    My favourite line in the entire chapter was "Poor Meg seldom complained, but a sense of injustice made her feel bitter toward every one sometimes, for she had not yet learned to know how rich she was in the blessings which alone can make life happy." - So relatable and such a lovely morale.

    It's true that Louisa Alcott isn't excatcly subtle with her lessons, but I like the way they are vowen into the story, and the struggles each of the girls have with themselves, that makes the story/characters much more realistic.

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    1. Yeah, some Mondays are super hard. And if it's been a long weekend, or a vacation... uff da.

      We do learn lessons in life, or we need to, anyway, so I think it's pretty realistic to have the March girls learning things. That's the business of life, after all!

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