Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Critical Evaluative Book Review

For the past two weeks, or rather 4 days of the past two weeks, I've been working on a Critical Evaluative Book Review for my advanced comp. class. The goal was to move beyond the typical summary book reviews we wrote when we were younger (not that I wrote many myself). I said 4 days because I tend to write my entire paper on Monday afternoon and Tuesday mornings before assignments are due by 9:30 am. Tuesday. This assignment took two weeks because of it's length, but I still only wrote half one Monday and the other have yesterday and this morning. Anyway, as always, I'd love comments, positive and critical. Yes I know, lots of people don't like to give critical or negative feedback for fear of hurting feelings, but as many of you know, I am not one to get easily offended (I will become a better writer too). =) More than anything though, I hope it brings you pleasure and doesn't put you to sleep. =)

Total words all together: 1670

Little Women

Louisa May Alcott


Little Women


Louisa May Alcott, author of the inspirational and thrilling novel Little Women, engages women, young and old, in the exciting, special, and, at times, challenging adventures of maturing into womanhood found throughout the applicable messages in her writing. Father March, away in the Civil War, leaves four sisters struggling in their poverty, passions, and trials, with a confidant mother to take troubles to. Mrs. March leads, encourages, and challenges each of her daughters to face their difficulties and overcome every hardship in life. Differing widely, each girl merges into the youth and beauty of womanhood and faces her own characteristic challenges; vanity, pride, sharp tongue, and quick temper. Though far away from his family in Concord Massachusetts, Mr. March, maintains his proper place as head of the March household, the stake upon which the whole family revolves, and to whom all of the March ladies look up to and vehemently desire to please.

Margaret, the eldest of the four sisters, starts out longing for finery and grand clothes, but honestly thrives on love and kind words. Jo, the juvenile girl cannot abide ladylike manners, and her quick temper and love of jolly fun often cause trouble in her youth until she finds womanhood truly is a virtue. Quiet, introverted Beth prefers to stay at home and though she appears nearly perfect, she is the most conscious of her mistakes and failures. Self-centered, artistic Amy prefers spending her time shaping her nose, which does not have the Grecian air she wishes, than her character, but she later learns the importance of virtuous character.  At the beginning of the novel, the March’s have very few acquaintances due partially to their poverty. Before long however, bold, tomboyish Jo has met the rich and supposed miserly reclusive grandfather next door and his young prankish grandson. Growing over several years, this family friendship helps burst the buds of childishness into blossoms of young adulthood.

With the focus of entertaining her audience, Alcott writes from her heart about what she knows and partially from what she wishes reality would have bestowed upon her family. Between Jo getting into scrapes by toying with rash experiments, Laurie’s slang expressions, Meg’s idealistic plans of marrying rich, and Amy’s desire to be a “fine lady,” the reader cannot help but enjoy the larks and romps of the spry young characters. Intending to provide the reader with light and yet moral literature, Alcott’s characters subliminally teach ideas and concepts to the viewer. Following their adventures one may find herself desiring fine clothes and a husband with money along with Meg, yet by the time the young character has “sat in the lap of luxury” with her experience at Vanity Fair, the reader will soon realize that money does not fix everything. Mrs. March’s words of wisdom teach her daughters, “I am ambitious for you, but not to make a dash in the world - marry rich men merely because they are rich, or have splendid houses, which are not homes because love wanting.” (99) Money has a useful purpose, but it should not be the driving factor for love. This simple and yet neglected proverb is only one of the many valuable lessons Alcott teachers her readers while at the same time entertaining them.

Little Women portrays the general them of man versus self and the specific theme of concurring faults. Throughout the novel, Alcott’s characters find themselves in rough places and struggling to get out of problematic situations. However, the characters all act as mirrors for each other reflecting their attributes, but more importantly, their shortcomings. Qualities one person may lack, another character possesses and thus they confide in one another and learn their faults and how to correct them. Jo finds bridling her tongue quite the challenge. After it cost her a long awaited trip to Europe, she goes to her mother and confesses, “oh, my tongue, my abominable tongue! Why can’t I learn to keep it quiet?” (301) Conflicts arise internally for these characters and not amongst each other; for these sisters are the best and dearest of friends. They begin to see themselves through someone else’s eyes and thus learn how to remodel their character.

