“A Little Kingdom I Possess”

By on 27 November, 2017 in Art, Fun, Sarah Thornton with 0 Comments

“Far away there in the sunshine are my highest aspirations. I may not reach them, but I can look up and see their beauty, believe in them, and try to follow where they lead.” ― Louisa May Alcott

Did you know that Louisa May Alcott did not want to write Little Women? She had already created a career for herself writing about her experiences as a nurse in the Civil War. She was not famous from her earlier writings by any stretch, but she was writing what she was passionate about. It wasn’t until her publisher commissioned her to write a “book for girls” that her autobiographical classic came to be.  She fought against the idea, calling it “moral pap for the young.” Why did a female writer have to write something for girls? In her early writing, she even used an assumed name (a man’s name) on her submissions so that her writing would be taken seriously.

Ironically, Little Women was her ladder out of the poverty of a struggling writer and into fame and financial security.  She wrote and published the entire thing in four months, though it was in two parts. It wasn’t until the second part of the book was published that we knew whether or not the story of the four March sisters ended happily.

If you do not know the story, there are a few spoilers ahead. You’ve been warned.

After Part One was published, Louisa was flooded with letters from readers asking the same question: “Who do the March sisters end up marrying?” Her answer: “Girls write to ask who the little women marry, as if that was the only aim and end of a woman’s life. I won’t marry Jo to Laurie to please anyone.” Alcott never married, and wanted Jo to remain unmarried.

There are many speculations about who the character of Laurie was based on, ranging from Louisa’s actual next door neighbor Ralph Waldo Emerson to her teacher Henry David Thoreau, to her childhood friends “Alf” and “Laddie.” Myself, I’m inclined to think she drew from all of these men to create a character she described as, “one of the best and dearest lads I ever knew!”

In the book, Laurie offers Jo one of her life-long dreams of traveling the world, and while they clearly cared very deeply for each other, he also would be a match that would save her family from poverty. With the entire world being offered to her by her dearest friend and ally, what girl could say “no?” But Jo, fiercely herself even to a fault, must decide where her heart truly lies. Her courage to blaze her own trail is one of the reasons she became one of literature’s most cherished female characters.

Why was Jo so special? Yes, she is lively and adventurous, playful and passionate. Yet she represents something much bigger for girls and women of all ages — the right and freedom to make her own decisions. Sadly, even today, women struggle constantly against what is “expected” of them. We’ve come a long way since Louisa’s day, but society still tries to put women in boxes. Marriage and children are markers for a successful life, and women who opt for a different path must navigate the stigma. “Are you seeing anyone?” “Don’t you like children?” “Have you tried online dating?” “Don’t worry, you’ll meet someone someday.” This also applies to working mothers, stay-at-home mothers, women in positions of power, women trapped in unhappy marriages, women trapped under glass ceilings, and on and on. We as a society often have trouble accepting things that don’t fit in the box we think they belong in. And, after all, women are mysterious, fickle, determined, powerful creatures.

All of the March girls must make a choice that determines their futures. Meg, the eldest, cares most about what others think of her. She desires a husband and financial security above all else, and when faced with the choice of marrying a poor man for love, she has to reevaluate what really matters in life. Amy has much grander ideas about her future and is determined to be “an ornament to society.” She garners the favor of a wealthy aunt which affords her the ability to travel and paint and make herself into the woman she hopes to be. And yet, while it seems she has gotten everything she wants, she must sacrifice being with her family. She moves out of their world, and it takes a hard lesson to remind her where she comes from and what she truly values. Sweet Beth has the simplest wish, to be home surrounded by her family. She is happy being right where she is, but naturally, the people around her grow and change and move and she finds herself left behind.

It is my hope that the Playhouse’s production of Little Women warms your heart, makes you laugh, makes you cry, and also makes you think. While it is a simple, honest and sweet story about a family, the title reminds us that it is also about these girls growing up, becoming women, and the struggles they must face to find out who they are. Where do our paths in life lead? We won’t know until we get there. That is what makes life such an adventure!

Tickets for Little Women at the Cloverdale Playhouse are on sale now. The show runs from Nov. 30-Dec 10, Thursdays-Saturdays at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm. Visit www.cloverdaleplayhouse.org or call the box office at (334) 262-1530 for more information.

Sarah Walker Thornton is the Artistic Director of the Cloverdale Playhouse, who walks like a New Yorker and waves like an Alabama girl. She is a product of a Montgomery arts education, with several years of life in NYC thrown in for extra flavor.

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