One of the Most Important Lessons from Little Women

pinafore-16I recently saw the Little Women movie and loved it! I am also re-reading the book and loving it. So I guess you can say I am just full of love (and sugar cookies, Christmas is not quite over in this house). One of the reasons I enjoy Little Women (the book or most recent movie adaptation) so much is that it is rife with quality lessons. Not the least of these is the importance of forgiveness, relationships over accomplishments, and a gracious approach to life. But one of the most important if not most important lesson in Little Women is that choosing to do better is not a one-time act. There's quite a bit of repetition and parallels in the book (that the movie's set up highlighted nicely); character traits are not transformed over night and like life, our burdens are not so easily abandoned.pinafore-36 pinafore-13-side
pinafore-35This lesson is illustrated in all of the characters. We see Meg in her youth saying “let me have my fun this one night and then I promise to give up frivolous things” only to continue to struggle with her desire for pretty dresses and a more comfortable life as a young wife and mother. Meg’s not a failure because she couldn’t fulfill the ambitious promise to never be frivolous again she impetuously made in her youth, she’s human because temptation never leaves. And ultimately it is the fact that this struggle didn’t disappear for her that makes her sacrifice of a nice dress so her husband can have a new coat all the more significant. If she hadn’t struggled with her desire for nice things, then her sacrifice would be of no value. It is through her continued struggle we can learn to have patience for our own inevitable weaknesses and failures, but also be reminded to do better and try, try again. Failure is not the end, but merely a bump in the road. pinafore-19 pinafore-22Perseverance is often associated with lofty goals. We always hear stories of the aspiring author who is rejected by dozens of publishers before finally being accepted (they then go on to be a huge success). We’re told “nothing ventured, nothing gained.” But what about perseverance in the humdrum and everyday parts of life? What of our attempts to be better people; less prone to outbursts of anger, quicker to forgive, more patient, etc? The easiest analogy for me as a fashion blogger and self-described clothes horse is my desire to be a better consumer. I hate the thought that cheap clothes I’m buying are contributing to poor wages and unsafe working conditions, but I also have a desire to acquire all of the pretty dresses. Choosing to shop more ethically is not a decision I get to make once and never face again. Instead I’m constantly surrounded by temptation and frequently have to give myself a mental kick. pinafore-6
pinafore-3The repetition of struggle and remorse to struggle and remorse and occasional triumph in Little Women is such a necessary arc too often missing in our modern lives and stories. Most books or movies will present a central conflict which the protagonist(s) will face and despite setbacks, will eventually overcome. If another conflict presents itself later in the book or series, it will be a new conflict; a new villain, a new challenge. Rarely, if ever, can I recall a modern story that revolves around a character with a weakness that is not completely vanquished and often the weakness is something they need to overcome in order to become our hero/heroine. But in Little Women we are presented with several protagonists who remain our protagonists without being completely purged of their flaws. Meg will still covet, Jo and Marmee’s tempers don’t disappear, but rather are managed by their perseverance and determination to be better people, Amy’s vanity doesn’t wash away. And to me, that is the most priceless lesson of them all. Not that hard work will remove us of our vices, but rather that with hard work our burdens will become more bearable. pinafore-28


to top