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Friday, November 4, 2011

Literary Crimes and Punishments- The Little Women Edition

Have you ever come across a crime in literature that goes unpunished? Or a crime where the punishment leaves you unsatisfied?

This blog segment is about what YOU would have done as the author, if one of your characters had been…let’s say, naughty. “Naughty” covers all manner of genres and sins.

For this edition, I’ve chosen an example from Little Women, a book that I’m currently re-reading (by the way, did you know that this novel is Louisa May Alcott’s least favorite of all her works? Crazy, huh? I just read that in the foreword in my copy, and was a little saddened, but thought I’d share it in the name of writerly trivia).

Summary: The book is a largely the story of the four March sisters (Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy) and their mother living in Concord, Massachusetts in the late 1800s.It deals with family struggles, and the individual dreams and hopes of each sister. Jo (2nd oldest) is a tomboy and aspiring writer and Amy (youngest) is a prissy, shallow little snot—woops, I mean an aspiring artist whose tastes run on the fancy side.

Motive: The three older girls are allowed to go to a theater show. Amy is told to stay home by Meg, who says, “Mother doesn’t wish you to go this week, because your eyes are not well enough yet to bear the light of this fairy piece. Next week you can go with Beth and Hannah (the maid) and have a nice time.”

Amy begs and Meg starts to give in.

Jo claims that if Amy goes, she won’t. She points out that the neighbor boy invited them to go, and there are reserved seats. Admittedly, Jo is a little mean about it.

Amy says ominously, “You’ll be sorry for this, Jo March!”

Crime: In spite, Amy burns Jo’s manuscript, a compilation of half a dozen fairy tales for their father, who is away at war. Jo has just recopied a fresh version and has discarded all other copies. The fire “consumes the loving work of several years.”

Punishment: Amy is given a little lecture, explaining the severity of what she’s done. She’s told to apologize and beg pardon, which she takes her time doing.

Ladies and Gentlemen of this Literary Court, if you had written Little Women, would your Mother character have delivered a stricter punishment, for something we writers know to be the most heinous of acts?


PS- if you haven’t seen the 1994 movie version of Little Women, it’s a very nice family movie for the holidays!

38 comments:

  1. I love Little Women. I'd leave the book as it is. I can't believe she thought it was her worst novel.

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  2. There are times, this being one of them, where saying I'm sorry just doesn't cut it. I'm not sure what I would have done, but it would have involved Amy being deprived of something personal to her.

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  3. That has always bugged me! And then Jo feels guilty later when Amy falls into the river, which is also Amy's own fault. I think it's because I'm the older sister to siblings that got away with everything that I really hate this bit of the novel. ;)

    If nothing else, Amy definitely shouldn't have been allowed to go to the theatre. For about five years.

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  4. I'd remind her she wasn't better than everyone and tell her to go rob some old Russian spinsters...oh wait...that's a different Crime and Punishment.

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  5. @kirsten~ I love the book too! I don't know if she thought it was her "worst" novel, but she kind of resented writing it. Someone suggested she write a novel for girls, so she did. Much of it was based on her life, too. One of her critics called it preachy and overly sentimental, but also "a dreadful masterpiece." But tons of girls loved and continue to love it.

    DL~ I'm with you. At least doing Jo's chores to give her extra writing time or something...

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  6. I love Little Women! I would probably leave it.

    I've also drummed up a few senarios in my mind that could turn it into a real horror story if my MS was burned!

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  7. I'd have to say I'd leave it as is. For me, it was reflective of that time. Now, if I were to reset this very same scene in today's time, Amy and Jo might end up on Youtube as the best cat fight of the decade.

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  8. Oh most definitely. Not sure what the punishment would have been. I guess no iPod for a week wouldn't have cut it back then, huh? :D

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  9. I think Jo must have been a saint not to choke her sister and resent her mother's lack of concern over something that big. Makes me think of the Waltons episode where John-Boy's manuscript burned up in the house fire. All that work and then it's gone? So, I'd exact some kind of strong consequences, but what exactly? Don't have a clue! Fun post to think about :-)

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  10. Oh my god, I had totally forgotten about this! It makes me want to crawl inside the book and throttle Amy. But at the least, Alcott should have had mother give Jo permission to shave Amy's head!

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  11. I don't know whether I'd change it or not, but it makes me grateful for the easy time we have backing up our own writing.

    And I loved every book she wrote. Well, at least Little Women, Little Men, Jo's Boys, Eight Cousins and Rose in Bloom. There may have been others, but these books were HUGE favorites of mine. And this may surprise you - I wouldn't say Little Women was my least favorite, but I've probably reread it the fewest times.

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  12. Funny, my daughter is rereading that exact edition right now. And we watched the movie last week.

    You're right about the crime of destroying someone's words. It needed a much more appropriate punishment!

    ~Debbie

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  13. Is it completely terrible that I haven't read Little Women? I know, I know...adding to list. :-)

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  14. I do love that book, but that has ALWAYS bothered me. If I lost my MS I'd be devastated -- if somebody destroyed it? Well, Jo deserves a medal! (Or a happy ending.)

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  15. And then she STOLE Rory!!!! That Amy! Oooooohhhhhh!

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  16. Such a great post! Love visiting your blog!

    Lola x
    http://lola-x.blogspot.com

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  17. I've never read Little Women or Crime and Punishment. I'm such a slouch on the classics.

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  18. Ha. Funny. Yes, I have read this book and watched the movie several times. This is one of my favorites. I think the reason behind her 'just saying sorry' comes from another part of the story. If you'll remember, Jo's mother tries to teach her patience, and how not to lose her temper. This is at Jo's bidding as well as her mothers that she learn this lesson. So, it doesn't really come as a shock to see Amy 'get away with' this crime (yes, I cried in the movie the first time I watched it. How horrible to have all that work lost!) But that isn't the point she was trying to make. This book was written back when people WANTED ethics and morals preached to them. And one of those was that we must forgive and forget. No matter what. Yes, today's society would rant and rave and probably burn Amy at the stake. But I personally love the lessons taught. It doesn't matter what people do to you, it's how you behave in turn.

    Agree, or not, but that's the message of the book. And boy what an impact it has made.

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  19. I love Little Women. I suppose I would leave it, since who am I to mess with greatness, but as a writer, I think Amy should have been burnt at the stake for her crime :)

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  20. I would probably leave the book alone. But I shudder to think at one of my manuscripts being burnt and lost forever with no back up. And, to make it worse, in those days, poor Jo had to write it by hand, with ink, from an inkwell. No keyboard. Think of the hours!

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  21. It might have seemed unfair, but the mother's response totally fit her character.

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  22. Such a great book. I love how you've described it, too. Very cool post!

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  23. Oh yes, a much bigger punishment. Like make her do something embarrassing in public :D

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  24. I haven't read LITTLE WOMEN. yes, I suck! But that is a totally heinous crime and wow, Amy deserves serious punishment for that!

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  25. I think that if I were Marmee, I would have told Amy to pick out her very favorite sketches and paintings, the ones that she had spent the most time and effort on...and then ordered her to burn them. Then she would know how Jo felt. Because frankly, I don't blame Jo for not wanting to speak to the little troll after Amy did that. The fact that Jo ever spoke to her again makes Jo a saint in my book!

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    1. Wow, that would totally stink for Amy...I kind of think that's a fair punishment, though. Some people can't properly sympathize with otherwise without direct, personal examples, so that would either work, or just really make Amy even more of a brat. Hard to say ;)

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