Best Lines and Lessons from Little Women

"There was a good deal of laughing, and kissing, and explaining, in the simple, loving fashion which makes these home-festivals so pleasant at the time, so sweet to remember long afterward, and then all fell to work." Louisa May Alcott

"Little Women" by Louisa May Alcott is a homage to many important elements of life: family, friendship, home, parenting, independence, marriage. As well as a homage to writing. It captures the essence of the home, from the delicate details of flowers in a vase to the feeling of a scratchy pillow. As a book with many perspectives, any reader can relate to one or many of the characters. Personally, I relate the most to Meg and Jo — for different reasons, entirely. 

I was only familiar with the movie editions of Little Women. But my love for these movies drew me to read the book itself, to see what the true story is about. I was pleasantly surprised to find more stories and details, and faith! Neither of the movies I have watched included my favorite part of the book, when Marmee teaches Jo about her patience and ability to have self-control:

"How did you learn to keep still? That is what troubles me—for the sharp words fly out before I know what I'm about; and the more I say the worse I get, till it's a pleasure to hurt people's feelings, and say dreadful things. Tell me how you do it, Marmee dear." 

"...I am not patient by nature [Marmee said]...It was easier to try for your sakes than for my own; a startled or surprised look from one of you, when I spoke sharply, rebuked me more than any words could have done; and the love, respect, and confidence of my children was the sweetest reward I could receive for my efforts to be the woman I would have them copy...If I don't seem to need help, it is because I have a better friend, even than father, to comfort and sustain me. My child, the troubles and temptations of your life are beginning, and may be many; but you can overcome and outlive them all, if you learn to feel the strength and tenderness of your Heavenly Father as you do that of your earthly one. The more you love and trust Him, the nearer you will feel to Him, and the less you will depend on human power and wisdom. His love and care never tire or change, can never be taken from you, but may become the source of lifelong peace, happiness, and strength. Believe this heartily, and go to God with all your little cares, and hopes, and sins, and sorrows, as freely and confidingly as you come to your mother."

Jo's only answer was to hold her mother close, and, in the silence which followed, the sincerest prayer she had ever prayed left her heart, without words; for in that sad, yet happy hour, she had learned not only the bitterness of remorse and despair, but the sweetness of self-denial and self-control; and, led by her mother's hand, she had drawn nearer to the Friend who welcomes every child with a love stronger than that of any father, tenderer than that of any mother."

What I gather from this exchange is a daughter who admires her mother, who wants to learn her ways of patience and gentleness. We see how even the strongest most level-headed woman in Jo's life, her mother, did not become this way on her own. That even her mother needed help with her own temper. 

The description of what it's like to go to God and how He embraces us is true. I love Alcott's writing here, it's sincere, not rushed or forced. It simply captures it all. Marmee also acknowledges Jo's growing up and the changes and challenges that will inevitably come. As the reader, we are taken through the lives and growth of these little women. Each different and beautiful in their own way.

The realism in this book by showing the flaws of each character is what makes it timeless. It shows us their deepest thoughts, their heart's desires, their shames, and their disappointments.  Take Meg, for instance. As the oldest, we meet her when she's on the cusp of girlhood to womanhood. She knows she longs for a husband and family, but is willing to wait until she is ready. She also longs for a different lifestyle. This internal conflict, of wanting to appreciate what she has and where she is in life with what she wishes she has is a battle I face as well. This is human nature, which is why we must learn to be content. It's a growing thing that comes to our heart as we are tested and faced with what others have.

Here are some of the best lines and descriptions of our lovely Meg March:

"You can do as you please; but I shall keep my book on the table here, and read a little every morning as soon as I wake, for I know it will do be good, and help me through the day." Meg
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"She tried not to be envious or discontented, but it was very natural that the young girl should long for pretty things, gay friends, accomplishments, and a happy life."
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"Poor Meg seldom complained, but a sense of injustice made her feel bitter toward every one sometimes, for she had not yet learned to know how rich she was in the blessings which alone can make life happy."
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"But it is nice to be praised and admired, and I can't help saying I like it," said Meg, looking half ashamed of the confession.

