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Little Women is a Feminist Novel— Whether Critics Agree or Not

My first encounter with the novel Little Women was one I will never forget. Following the death of my beloved grandmother, my mother and I were cleaning out her home in preparation to sell it. Hidden among one of her dusty bookshelves was an old, beautifully illustrated copy of the classic Louisa May Alcott novel. Inside was a handwritten note from my great-aunt to my mother, who gifted her this book during her childhood.

Since I have always been an avid reader, my mother insisted that I read it. However, I recall being a bit apprehensive because of how large the novel was and by the mere fact that it was a classic. I never enjoyed classic literature. During school, I would argue with all my teachers because I always felt that reading classics was boring. Why should I care if the rich guy in The Great Gatsby gets the pretty woman? How does Holden Caulfield’s sexual endeavors in The Catcher in the Rye pertain to my life? Classic literature, to me, always felt like it was telling someone else’s story. However, all of that changed when I read Little Women.

After discovering it in the depths of my grandma’s house, I have since read it three other times. Now, I categorize it as one of my favorite novels of all time. In contrast, many people disagree with me. Following the release of the Greta Gerwig movie adaptation, many critics vocalized their disdain for my treasured novel, citing that it is mistakenly categorized as a feminist book. Obviously, I disagree, so here are the real reasons why Little Women is still a feminist novel, even today.

It is written for women

Now this feels like a rather obvious assumption. However, oftentimes, stories are meant to be for women, but they don’t get the women-part right. There have been countless books I have read that are supposed to be for women, but they are written by a man. With that in mind, sometimes men write women how they view them rather than how they really are. Little Women tells a clear story about four sisters who are just trying to make it in their world. It presents common themes that women can relate to like sisterhood, jealousy, love and ambitions, while also having to entirely overcome society’s expectations of women.

women have differing ambitions

Oftentimes, a book is deemed feminist if the heroine goes against gender barriers to accomplish her goals. This is very true in Little Women. One of the sisters, Jo, wishes to become a writer. However, during this time period, women were expected to get married and run a household. Instead of immediately following that assumption, Jo set out to New York to work as both a writer and a governess. This was her way of following her ambitions, while also supporting her family. Jo’s sister Meg had completely different plans. She had the aspiration to get married and become a mother, which she was able to accomplish. This is what makes Little Women such a powerful book. Both women choose completely different paths, but they are still celebrated as good, successful people. By acknowledging that women can choose their paths, Alcott is instilling the feminist ideal that all female identities and ambitions matter.

Jo getting married does not make her anti-feminist

Many critics have an issue with Jo getting married towards the end of the novel. They deem this as an anti-feminist act because, throughout the story, she discusses how she never wants to marry. In reality, it was obvious that Jo never wanted to marry Laurie, her best friend whom everyone assumed she would be wed to. However, when she met Friedrich Bhaer, a German professor, all those beliefs changed. This is because he was the first person to truly challenge her. Throughout the story, he is shown critiquing her writing and pushing her to be better. This is what Jo both needed and wanted, even if she didn’t realize it until she met him. So, falling in love and marrying someone who helps you become a better version of yourself is in no way anti-feminist. In fact, it is the perfect way to show that as both a woman and a feminist, you can change your mind and admit you were wrong.

Little Women is a feminist novel that I hold dearly in my heart. It celebrates the fact that women can be strong and ambitious while also allowing them to be loved and vulnerable. By using wonderful character development, Louisa May Alcott paints the picture of loving sisters who are independent enough to think for themselves and choose their own paths in life. I would say that’s pretty feminist.

Hi! I'm Emily Costantino and I am a Journalism and Digital Content major at Susquehanna University. I work as both an on-campus member and a national writer for Her Campus.
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