30 Oct 2012

This chapter makes me mad

So let me get this right.  Jo and Meg have been invited by Laurie to see the Seven Castles.  When little sister, Amy, discovers this, she demands to be able to go too.  What a spoiled brat!  She hasn't been invited, and she isn't wanted.  In addition, she has been ill and her mother thinks she should stay home because her eyes haven't recovered sufficiently from her cold (whatever that means).  She is not even going to miss the show, because she is to go the very next week.  She harps on and on at her sisters, who stand their ground.  It isn't often that they're invited anywhere, and Jo doesn't want the responsibility of overseeing her fidgety younger sister.  Eventually, after putting up with her younger sister's insolent and arrogant behaviour for some time, Jo snaps.  The spoiled one begins to wail.  Not whimper, wail.  As her sisters leave she threatens revenge on Jo.

While the girls are gone, Amy takes Jo's prized manuscript and burns it in the fire. Several years worth of irreplaceable, much cared for work.  Jo, as you can imagine, is inconsolable.  As you would expect.  This is just devastating.

The girls' mother returns home and takes some time to explain to Amy that what she has done to Jo was wrong.  Of course it is blooming well wrong.  It was nasty and spiteful and vindictive and almost unforgivable in its malice.  Amy is made see that she needs to apologise to her sister.  She goes to Jo, but Jo is not yet ready to forgive Amy, and spurns her.  Totally reasonable behaviour, in my opinion.  Jo is still terribly upset.  She is not yet ready to forgive.  Amy is not punished in any way by her mother, who carries on as usual.  When bedtime comes, Jo is counselled by her mother to forgive Amy, but refuses.  She still isn't ready.  Grrrrrrr.

Meanwhile, the spoiled Princess is offended - much offended the book says - at being repulsed, and begins to flaunt her superior virtue.  Superior virtue indeed.  What she did to Jo is unforgivable, and she has not been punished in any way whatsoever by Marmee or anybody else.  Amy carries on all day in this snidely arrogant way until eventually Jo decides to ask Laurie to go skating with her in the hope that her friend will help her get her act together.  She, at least, is trying.

What does the horrid little brat do then? Does she stay put and think about how nasty she has been?  Oh no, she tags after her sister again.  When will she learn?  Admittedly, she does plan to apologise again...perhaps truly, this time...but Jo doesn't know that. 

When Jo discovers her younger sister has followed her, you can imagine how angry she would feel.  Well, maybe I'm assuming you feel like me.  I can imagine how angry she would feel.  I would have been livid. So was Jo.  She makes a poor decision, and doesn't inform Amy that the ice is thin in the centre of the river.  Of course, Amy falls in.  At last she gets her just deserts!  Hurrah!

Amy is rescues by Laurie and is taken back home to be nursed by Marmee. Poor Jo is distraught, and filled with remorse.  She instantly takes all the blame and is in despair.  How differently she acts from the superior little minx safely asleep in her bed.  She vows to do differently and to control her terrible temper, and mother and daughter have a pious little tête-à-tête over how she can do better next time.  'How could I have been so wicked?' she ponders, and is so relived when little Amy forgives and forgets.

About here I am ready to throw Little Women out the car window.  This chapter makes me so mad.  The sister with the character flaw in this chapter is not Jo, Ms Alcott, it is that sanctimonious brat of a child.  I'm glad she fell in the river because otherwise she would have got off scot free, and that makes me see red.  Where's the justice in that, I ask you?

I love Little Women, but Chapter 8 never fails to rile me in this way.  It is the most aggravating chapter in the most wonderful book.  I am irritated just thinking about it.

Anyone agree?

In a nicer note, has anyone seen the Japanese anime version of Little Women?  It's on YouTube if you want to take a look. The whole of Chapter  8 is missing from the story.  Which can only be a good thing. 


  1. Actually most of Little Women makes me see red. The only one I like is Jo & she's always in trouble. Little Men is much better!!!! I find it difficult to believe people ever acted like that ~ but Americans so anything's possible,no? :P

  2. It is so long since I have read little women I can't actually remember too much of it :-) Oh if only there were no brats, no sisters with tender consciences and mothers who knew the right thing to do and say all the time. Shades of real life perhaps :-).

  3. When I first read Little Women at the age of 15 I so much wanted Jo to marry Laurie and when I discovered that she didn't because of Amy's behaved I was very upset and angry and have never re-read the book. I always thought it was sad how Jo had to struggle so much, whilst Amy lived so well-off. I have watched the film since and quite enjoyed it but shall not be reading the book again!!!!

  4. I'm with Ganeida, can't stand Little Women, however I LOVE Little Men and Jo's Boys.

  5. I hadn't realized it, but I'd never actually read the book before. At least not to recent memory. I love the movie and I look forward to the book, except that chapter 8! I'm with Ruby, though. The imperfections are shades of reality, I think, though not the kind of reality we expect to see in a book! Perhaps it would have been easier if Ms Alcott had stepped in as narrator and offered a criticism of Marmee's response?