"That is perfectly natural, and quite harmless, if the liking does not become a passion, and lead one to do foolish or unmaidenly things. Learn to know and value the praise which is worth having and to excite the admiration of excellent people, by being modest as well as pretty, Meg." Marmee said.
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"Then it was that Margaret, sitting alone with tears dropping often on her work, felt how rich she had been in things more precious than any luxuries money could buy; in love, protection, peace and health, the real blessings of life."
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Chapter 9, "Meg Goes to Vanity Fair," is one of my favorite Meg chapters. Meg gets to experience a different way of living. 

"The Moffats were very fashionable, and simple Meg was rather daunted, at first, by the splendor of the house, and the elegance of its occupants...The more she saw of Annie Moffat's pretty things, the more she envied her, and sighed to be rich. Home now looked bare and dismal as she thought of it, work grew harder than ever, and she felt that she was a very destitute and much injured girl, in spite of the new gloves and silk stockings."

This feeling, this dissatisfaction, follows Meg and grows in time. As a wife, she finds ways to be dissatisfied but then is humbled by her husband.

"I can't resist them when I see Sallie buying all she wants, and pitying me because I don't; I try to be contented, but it is hard, and I'm tired of being poor."

The last words were spoken so low she thought he did not hear them, but he did, and they wounded him deeply, for he had denied himself many pleasures for Meg's sake.

[...]

They had a long talk that night, and Meg learned to love her husband better for his poverty, because it seemed to have made a man of him—giving him the strength and courage to fight his own wayand taught him a tender patience with which to bear and comfort the natural longings and failures of those he loved.

The lesson of contentment is a life lesson indeed. 

Then there's Jo. She is a strong-willed, no-nonsense, tell it like it is person. I think I would be intimidated by her if I knew her in real life, haha. I wouldn't want to get on her bad side. While I can't relate fully to Jo's character, I do relate on the writer's aspect. Alcott's description for writing was so beautiful and magical, it captured the true essence of a passionate writer. 

"She did not think herself a genius by any means; but when the writing fit came on, she gave herself up to it with entire abandon, and led a blissful life, unconscious of want, care, or bad weather, while she sat safe and happy in an imaginary world, full of friends almost as real and dear to her as any in the flesh."
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"Jo's eyes sparkled, for it's always pleasant to be believed in; and a friend's praise is always sweeter than a dozen newspaper puffs."
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"Jo's breath gave out here; and, wrapping her head in the paper, she bedewed her little story with a few natural tears; for to be independent, and earn the praise of those she loved, were the dearest wishes of her heart, and this seemed to be the first step toward that happy end."
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"But it did her good, for those whose opinion had real value, gave her the criticism which is an author's best education."
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I think of 1 Peter 3:4 when I think of sweet Beth, "but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God's sight is very precious."

Beth knew her special calling, and her faith and trust in God the Father let peace settle upon her to enjoy the rest of her life. Beth is brave, inspiring, true to herself and loving. She is a flower, a song bird, a gentle breeze.

"Beth could not reason upon or explain the faith that gave her courage and patience to give up life, and cheerfully wait for death. Like a confiding child, she asked no questions, but left everything to God and nature, Father and mother of us all, feeling sure that they, and they only, could teach and strengthen heart and spirit for this life and the life to come.

She did not rebuke Jo with saintly speeches, only loved her better for her passionate affection, and clung more closely to the dear human love, from which our Father never means us to be weaned, but through which He draws us closer to Himself."
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"Seeing this did more for Jo than the wisest sermons, the saintliest hymns, the most fervent prayers that any voice could utter; for, with eyes made clear by many tears, and a heart softened by the tenderest sorrow, she recognized the beauty of her sister's life—uneventful, unambitious, yet full of the genuine virtues which 'smell sweet, and blossom in the dust'; the self-forgetfulness that makes the humblest on earth remembered soonest in heaven, the true success which is possible to all."

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"Love is the only thing that we can carry with us when we go, and it makes the end so easy." Beth
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Throughout the book we see Beth's shyness and tenderness. I love how her family doesn't shame her or push her to be like someone she is not. They embrace all that she is and lovingly watch over her; their love growing even more when they see her push herself.

