As I have mentioned before, I reread Little Women by Louisa May Alcott often and with much affection. Now that I'm almost in my (*gulp*) mid-twenties, I appreciate the book more than ever because of all the things it's taught me over the years. So many of its themes resonate with me now more than ever. (I'm not alone in feeling that everyone should reread Little Women as an adult. Ahem.)
But it's not just about rereading the book because it's a good time. It's about how every time you reread it, you understand different things and come away with new lessons that you hadn't had before. When you were young, you may have sided with Amy or Beth, the babies of the family. Maybe you wanted to be Jo the writer (OK, I wanted to be Jo the writer) or Meg the sweet-tempered one who is nevertheless wonderfully complex. But now, reading it in your 20s, you might identify with the characters at different points in their lives, especially in Volume the Second, the later half of the novel that is sometimes called Good Wives.
Whether you're a wife, a mother, a student-loan-holding barista, or all three (or none of the above), there are lessons to be learned when you reread Little Women when you're more mature and experienced than when you read it for the first time. Like these:
Language Is So Important
Jo says she likes "good strong words that mean something.” One of the original leaners-in (lean-inners?), Jo uses language in ways that are explosive for her time. She is a reminder that the words you choose can affect how you're perceived. Picking good, strong words that mean something can make you feel more confident, braver, and better able to deal with the world.
Sometimes You Need to Let Go
Amy tells Laurie, who's been in love with Jo for years, that he can love her forever if he chooses. She adds: “But don't let it spoil you, for it's wicked to throw away so many good gifts because you can't have the one you want.”
The dating scene in your 20s is pretty effing brutal. You meet and fall in love with someone and he or she doesn't love you back, so you go to OkCupid, Tinder, bars, cafés, maybe even bookstores. (Please, someone, hit on someone else at a bookstore; it'll be the best story.) But you don't find your person, because you're still holding on to that one love, the one from high school or senior year of college or your first major grownup relationship. So, give it time and enjoy what you do have. Amy's right: Don't let that one thing spoil the rest of the good things in your life.
Appreciate the Beths
The narrator tells us that “There are many Beths in the world, shy and quiet, sitting in corners till needed, and living for others so cheerfully that no one sees the sacrifices till the little cricket on the hearth stops chirping, and the sweet, sunshiny presence vanishes, leaving silence and shadow behind.”
We all have these people in our lives. People who do things for us and whom we don't acknowledge as much as we should. Don't forget the Beths of your life. Treasure them, appreciate them, and remember them, because they might not always be there for you if you don't.
First Appearances Matter, But Not As Much As You Think
Especially in dating, many of us (or maybe it's just me? No, I don't think so) tend to date beautiful people who treat us like crap. But “Love is a great beautifier," Alcott writers, and it's true. If someone is nice and appreciative and smart and you're not attracted on the first date, that's OK. Give it a chance. There are different ways to fall for people, and it's not always through initial physical attraction.
Make Sure You Make Time to Relax As Well As Work
As a total workaholic, this advice from Marmee resonates with me: “Have regular hours for work and play; make each day both useful and pleasant, and prove that you understand the worth of time by employing it well."
So many twentysomethings are hustling nonstop, trying to find work, working overtime to pay student loans, trying to get into grad programs or put food on the table for kids and pay rent, but it's important to also make sure you schedule in time to relax. Your brain needs that mental respite.
Yes Means Yes, No Means No
I know some people really thrive off the romantic chase, especially in their 20s, but this is one of those things that causes a huge problem in terms of consent. Just look at Laurie: “Girls are so queer you never know what they mean. They say no when they mean yes, and drive a man out of his wits just for the fun of it." Even in the 1800s, the stereotype of "no" meaning "yes" existed. Let's keep remembering that "yes" means "yes" and "no" means "no."
There's More To You Than Your Looks
Magazines may tell you the peak of beauty is in your 20s and 30s... but who cares? As Marmee says, “If you feel your value lies in being merely decorative, I fear that someday you might find yourself believing that’s all that you really are. Time erodes all such beauty, but what it cannot diminish is the wonderful workings of your mind: Your humor, your kindness, and your moral courage."
Making yourself beautiful for YOU will always remain something you can do, from now until you're in your 90s. But you aren't just a decorative thing for other people to look at. There is so much more that is worthy of admiration.
Sometimes Lovely Things Do Happen, Especially When You Least Expect Them
Alcott reminds us in her sage way that “Now and then, in this workaday world, things do happen in the delightful storybook fashion, and what a comfort that is.” It's true. Whether it's just a stranger being kind when you're having a bad day, a welcome and dramatic YouTube-able proposal, or a sudden appreciation of your work or art, beautiful things do happen. Even in this workaday world.
Your 20s Won't Last Forever
Thank goodness. They're tough, anxiety-inducing, and thrilling all at once. But just think: “If we are all alive ten years hence, let's meet, and see how many of us have got our wishes, or how much nearer we are then than now.” However you spend your 20s, you can get closer to your wishes. Even a smidge closer is incredible.