  6. Ooooo...I'm just mad reading this, Jeanne! I SO agree...Amy is SO irritating! :) The children and I can't wait to watch the Japanese version later today! :)

    Have you seen this? It has been floating around on the web...I think it's pretty cute! http://vimeo.com/41031289

  7. I always read it as: the book is not about Amy. Jo is the central character. So what we see and read is Her struggles and triumphs. I always tell my kids that no matter what happens/what other people do to us, the important thing is our response. We can't control other people, we CAN (with the Lord's help) control our actions and reactions. Is it wrong that your brother smacked you and took your toys? Yes. Will you have to answer for your brother's actions? No. Will you have to answer for your response? Yes. Therefor, it behooves you to take the high road.
    Amy was wrong and she should have been punished. However, Jo has her own responsibilities to think about.
    And I prefer books like this, that are more realistic, because, frankly, I'm not a perfect parent, I wasn't a perfect kid, and I hate reading books about people who are.
    Oh, and to the commenter above... Jo didn't marry Laurie because of Amy. Jo turned him down years before he was interested in Amy. She refused him because she didn't think they would be compatible with their too-similar personalities and too-different tastes. It made me sad, too, but as an adult, I can see why it was the right thing for her to do. :)

  8. I've always felt the same way, Jeanne. And then Amy gets to go to France with Aunt March, too! Kids are really good at spotting injustice (just ask me when I'm serving ice cream to the girls), and this screams of injustice! In one of the Little House books, a neighbor child falls in love with Laura's doll, and Ma makes Laura GIVE it to the girl. Aarrrgh!

    Here's my excuse for Marmee: she cares more about Jo as a person than she does Amy. :-)

  9. Never could stand stupid little Amy. I think the Wynona Ryder movie shows her with all her faults. And stupid (should that be "stupid-ER?"] Laurie MARRIES this fool!

  10. Ellen, my girls and I often recall the incident with Laura's doll and how insensed they were for her when it was found lying in the mud. But, life ain't fair and we all have experiences like these two famous books.

  11. I say calllllmmmmm dowwwwn.....repeat after me....it's only a movie (book), it's only a movie (Book), it's only a movie (book)!

    I just like their coats and hats they wear! I have a coat that my parents bought me 20 years ago and I still wear it. It reminds me of Little Women! I'll post on it someday!

    Cindy Bee

  12. Without having yet read any other comments... no, I don't agree. I actually think it's a triumph of a chapter. I blogged about my own use of it as a 'living example' as part of my ongoing struggles with my temper here: http://greenegem.wordpress.com/2011/03/06/dealing-with-anger/
    I see the chapter a bit differently. Firstly, Marmee is equal in her treatment of both girls. She understands Jo's (justified) anger just like we readers do, and she does not try to force her to forgive her sister, or give her an arbitrary timeframe, she accepts that Jo isn't ready yet. We are not told what went on between Marmee and Amy but ... she had to meet Amy where she was at yk? (it does help to remember that Alcott had no kids of her own and often gets a bit confused about what they should be doing at different ages - she has Meg's twins apparently talking and walking downstairs somewhere around 6months, it seems. Amy often seems a bit young for her age so needs the sorts of explanations that you might expect to give to a 6yo) - so if she needs someone to explain to her how much what she did hurt her sister, then that's what she needs. No amount of punishment will explain it better than explanation. I read 'superior virtue' as ironic, Alcott isn't absolving Amy. As for 'getting off scot free' - she gets to experience the true natural consequence of her actions - her sister's repulses. Why would an additional punishment be necessary? What would it prove? What would it change?
    From the perspective of someone who nearly killed a sister who was acting like a brat, the sequel is also just. Jo's action, while understandable, was wrong. No, she didn't need to forgive her sister in that moment. No, she didn't have to accept her following them. Telling her about the thin ice is the sort of act of human decency that God expects us to do for our enemies.
    I actually think this chapter shows a lot more subtlety and nuance in terms of morality than is usually depicted in books (or anywhere) - so much less black and white than we want the world to be but a lot closer to the shades of grey that the world really is. And it shows a great deal of wisdom and restraint in Marmee, who is one of my heroes.
    It helps that I've let go of the need to punish my children. Judgement, retribution - these are not my job... I believe it is my job to discipline (teach) but not to punish. I don't expect parents to administer punishment any more than I expect God to send lightning bolts on my enemies. I would totally support my child in setting firm boundaries (like a locked cabinet and refusing access to her space) to protect her writing from someone who has proven irresponsible, though.

  13. Actually, there is one step missing that would make it perfect - making amends. In a sense Amy did get of scot free because Jo's horror at her fall in the water means the whole burning of writing incident gets swept under the carpet. Instead, if Marmee had supported Jo and Amy to come to some sort of agreement to make things right (true justice). Of course, as you say, that is not entirely possible, but that, again is the world we live in. Perhaps for example, Amy could have done Jo's chores for a set period so Jo would have more time to write to replenish some of her lost work, or offered to pay for all her paper and pens for a year, or both. Something that would have made them both feel that the gravity of the situation had been recognised and an attempt made to rectify it.
    I feel that the concept of making amends, making it right, was missing from my own childhood and it's something I'm trying to learn for myself now as well as attempting to teach my children. It's definitely a Biblical concept, found throughout the law. And I'm reading an article on the Christus Victor view of atonement that shows how it's God's definition of justice, and underpins the work of Christ on the cross - healing what is broken. (http://therebelgod.com/cross1.html if you're interested)


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