Little Women

By Louisa May Alcott

At first I thought I had made a mistake listening to Little Women on audio book (published by AudioGo) rather than reading it, but now I am glad I went ahead with listening to the book rather than reading a physical copy. I am not sure I would have made it past the first handful of chapters. By the end of the book, which I have come to realize is only the first volume originally published in 1868, I finally felt an attachment to the characters. The Good Wives, the second volume (1869) and not titled by Alcott, wasn’t included in this edition even though they have traditionally been combined since 1880. I am disappointed in the lack of volume 2 because I was finally starting to like the characters and, like others who demanded more, wanted to know what would happen to our protagonists. Therefore, I hope to read the second half of the story eventually. I will continue to write this ramble, and count it as my reading, because the novel is Alcott’s completed book before she was encouraged to write more about the sisters.

The story follows the four March sisters: Margaret (Meg), Josephine (Jo), Elizabeth (Beth), and Amy. It takes place over a year from Christmas to Christmas. The girls’ father is out helping with the Civil War and their Mom is at home raising them. I selected this book for the 26 book 2017 Reading Challenge for a character with the same name as me, Amy. Amy is an artist and strong-willed. I liked that about her. However, she was also a brat and burned another character’s collection of writings out of vengeance. I did not like that. I mostly found her whiny and annoying, which disappointed me as we share the same name. I hope she improves as she ages in volume 2!

I will praise this book for two major themes: 1. Girls can be independent and 2. The love of family is strong. Their Mom, Marmee, encourages the girls to be confident, marry for love and not for money (if they even want to be married at all), and be self-reliant. For a book written in the 1860s, I am so glad Little Women became a phenomenon. How many young ladies have been influenced by these characters to go out and achieve their dreams? The love of family, blood related or not, is also a major theme I liked. The March sisters, while very sheltered, are deeply loved. Their Mom never fails to care for them, regardless of their transgressions, and regularly encourages the young ladies to be good and moral citizens. Marmee’s unconditional love is what we all hope for in a mother. Humans simply want to be loved and trust that our families will be there to have our back in all of our choices in life. I am extremely blessed with a Mom and Dad who encourage me in every opportunity that I pursue. I can relate to the March sisters in that regard. If anything has held me back, it has been my own lack of confidence. I understand others may not have been as lucky and I hope they found other family or friends to surround them.

While I related to the characters toward the end, I had such a hard time connecting with them at the beginning. The Mom and girls were too perfect, regularly referencing The Pilgrim’s Progress, and doing this or that in the most Christian and upright way. The novel felt overly preachy, like a run-on sermon. It did not help that the voice actress was doing different voices for each character, which made all the girls sound like spoiled brats, yet “perfect little angels.” Not sure how that works, but it is how I feel. The changing voices annoyed me. Another complaint I have is that, despite some character development, nothing much seemed to happen over the course of the year until two family members fell sick. My favorite scenes tended to be when Jo read the newspaper or they would put on “performances.” It reminded me of the playtime scenes in To Kill a Mockingbird or The Bridge to Terabithia. I really enjoyed those scenes!

In reflection, this coming of age novel was actually fun even if it won’t ever make my top 5 favorite novels. When listening to the last handful of chapters, I realized I actually cared what happened to these young ladies. I wondered if Meg would agree to marry, if Jo would continue to write, if Beth would sing and play the piano professionally, or if Amy would continue to improve her art skills. After reading a summary of the second volume’s plot, I am actually quite excited about Amy’s portion of the story and look forward to reading how that will play out in Alcott’s own words.

The Complete Persepolis

By Marjane Satrapi

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Telling off some European girls for making fun of Satrapi for being Iranian – p. 197

I fully believe humans have not inherently changed over the centuries. I also believe that humans are the same across cultures. I don’t mean to say that we all think the same, have the same ideals, or even want the same things, but that we are all struggling, growing, and trying to find our individual place within our cultural environment. Persepolis solidified these feelings for me. In her introduction Satrapi states, “I believe that an entire nation should not be judged by the wrongdoings of a few extremists.” Satrapi, through an autobiography of growing up in Iran (and Europe) during the Iranian/Islamic Revolution (1979) and Iran-Iraq War, she shows the humans involved in their fight for freedom and her interpretations of the world as a child and teenager. I really enjoyed this perspective, as I felt it was an authentic representation of some groups of people who opposed the Islamic Revolution and found ways to quietly, or loudly, oppose the Islamic extremists.

