Simple, genuine goodness is the best capital to found the business of this life upon. It lasts when fame and money fail, and is the only riches we can take out of this world with us.
Little Men is the third book in the Little Women series written by the American author L.M. Alcott, the first two being ‘Little Women’ and ‘Good Wives’. Set in the late nineteenth century, it continues the tale of the March sisters- specifically, Jo March, now – Mrs. Jo Bhaer who runs a school for little boys at Plumfield. This book follows the boys’ adventures at Plumfield school who have an unusual knack for getting into scrapes, but their mischievous antics call for the warm and affectionate support of the whole March family to help them cope with an unforeseen tragedy. Although regarded as a children’s classic, I think anybody can read this heartwarming book regardless of their age.
The story begins with a boy named Nat Blake who was a ragged orphan street musician living all alone in a cellar until Mr. Laurence (Laurie) finds him and sends him to be fostered in Plumfield under the fold of the Bhaers. Mrs. Jo listens to his sorrowful tale and gives him a place in her heart and home. The other boys take to him quickly (especially Tommy Banks- the most rambunctious of them all) and Nat begins to lead a life of dignity, giving him a proper environment to cultivate his musical talent.
There are other characters that become a part of Plumfield at various points in time of the book such as a girl named Nan (Annie Harding) who was taken into Plumfield so as to inculcate the qualities of a well-bred gentleman in the young lads by having some more female presence, besides giving company to Daisy (Mrs. Bhaer’s niece) who are constants for life <3. Another one is a wild, rough-mannered fourteen-year old boy who was brought to Plumfield by Nat. Initially, every one was wary of his blunt ways and after breaking rules once too often he was sent away, much to Mrs. Bhaer’s regret. Later, he comes back of his own accord to Plumfield where he gradually learns to take responsibility.
Every child in this book has certain qualities that make them very much appealing to me. Good-hearted, likeable and friendly, Tommy is as naughty as he gets and nobody can outdo him as far as getting into scrapes is concerned. Why, once he almost burnt the whole house down! Nat, although of little means, is determined to earn his own living and contribute to the functioning of Plumfield by playing music. George Cole (‘Stuffy’) is an overweight boy who loves nothing more than to eat and eyes food all the time (just like me :P). Dick has a disfigurement and Dolly has a bad stutter but they don’t let these slights weigh them down, in fact – everyone supports them and do not make fun of it. My favourite character in the entire book is Nan who is a complete tomboy and is determined to prove that girls are no less than boys. She is competitive, cares for the young ones and wants to become a doctor when she grows up.
‘I wonder why it is that things you eat on the sly hurt you, and don’t when you eat them at table’, observed Stuffy, thoughtfully. ‘Perhaps your conscience affects your stomach’, said Mrs. Jo, smiling at his speech.
What makes the book amusing and jolly throughout is how the boys keep getting into trouble or unpleasant situations now and then. I believe Mrs. Bhaer has a hard time dealing with them, but she handles them all pretty well which impressed me a lot. Not only is she a loving mother to her two sons, but treats other boys and girls as her own. She has quite changed from the restless and sharp tongues Jo March in book one to a responsible matron, in charge of running an entire school. Mr. Bhaer, the professor, is extremely compassionate and deals patiently with the kids, giving them useful life lessons, though sometimes his ways are different. For instance, once Nat had developed a habit of telling lies now and again and to rid him of this habit, Mr. Bhaer told him that the next time he lied, he would have to give a tight rapping with a ruler on Mr. Bhaer’s palm. At a later occasion, Nat once again lied about something and it totally broke him to his core to give a beating to his teacher. Such was the impact of this incident on him that he was very careful with his words from them. Mr. Bhaer drilled patience and a sense of responsibility into Dan which helped him become a better person in life.
The book of course describes day-to-day life of the residents of Plumfield. The boys undergo lessons under Mr. Bhaer, they maintain their own little garden in which they can grow anything they like, they go huckleberry picking, the girls organise a sort of ball event in which they invite a few boys, they hold story telling sessions and help each other out at all times. This did not seem mundane to me at all, instead it made me wish I were a part of them doing those fun activities. The characters have interesting things to do and conversation to share, inviting the reader to be a part of them 😀 To me, Little Men was more entertaining than Good Wives (which I also loved!) and it filled my heart with happiness as I reached the end of the book.
The writing style is simple and easy to read for children. As opposed to contemporary novels which use modern day language, I loved the way this book is written. The characters speak using long sentences, use a lot of “Oh!”s and “I s’pose”es which I find a little more elegant than the English we speak today. I myself picked up some words and phrases and use them in my regular conversation just for fun 😛 (like using ‘falsehood’ instead of ‘lie’). It’s a book that just goes on with the life of the boys and the Bhaers in a matter of fact way without caring too much for major events, suspenses etc. It just captures one’s mind easily and touches the child-like aspect of oneself 😀
*****THE FOLLOWING PARAGRAPH IS SPOILERY********
Just one thing puzzled me in this book and that is….John Brooke’s death!! I mean…..why??? Throughout the book there is hardly any mention of him and at the start of one chapter towards the later part of the book, Mrs. Bhaer tells Demi that his father John is ill. He just dies all of a sudden without giving any prior context. I loved the fact that all the boys supported the March-Brooke family in their hour of adversity and that Meg remained headstrong despite it all, having everyone at her side. His father’s death beings about a profound change in Demi. No longer is he a boy who scampers around but one who would do his best to earn money to support his dear mother.
‘Dear Jo, the love that has blest me for ten happy years supports me still. It could not die, and John is more my own than ever’, whispered Meg; and in her eyes the tender trust was so beautiful and bright, that Jo believed her, and thanked God for the immortality of love like hers.