A couple of years ago I hosted a Little Women Read-Along event here on the blog and…
I never really closed up the event. It’s not really in the best interest of the blogger to begin a post in this negative fashion but I have to be honest. However, this kind of neglect is going to work on my favor because I’m going to talk about a topic in the framework of my favorite piece of literature. I’m going to spend the next several few lines talking about literature, translation and communication. Aaaaaaannd even though I have written about this book before, I’ve never properly reviewed it so I thought I’d knock out a few thoughts on the story as well and count this as my official review. This will be quite different than my usual review format but stay tuned, it’ll be fun!
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Rating: 5.0 – 5.0
Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women is an American literary treasure that has been a favorite of mine for over a decade. The story of Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy March is centered around themes of family, coming of age, friendship, life pursuits, heartache, and cherishing those things that are most important to us.
The story begins with the four sisters coping with the challenges of life in Civil War America. While they’re used to a comfortable life, they now face the struggles of scrimping and pinching to help their mother, affectionately called ‘Marmee’, maintain their household while their father serves as a chaplain in the war.
The experiences of these four sisters are not so unlike those girls face today. Meg and Amy deal with desires to be popular, pretty and well-liked. Beth learns to come out of her comfort zone and stay diligent. Jo, the heroine of the book and my literary doppelgänger, struggles with patience, social awkwardness, and finding a place for herself in the world.
Throughout the mishaps, tears, and triumphs, Marmee keeps the girls grounded and focused on what’s important. She challenges them to do their best in life and rise above their weaknesses and struggles. She encourages them to embrace their womanhood but also push past society’s narrow and sometimes silly expectations. She values simplicity, hard work, and truthfulness and wants her daughters to do the same. The story’s heroine may be Jo and the title may be Little Women but the woman behind these girls is a mother whose heart and soul helps to shape them into beautiful people.
And it would do no good whatsoever to not mention Laurie, the lovable boy next door and Jo’s BFFL. He’s got his own set of coming-of-age challenges that I totally appreciate and enjoy reading about. If you’ve read the book, you understand the struggle when it comes to Jo and Laurie. I don’t need to say more. It’s been over ten years and I still struggle sometimes even though I completely understand why. If you haven’t read the book, well, I’m not going to spoil it for you :).
I love, love, love this book and will never tire of the book or the movie adaptations (there are 4 that I know of). It’s very sweet and charming. It’ll make you laugh, cry and may make you a bit angry at times but hey, that’s what a good story does right? If it’s not there yet, I urge you fellow classic literature lovers, add it to your list of books to read!
Okay, let’s switch gears in the discussion for a minute and talk a little history and language.
This is a very American story. Four young women growing up in a turbulent society and while the book isn’t at all about the Civil War or its aftermath, it can’t be ignored that these girls are finding their wings in a time in history when America was redefining so much of its own identity. A lot was going on in the second half of 19th century America, including the world of literature. Alcott’s father was a transcendentalist. This was an American philosophy explored by several authors of the day including Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Henry David Thoreau. Transcendentalists believe in the idea that people have knowledge about themselves and the world around them that transcends what we see, hear, taste, touch, and feel. A transcendentalist believes that they can trust themselves alone to decide what is right and wrong. This is not a philosophy I subscribe to but I recognize its place in American ideology, especially in this time period.
So what happens when a story so engrained in it’s culture is translated into another language and culture? What must carry over into the new language in order for the story to retain its identity? I don’t know anything about translating literary works but I do know this – there’s more to a story than just the words on a page. If a translator can capture the life between the lines of a piece, then that is a job well done. After all, we read literature not just to consume words strung together one after another, we read literature to capture a piece of another time or place than where we are. Alcott’s Little Women evokes homey, cozy feelings in me as well as inspires a desire to pursue life to the fullest and do work that matters. That’s the beauty of a well-told story and each language, each culture does this in it’s own unique way.
The woman who read and loved Little Women when it first hit the bookstores is quite different from a woman like me who reads and loves it more than a century later. But even though we have completely different lives, we both share an experience with the story. The same should go for a translated work. Little Women could be translated into any other language but the reader should still experience the warmth, the sense of home, and ‘Americaness’ that I imagine Alcott intended her readers to experience.
I think when groups and cultures share their stories, we not only become better intercultural communicators, but we also become more empathetic in our dealings with one another and better apt to treat each other with understanding and respect. Translations of great works of literature, online content and conversations, and businesses can open people all over the world to wonderful experiences and add incredible depth to life. After all, we were made to communicate with each other, right? If the heart and soul that a writer or communicator puts into their work can be translated along with the words, translators and translation services like Smartling have extended the gift of that experience to those that the author could not originally reach.
And that, my friend, is a beautiful thing!
Happy reading y’all!