Buffaloes proved soothing and satisfactory; and, in her eagerness to amuse another, Beth forgot herself, and was quite unconscious of her sister's surprise and delight at the unusual spectacle of Beth talking away to one of the dreadful boys, against whom she had begged protection.

"Bless her heart! She pities him, so she is good to him," said Jo, beaming at her from the croquet-ground."

A blossoming story of a girl becoming a woman is Amy. We meet the youngest March girl as a little troublemaker, but she makes us laugh as well! Amy had a struggle with pride since a young age, but her faith helped her to grow in humility without losing herself. She has high standards, different standards from some of her sisters, and she was fine with that. I was impressed by her making use of what she had and moving forward in life in hopes of reaching her goal: marrying rich, haha. She did, but she married more for love than the money, which is admirable.

"You have a good many little gifts and virtues, but there is no need of parading them, for conceit spoils the finest genius. There is not much danger that real talent or goodness will be overlooked long; even if it is, the consciousness of possessing and using it well should satisfy one, and the great charm of all power is modesty." [Marmee to Amy]
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"You don't  care to make people like you, to go into good society, and cultivate your manners and tastes. I do, and I mean to make the most of every chance that comes. You can go through the world with your elbows out and your nose in the air, and call it independence, if you like. That's not my way." [Amy to Jo]
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"The parlor struck her as looking uncommonly shabby, but without stopping to sigh for what she had not, she skillfully made the best of what she had, arranging chairs over the worn places in the carpet, covering stains on the walls with pictures framed in ivy, and filling up empty corners with home-made statuary, which gave an artistic air to the room, as did the lovely vases of flowers Jo scattered about."
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Alcott's writing style of breaking the fourth wall was also a delight. It was as if she were telling their story but reacting to it as well as a reader. It's similar to when I write, I can't help but react internally to the characters I create as well. I do have this theory that little parts of Alcott's own lessons learned and feelings were scattered about the characters in this book. She captures the insecurities, the dreams, the passions, the flaws, the shames, the embarrassments, all of the traits of humanity in all her characters. This book intrigued me to read more of her writing, which I plan to do!

Here are some more gems from this book:

"Not a very splendid show, but there was a great deal of love done up in the few little bundles; and the tall vase of red roses, white chrysanthemums, and trailing vines, which stood in the middle, gave quite an elegant air to the table."
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"Necessity being the mother of invention."
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"You drive me distracted with your worry." Mrs. March
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"Jo had whisked things into place, and given quite a different air to the room. Laurie watched her in respectful silence."
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"Children should be children as long as they can." Marmee
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"All shorts of pleasant things happened about that time, for the new friendship flourished like grass in spring."
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"For love casts out fear, and gratitude can conquer pride."
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"Fearing to ask any more advice, [Jo] did her best alone, and discovered that something more than energy and good-will is necessary to make a cook."
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"A shadow passed over the boy's face as he watched them, feeling that he ought to go, because uninvited; yet lingering, because home seemed very lonely, and this quiet party in the woods most attractive to his restless spirit."
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"Be comforted, dear heart! there is always light behind the clouds." Marmee
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"In the cold gray dawn the sisters lit their lamp, and read their chapter with an earnestness never felt before, for now the shadow of a real trouble had come, showing them how rich in sunshine their lives had been."
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"...she kissed the damp forehead with her heart on her lips."
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"With a blissful sense of burdens lifted off, Meg and Jo closed their weary eyes, and lay at rest like storm-beaten boats, safe at anchor in a quiet harbor."
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"Now and then, in this work-a-day world, things do happen in the delightful story-book fashion, and what a comfort that is."
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"Joy put strength into the feeble limbs."
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"She began to see that character is a better possession than money, rank, intellect, or beauty."
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"I almost wish I hadn't any conscience, it's so inconvenient." Jo
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"Love cannot be forced."
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"Precious and helpful hours to Jo, for now her heart received the teaching that it needed; lessons in patience were so sweetly taught her, that she could not fail to learn them; charity for all, the lovely spirit that can forgive and truly forget unkindness, the loyalty to duty that makes the hardest easy, and the sincere faith that fears nothing, but trusts undoubtingly."

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