I first read Part One of Little Women when I was much younger. I’m not sure whether it was in Korea or already in Germany, but I do remember reading it in Korean. It is a beautiful edition with little illustrations and tidbits of information on the sides. Anyway, I loved it, and have read it many times.
Last year, upon discovering the Kindle App on my tablet PC, I downloaded Little Women for free and read the first and the second part. Admittedly, it was surreal to read the dialogues I’d memorized in Korean in English. After the happy and quiet Christmas engagement and much more, I was nervous to start the second part.
I know many people -including my mom- were disappointed with the second part of the book, titled Good Wives. The story takes place three years later and follows Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy as they navigate through their adult years.
Personally, I liked the second part more than I’d expected, and certainly more than other readers did. Okay, I know, I know why you (assuming you read and disliked Good Wives) were/are upset, why you felt like Alcott has sold herself short, why you were frustrated with Meg for being so docile and obedient.
Thesis: So these four young girls, who were much more independent and of livelier spirits in Little Women, succumb to the expectations of the society and become good young women and young mothers, who do nothing but sit around at home and look pretty for their husbands…
Wait, wait. That’s not true. Here are reasons why the thesis above is not true:
1. Jo is independent – this time even financially as she earns money selling her stories. Yes, she does get married, but her marriage to Professor Bhaer is not what I’d call conventional – he treats her as equal (“Mother Bhaer” and “Father Bhaer” have different roles to play – roles each wanted to be) and is very much in love with her. I personally believe he couldn’t care less if she dressed herself with more regard to comfort than fashion. Jo, as is shown in the last chapter of Good Wives, has maintained her lively spirit and is very happy with her life.
2. In my humble opinion, Beth stays the same person she was in the first part of the book: quiet, happy, cheerful and satisfied with what she has. After the illness, she is never the same healthy and rosy girl she was, but inside she’s the same Beth she has always been.
3. Amy has always strived to be an elegant lady who is loved by others. Well, now she has become exactly the person she has envisioned. She also learns to be more, let’s say, discreet in her opinions and she’s more mild-tempered. She still has traces of vanity but I think she has grown into a beautiful (not just physical beauty), mature woman. Yes, she does get engaged and later married to Laurie (which many readers were upset about, I gather) and yes, Laurie is rich, so Amy now can afford to devote her hours to young, talented artists who might be in need of their (Amy and Laurie’s) help. Amy also becomes a mother but from my point of view, Laurie and Amy both depend on each other. He needs her to smooth over his temper so he doesn’t act irrationally. It is through his love that she can survive the heartache of seeing their daughter so weak.
4. Now we come to Meg. First, I’d like to point out that in Little Women, she says: “I should like a lovely house, full of all sorts of luxurious things – nice food, pretty clothes, handsome furniture, pleasant people, and heaps of money. I am to be mistress of it, and manage it as I like, with plenty of servants, so I never need work a bit. How I should enjoy it! For I wouldn’t be idle, but do good, and make everyone love me dearly.” (Little Women, Chapter 13 “Castles in the Air”)
In the end, she marries John Brooke for love, not money. So her dreams of “luxurious things” and “heaps of money” went nowhere, but during her first years of marriage, Meg is and learns to be happy with her life. (The contrary example is shown by Sallie Gardiner, who marries Ned Moffat and is rich yet unhappy.
The thing is, Meg never had any big ambition like Jo or Amy. She just wanted to marry well and become a wife and a mother. And that is a fine goal for some – not everyone has the same destination for one’s life. So Meg does exactly what she has envisioned all those years long… she becomes a wife and a mother! That’s her “job”, not because she was forced to, but because she wanted to! In today’s society, young girls exist who don’t want a career but are just content being wives and mothers. That’s their choice. That was Meg’s choice. And if she wants to be a pretty wife who makes her husband happy, who can blame her? The point here lies in the fact that no one has forced her to do anything she does. Not the society, not her husband, and not herself.
All in all, I was happy to see the characters grow and change. I loved them when they were young and uncertain about their futures, and I love them now that they are leading happy lives.