Alcott’s style of writing moves mostly through dialogue with the help of some narration. Page after page of Little Women has varied sentence length, strong diction, and humor such as when Amy says uses the work Cyclops instead of centaur and lapse of lingy instead of lapsus linguae. Words unfamiliar to readers provide a good opportunity to increase one’s vocabulary by looking up new expressions. Some of the characters in the book speak a language other than English and Alcott does not shy away from using phrases and sentences in their native tongue to help emphasize the role. Writing clearly with lots of description can present challenges, but Alcott has both talent and imagination needed. Descriptions in Alcott’s novel allow the reader to travel into the book as a family friend and enjoy the day at Camp Laurence, taste Jo’s dinner party flop, feel both the pain and joy of Beth’s departure, and the love Meg feels towards her children. Main characters are described much more than the minor characters because the development of the prominent actors is more important than those less involved.

Whether young or old, any woman would love reading Little Women. By the time a young lady can handle the length and vocabulary of the book, she will devour the pages of this literary treasure. Women who have experienced more of life than others, enjoy reflecting on life and would relish seeing the lives of these four young ladies as they branch into womanhood. Differing from books which portray a utopian view of life, one tool Alcott uses well, is incorporating conflict and trial. This reflects human lives as well because humans cannot obtain perfection and thus we cannot relate to a fanciful life as we can to a life of struggles.

Though Little Women portrays a very moral view of living for the March family and surrounding characters, the morality does not come from a desire to obey God. Ideas of modesty, refraining from affection until after marriage, speaking with clean language, and common courtesy and respect flow throughout the novel, but simply because Alcott lived during a time in which people led moral lives regardless of religion. God does not play a prominent role in the lives of the young ladies, and one of the few times they mention Him is in a time of sorrow when Beth, deathly ill with scarlet fever, lay in the balance between life and death, Meg states an agreement for God saying, “if God spares Beth, I never will complain again.” (186) Jo makes a similar bargain when she says, “if God spares Beth, I’ll try to love and serve Him all my life.” (186) Few Biblical principals pop up within the pages of adventures, but only in times of trial as if God existed only for present relief in difficult times and not as Father and Savior. Their sense of morality, right, and wrong, comes from the culture around them and not from the Bible or God.

Concealed throughout the novel Alcott weaves hidden thoughts into her book giving the impression that haughtiness, condescension, and arrogance accompany riches and wealth. With the exception of the Laurences, the other wealthy people in the town around the Marchs hold an air of self-importance unbecoming and dishonorable to any class of people. Upper class citizens of the area look down upon young women who hire themselves out as governesses as Meg does. European friends who visit Laurie are illustrated as dishonest people and the government of France is condemned giving the impression that Alcott perhaps used these people and situations to relate her dislike of Europeans. Overall, the book does not represent a strong prejudice against certain races, but merely a dislike for common characteristics or qualities she saw in people which she disliked.

Although Little Women’s focus is on the young March’s, Alcott portrayed Jo as the main protagonist with mother, sisters, and best friend Laurie as round characters to provide depth. Readers begin seeing other characters through Jo’s eyes. Without Mrs. March as confidant, the girls would not know where to turn in trouble and the whole story would not hold much interest without Marmee’s moral suggestions and encouragements. For a time, Mr. John Brook plays antagonist in Jo’s mind as she realizes the possibility of him marrying Meg of whom she says, “I just wish I could marry Meg myself, and keep her safe in the family.” (199) Throughout the book, Laurie and Jo have an existential relationship between them. Nearly everyone expects that they love each other from the beginning and will soon be wed in matrimony; however, Jo’s rejection befuddles her readers adding excitement to the novel.             

Different aspects of Alcott’s book could categorize this piece of literature as fiction, romance, or drama. Dramatic scenes such as Amy nearly drowning in the river or Jo searing Meg’s hair might cause this novel to take a stand with dramatic literature. Perhaps the love stories of Meg, Jo, and Amy would place the book with romances. However the real genre that plays over and over is simple fiction. Alcott wrote from her heart; partially from her life and partially from what she desired her life could have held. Nonetheless, she wrote a classic piece of fiction literature that will forever impact the lives and hearts of women through its drama, romance, and fiction.

Little Women illustrates a beautiful picture of young women struggling through situations as every girl does. However, Alcott does not leave her actors in faults without bringing them through to the other side. Each sister experiences triumph over failure. Every woman would enjoy reading this novel because of the moral concepts and valuable lessons taught without preachy sermons. Alcott’s literary masterpiece has left a print on the hearts of many ladies that they will not soon forget.



Anonymous said...

I love it!!! I like your writing style, its professional, but I do the same thing of waiting till the last minute to write something....Shaylyn

Anonymous said...

haha...I totally did the same thing for my CEBR. :)