An Analysis of ?Reading Little Women: The Many Lives of a Text? Amber Hauck Dr. Meija WRA 140, Michigan State University 18 March 2009 An Analysis of ?Reading Little Women: The Many Lives of a Text? Little Women by Louisa May Alcott is said to be a legendary novel made for girls in their adolescence. Written in 1876 by Alcott, she at first did not have any aspiration to write the story. After producing her first manuscript, in fact, Alcott was said to have called it simple and dull. But, as her publishers continued to push her, Alcott realized that her simple dull story of four girls growing up was exactly what young adolescents needed. The story was immediately a hit when published, and continued on to inspire and amuse hundreds of thousands of readers throughout the years. It is now known as a legend, a marvel, and an all time American classic. ?Reading Little Women: The Many Lives of a Text? by Barbara Sicherman analyzes this prominent novel. By looking at reader?s first reactions, the character influence, the widespread audience, and the longevity of Little Women, one can understand why Alcott?s novel became so renowned in American culture. When Little Women was first published in October of 1868, the first printing of around 2,000 copies entirely sold out. Alcott then wrote a sequel in April, in which was only differentiated by calling it Part Second. By the end of the year, 38,000 copies of both books were sold, with another 32,000 copies printing in 1870. Bu January of 1888, 200,000 copies of Little Women had been purchased. The reason for this initial outbreak of success for Alcott?s novel was credited by two sources. First, most of the literature written at the time was of harsh, over-religious antebellum stories, in which the characters were always proper, under control of a guardian, and never could even imagined to have any fun. Little Women brought a new setting to literature of the time. The March girls each had aspirations, and a family that loved them. The girls were seen as independent roles, and each where fun loving and gay. Second, the time period said that a women?s role was to marry well and take care of the house and home. Alcott gave these teenage girls who were just about to step into womanhood another option. Each girl wanted something more for themselves, and although each one got married, they all sought after a dream. This success and happiness displayed in Little Women left those who read it intrigued to follow their own dream. The fictional world of the novel brought more and more readers in, creating the immense success Little Women received. The main character, Jo, wanted nothing more than to be a writer. She sought after her literary pursuit in many different ways that seemed to inspire readers to do so themselves. She was a tomboy as a teenager, and could not find a way to fit in with her beautiful, sincere sisters. Her pursuit for knowledge and creativeness set her apart from most adolescent women of the time. Though she was a product of fiction, Jo inspired many readers to act upon their own lives. Two famous examples of women inspired by Jo were Simone de Beauvoir and M. Carey Thomas. Simone de Beauvoir, a famous French writer who was known for her feminist essays and stories, claimed that she proceeded to work exactly like Jo did on her literary productions. She has been quoted in writing ?In order to imitate her more completely, I composed two or three short stories?? (Sicherman 258). M. Carey Thomas, a woman?s suffragist, wrote many journals as ?Jo (not Joe)? and found Jo?s rebellion from the normal woman?s status quo inspiring. She was so inspired by Jo that she began writing poetry, reading literature older than her age, and distinguishing herself as a woman writer. Jo also inspired many young girls to write to Alcott and tell her of their self-published newspapers and asking more about her so that they could be just like her. In conclusion, new mental state of women was being born, under the leadership of a fictional woman named Jo. Many different kinds of people read Little Women and interpreted its inspiration in all different ways. Working class women found the characters realistic, something to look at and relate to. The poorer classes saw them as a new possibility, a window of opportunity and a hope for a better life. Before Little Women, the optimism for these poorer women was marrying up into a higher class, but now they could see these women making something of themselves and they could do so as well. Jewish immigrants in America found Little Women as a guide to entering American culture. The ambition the girls showed gave them the hope that they could move up into the middle-class family life that Alcott displayed. Elizabeth G. Stern, a daughter of Jewish immigrants who became a writer about the Jewish immigrants in America, read Little Women to find her dream of middle-class America in the first place. ?It was all so American, so full of a life I did not know but desperately hoped to be a part of, an America full of promises, hopes, optimisms?? (Sicherman 260). A variety of classes and cultures were all touched by Little Women, depicting the ?melting pot? that America stands for. From its publishing in 1868 until today in 2009, the story of the four March girls has upheld itself in the public eye. The story continues to reach new readers even in our generation. One major reason for this is because of its simplicity in which Alcott so disappointedly shunned herself for in the first place. Alcott did not input any historical references or outside events current to the time, therefore the novel never outdates itself. The story of Little Women is about childhood, and children of every generation can relate to the social problems that these same girls were facing. The stories of the four girls open up possibilities for the readers? imaginations, creating the many different stories interpreted among the years and for many more years to come. Little Women?s initial success, Jo?s influence on women, widespread audience, and longevity declared it a legend. Over 65,000 copies were sold within its first three years of production. ?The teenager who is far from beautiful, struggles with her temper, is both a book-worm and the center of action, and dreams of literary glory? (Sicherman 261) gave adolescent girls hope, and even inspired some women to become famous feminists. Alcott?s novel touched women of all classes and cultures, thereby making a difference in women all over America. Even today, 132 years later, women, men, and children are still reading Little Women. A book that never grows old, a story that never outdates itself, a true American legend.
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