Marjane Satrapi led an eventful life as she watched her beloved country change in basically one year and then continue to become more and more fundamentalist as she became more liberal during her teenage years and early twenties. Before the Islamic Revolution, she went to a French school in Iran. Her parents were progressive and wanted her to be well educated. After the Islamic Revolution, universities were closed for two years to “revamp” the educational system to fit Islamic ideals and women were forced to wear a head covering or risk being harassed or arrested. Anyone who did not strictly follow the new Islamic guidelines for the country were arrested, and many were killed.

Satrapi’s first major encounter with harassment regarding the veil was when her mother’s car broke down. While her mother was waiting to be picked up by her husband, two “bearded guys” (synonymous with Islamic fundamentalist men in this book) indicated that women like her (those not wearing the veil) needed to be raped and thrown in the garbage. I find this absolutely abhorrent. I cannot understand how they believe that a woman not wearing a veil should be treated like that. Though, I guess I shouldn’t really be surprised. Some men even in non-Islamic countries try to tell women how to dress, lest they “tempt the man into sin,” rather than teaching men how to respect women and their bodies. Women are always at risk of being raped, and for some reason, the Iranians believed a head scarf would better “protect” them, just like “dressing modestly” is supposed to prevent women from being raped elsewhere. Apparently, if you’re not wearing a veil or you’re not completely covered, then you’re “asking for it.”

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Watching the TV – p. 74

On the other hand, Satrapi makes an observation later in the graphic novel that makes more sense for the Islamic fundamentalists to have women wear head coverings and adhere to a nearly impossible dress code. She states, “The regime had understood that one person leaving her house while asking herself: ‘Are my trousers long enough?’ ‘Is my veil in place?’ … ‘Are they going to whip me?’ no longer asks herself: ‘Where is my freedom of thought?’ ‘Where is my freedom of speech?’ … It’s only natural! When we’re afraid, we lose all sense of analysis and reflection, our fear paralyzes us … Fear has always been the driving force behind all dictators’ repression. Showing your hair or putting on makeup logically became acts of rebellion” (302). Therefore, the Islamic Revolution, according to this graphic novel, is using the head covering as a way to strike fear into the citizens and to locate dissenters. I truly felt bad for all the progressive Iranians who lived and are living in Iran. Some try to leave, but they have to hope that the Visa will go through and they can escape.

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Advice from her beloved grandmother – p. 150

The story is divided into three main story arcs. Marjane Satrapi as a child during the Islamic Revolution, her life in Europe during a majority of the Iraq-Iran War, and her life back in Iran after she is tired of being alone in Europe. She was sent to Europe because Satrapi’s parents believed it would be better for her to be away from the new regime and the danger of war. They raised her to be educated and think independently, Iran did not really allow that freedom. In Europe, she made some friends and some enemies. Satrapi spoke her mind and did not allow others to insult her heritage, or else she would fight back. This caused her to move around a lot and have to attend multiple schools. However, her most devastating moment was when she caught her boyfriend of two years, who she had doted on and left all her friends for, cheating on her with another woman. Along with having some arguments with her landlord around this time, she leaves and becomes homeless in Europe. Eventually, she managed to go back home to Iran and her family. She loves her family, deeply. She said that her time Europe was lonely and she almost wishes she had been able to stay in Iran during the war, if only to have her family by her side. Family and friends are important to most everyone across the world. We form bonds and relationships and want to experience life beside them.

I enjoyed that this autobiography was told using a simple black and white comic style. The style of art really helped lighten some of the horrible situations that the author endured. I learned a lot about the lives of some progressive Iranian Muslims and their ability to live through all sorts of torture and discrimination. I also saw the humanity in the novel. Humans can be vicious, cruel, and heartless toward one another, but they can also show love, humility, and compassion for each other. What I got from this story is that race, religion, or any other defining label should not matter in how we relate to one another. Humans are humans and we should treat each other with kindness and respect.