How Louisa May Alcott Made History (And the Invaluable Advice She Left Behind)

Growing up in a financially unstable family, Louisa May Alcott was deprived of things her wealthier friends enjoyed. What she gained, however, was life wisdom that she went on to sprinkle in her novels and won the hearts of millions of readers around the world.

American author Louisa May Alcott is celebrated for her colourful and relatable characters. Born in Philadelphia in 1832, Alcott had to work at a young age to support her family. She attended school irregularly and was mainly home-schooled.

She published her first poem, Sunlight, under a pseudonym. Her first book was a short story compilation published in 1854. She went on to write and publish two other books: Little Women and Little Men.

Little Women (1868) is one of the most popular classic novels. It was Alcott’s publisher that wanted her to write a novel for young women. It came rather naturally, as all she had to do was to reflect on her childhood and her relationship with her three sisters.

Both Alcott and Little Women have many invaluable life lessons to offer. Below is a selection to help you live a better life and become a stronger person.

The Lessons

To share every lesson contained in the book would take much more than a single article. If you’re interested in learning more, I recommend that you read the book yourself.

For now, here are the top seven life lessons that can help you see life from a different perspective.

Lesson #1 – Painful Events Are Great Learning Opportunities

We all go through painful and challenging events in our lives. These situations can serve as a catalyst for choosing a new life direction that can better benefit you and those around you. Therefore, whenever you experience such an event, look and see if you can learn from it.

Little Women focuses on the life of four girls from the March family. Much like Alcott and her sisters, the March sisters lived on the edge of poverty. However, all the negative childhood events didn’t stop them from growing into beautiful human beings. That’s because they learned from these situations rather than letting themselves be brought down.

Lesson #2 – Always Aim for Greatness

Alcott wrote the two volumes of Little Women at a time when women were expected to stay at home and build a family, essentially looking to present their best selves and win a suitor’s hand. The novel’s characters, however, depict women who are ahead of their times. The book’s heroines challenge norms and aim to create history.

The character Jo, for one, is a perfect example of how you should always aim for greatness. Jo would leave the comfort of her village and travel to the country to make a name and living. When she returns home, she returns with tons of experience on her shoulders.

Lesson #3 – Forgiveness Can Set You Free

As you go through life, you’re likely to be wronged time and again. However, if you refuse to accept any apology, it will only prolong your suffering.

In one of the stories, Jo refuses to invite her youngest sister Amy to a show. For revenge, Amy burns the only manuscript to a book that Jo has been writing. Understandably furious, Jo refuses to forgive Amy. That’s until one day when Amy almost dies in a skating accident. The event makes Jo realise that no manuscript is more important than her beloved sibling.

Here’s the lesson: As hard as it may seem, do your best to forgive before it’s too late.

Lesson #4 – Kindness Is the Best Way Through Hardship

Kindness is the overarching theme of the novel. There are situations after situations where the March sisters face negative circumstances and do not behave as expected.

However, they always fall back on compassion. Little Women teaches the reader that losing one’s wealth or loved one, and even disappointment, uncertainty, or confusion, can be overcome through kindness.

One story depicts Jo and Meg during Christmas, where the sisters lament that Christmas is nothing without presents and how dreadful it is to be poor. A few pages later, the sisters would rally and decide to spend whatever little they have to buy presents for their selfless mother instead of themselves. They even offer their Christmas breakfast to an impoverished family in the neighbourhood.

That’s a great example of how kindness and sacrifice can make you more content than being selfish.

Lesson #5 – You Should Always Be Able to Support Yourself

Regardless of age, everyone should know how to support themselves. In the novel, the eldest sisters, at just 15 and 16, are already contributing to the family. As the Marches go through times of hardship, Jo and Meg insist on helping the parents support the family.

Jo would start out as a companion to her wealthy aunt before she starts making money through her writing. Save for one sister, all of the girls can earn their keep, even though women of the period were destined to do house chores and find a husband that can support them.

This is a powerful lesson that teaches women how important it is to have a sense of accomplishment on their own, without waiting for a man to supply it.

Lesson #6 – Never Give in to Jealousy

There will always be that one person who makes you feel envious. At that point, the important thing is to not give in to jealousy.

In Little Women, the four girls always yearn for stylish dresses, road trips, and parties – all of the things their wealthier acquaintances can afford. The March family has just enough to support their four girls, never mind luxury. Throughout the novel, the family is constantly reminded of the fact that there are people living in more abject poverty, from which they would learn to be grateful for what they have.

Lesson #7 – Family Comes First

Life in the 21st century is a busy one. We’re often so distracted by our phone notifications that we forget about the more meaningful things, such as spending time with family.

Little Women provides a great reminder that you should appreciate and care deeply about your family – if you’re lucky enough to have one. The family theme is at the core of the book and reflected through sisterly, parental, and marital love. The March family treats each other with respect and never neglects any of its members.

Life Lessons from Louisa May Alcott

Alcott’s childhood, spent bouncing between home-schooling and working, was never lacking in love and care. This quality was at the heart of everything she did and wrote. Little Women may have been written in the 19th century, but all of the life lessons remain valid today.

It’s required reading at many schools, as the lessons that the author shares through her characters teach us about learning from painful experiences, always aiming for the best, being kind and forgiving and independent, and providing for ourselves.

If you’d like further guidance on how to apply these valuable lessons in your life, you can book me to speak at your next big event.