Here’s to it finally being 2017 and to learning from 2016 to be better in the new year. For my first blog post of the year, I’m going to try introducing a series just to see if I can actually stay on track with it. Particularly in the last half of 2016, I spent a lot of time telling stories from my life as a way to communicate ideas and help connect with those reading the blog (mostly folks on Twitter).
This year I’d like to broaden the audience. That being said, I want to write more about stories that shape us and how fiction and media do that to change people, communities, and culture. I’d also like to write more about social justice issues that don’t just affect me personally, and I want to be more involved maybe at the grassroots level at least in my own community. I’m going to attempt to connect this two ideas of story and social justice and how they influence each other but sometimes the ideas may be more disconnected.
The first story I want to reflect on is Little Women. I grew up being inspired both by the book Little Women written by Louisa May Alcott and the film adaption from 1994. For those less familiar, it’s a somewhat autobiographical story of four sisters: Margaret (Meg), Josephine (Jo), Beth, and Amy March, their relationship with each other, with their mother whom they affectionately call Marmee, and their experience living in Concord, MA during and after the Civil War.
The author, Louisa May Alcott is one of my heroes who I did a research project on in high school, and it’s been on my bucket list for a while to eventually visit Orchard House where she grew up and penned several of her novels. She also closely identifies with Jo who is her fictional representation in Little Women. She’s mainly one of my heroes because as a woman during her time, she made a way in the world as an author when it was incredibly difficult and almost impossible to do so. Anyway, I digress, but she was a fascinating person. Knowing about the author tells much about the stories she created that shaped her readers.
To me, the story of Little Women has always been first and foremost about women who were strong on their own but especially together in relationship with one another. I have two younger sisters and we would always joke about which sister each of us was in the story. This is an element of Little Women that makes it powerful because it’s so relatable. (Also, Marmee is a hero all her own for teaching her girls to be strong, independent women. I could spend an entire post entirely on her character.)
One of my sisters was very much like Jo in her temperament growing up but also became more refined and sensible like Meg. My youngest sister has and always will be much like Amy March both in personality and in her hobbies as she is an artist.
For me, I’ve always been told I’m most like Beth. Growing up watching this movie a lot as a child, I think I always wanted that to be true because Beth is a saint. Beth is how people always told me I should be as a woman. Which is fine, because she’s a gentle soul and peace maker in the March family. She also meets an untimely and early death and I cry every time I read that part of the book or see that part of the movie partly because I relate to her so much. Externally, I think I come off as a Beth to many people who’ve known me my whole life.
However, it was Jo who inspired me the most. She’s boisterous, unapologetically herself, makes her own way in the world, and she’s a writer. She stays up late into the night inspired by the characters she’s creating. But she’s more often than not harshest on herself and attaches her self-worth to what others think of her. She’s a flawed heroine, and she’s absolutely wonderful. While she starts out writing fictional stories, it isn’t those stories that make her famous, but when she writes about her sisters. When she writes from what she knows and it resonates.
What also impressed me about her character is that while she does care what people think of her, she doesn’t let it stop her from achieving her dreams. Not to mention, Louisa May Alcott originally intended this story to end without Jo finding a lover, but her fans insisted she must end up with someone. So, Alcott wrote a second part to the story. Alcott herself never married, and I don’t think she needed anyone to complete her just as Jo really didn’t either. What makes us strong is when we are unapologetically ourselves and see our own self-worth apart from others but yet find our strength in community with other people.
So, as I sit here listening to the soundtrack for the movie and reflecting on this story, I want to make sure in this new year to be unapologetically myself and see my own self-worth and the worth and value in others. I hope we all seek strength in community and strength in being kinder to ourselves and more loving. and also, I hope we find in this the strength to resist any who would dehumanize, demean, or diminish us or those around us.
“We are all hopelessly flawed,” as Friedrich Bhaer says to Jo. We are all hopelessly flawed and there is great beauty in embracing this.