Banned Books Awareness: “Little Women”

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Post-Civil War America may be in the history books, but the ignorance and prejudice of ages past is alive and well here in the 21st century. As the Banned Books Awareness project continues, it never ceases to amaze me the sheer number of books on censorship lists, nor the downright ridiculous reasons for their omission from bookshelves. Little Women, by American author Louisa May Alcott (1832–1888), is next on the list.

This literary classic was written and set in the Alcott family home in Concord, Massachusetts, and published in two volumes between 1868 and 1869. The novel is the story of four sisters- Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy March- and is loosely based on Alcott’s childhood experiences with her sisters. The first volume was an immediate commercial and critical success, and was followed with two sequels, Little Men (1871) and Jo’s Boys (1886).

Alcott was both an abolitionist and a feminist. She was a supporter of women’s suffrage and, subsequently, the first woman to register to vote in Concord, Massachusetts; but modern-day feminists have challenged the novel for its portrayal of traditional gender roles- specifically, the role of women in the home.

While no specific incidents attest to it actually being banned, it has been heavily challenged over the years for issues regarding gender. The paradox of the challenges against Little Women lies in the fact that while in its own time it was considered “too radical” for insinuating that women could freely choose what they wanted out of life, others today argue that it didn’t go far enough.

Despite the independent, intelligent, and strong-minded heroine of Jo March, Little Women has been criticized by feminist groups because Jo marries an older man. They argue that Little Women “diminishes young women, panders to the ‘weaker sex’ mentality, and fails to empower girls to succeed.”

Alcott herself never married, stating “…because I have fallen in love with so many pretty girls and never once the least bit with any man;” she never planned for Jo to marry, either, but so many girls wrote to her insisting she marry Jo off that she decided to humor them with the character of Professor Bhaer.

In an even more bizarre twist to the challenges brought against Alcott in the present, she herself was on a committee that expelled another member of the Banned Books list from the Concord library- Mark Twain. Speaking on Huckleberry Finn, she stated, “If Mr. Clemens cannot think of something better to tell our pure-minded lads and lasses, he had best stop writing for them.”

My, isn’t that the pot calling the kettle black.

The world today is made up of a collage of views, opinions, and beliefs; and that the ability to speak aloud those views is as important as the thoughts themselves. This is as it should be in an intellectually-driven society.

Times change and people grow; it’s just disappointing that so many are still immature and insistent that their view is greater than that of another, that to question or disagree with them is met with defiance and branded as stupidity on behalf of the listener. Instead of debating issues in a logical and mature fashion in open forum, these small-minded groups insist that the objectionable material simply be removed from the public discourse- even if that material paints a picture of the society in which time it was conceived and written. Women today have the freedom to chose the course of their own life- to marry or not, and to stay at home or have a career. Gender roles have changed to a point where the number of men who are stay-at-home fathers has increased and women provide the larger portion of family income. Does this mean that men are now the weaker sex? On the contrary, it shows that both are finding a comfortable middle ground that works for them as individuals and as a family unit.

By studying the past we learn how far we’ve come and how far we have yet to go. It just seems quite apparent that we’ve got a long, long way to go in the battle against arrogance and small-mindedness.

 

For more information on the Banned Books Awareness and Reading for Knowledge project and the complete list of titles covered, please visit the official website at http://www.deepforestproductions.com/BBARK.html

Sources: American Library Association, Amazon, Wikipedia, University of Virginia
© 2012 R. Wolf Baldassarro/Deep Forest Productions

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