Parts of a Whole: Ann Naploitano on Reaching for the Vivacity and Connection of Little Women

Parts of a Whole: Ann Naploitano on Reaching for the Vivacity and Connection of Little Women

I wonder how much my love of the Little Women has to do with when I read it. I was probably in third grade, and the books I loved during elementary school feel like part of my personal foundation. I was new, as a human, and the total books I had read in my life numbered in the hundreds, instead of the thousands as they do now. My younger self had no sense of taste, no knowledge of genre; I simply read my way into fictional worlds, and they became part of me. I read for comfort, and for company. I tramped in the snow with the March sisters. I peered into their warm, chaotic living room beside Laurie, the lonely boy from next door. Like most readers, I aspired to be like the brave, independent Jo. She and I were, after all, both writers in our bones , in an essential way that that had nothing to do with publication or success. Jo made up stories by candlelight, and I wrote sentences in my head all day long, a practice I wouldn't know was unusual until much later. I didn't just love Jo, though; I loved her sisters too. It's impossible and wrong to consider the girls separately; they're four parts of a whole, a beautiful forest with intertwined roots and branches. Each March sister recognized that her strength required her sisters'—this is part of their devastation at losing Beth. The three remaining sisters know they'll never be whole again. I felt woven into all of the March sisters: for all my similarities to Jo, she was more extroverted and fiery; I am a quiet homebody, like Beth, and l share her and Meg's dislike of confrontation. The life force within the novel is the four sisters, blisteringly alive for and with each other. I wanted not only to be Jo, but part of her sisterhood. The March sisters, from the first page of Alcott's novel to the last, show us that we are not enough, and not whole, when we are on our own. We need […]

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