Six lessons modern-day parents can learn from Marmee

Picking up Little Women for a re-read meant a nostalgia trip. This book by Louisa Alcott, written over a hundred years ago has been a part of my growing up years. Way back in school we devoured the entire series. All my friends found at least one sister she completely identified with. Each girl is a protagonist in her own right, at least in the first book.

As I browsed through the book again, looking for a passage to share at my book club, the character that really struck me for its quiet strength was Marmee. I wondered how I hadn’t really noticed her earlier. I took her for granted, I suppose – just like we take mums for granted in real life.

Susan Sarandon as Marmee

Susan Sarandon as Marmee

I didn’t even know her real name. It is Margaret March, same as Meg’s. Other than that Alcott gives us very little background on her. I did read, though that she modelled her on her own mother Abigail Alcott – a writer and a social activist.

Here are some lessons modern-day parents can pick from this super-mum

  1. Break the mould: Marmee didn’t believe in pushing her kids to fit into predefined societal roles. Whether it was Meg and her fancy friends or Amy’s school pals, Marmee encouraged the girls to hold their own. When school becomes a chore for the painfully shy Beth she allows her to be home-schooled.
  2. No comparisons: She gave her daughters the freedom to be themselves. With four such different children comparisons would be inevitable. Not for Marmee. She appreciates each of her daughter for her individual qualities.
  3. Live your lesson: Marmee teaches by doing. The classic example is when she confesses to Jo about having a bad temper. “I’ve been trying to cure it for forty years, and have only succeeded in controlling it. I am angry nearly every day of my life, Jo, but I have learned not to show it; and I still hope to learn not to feel it, though it may take me another forty years to do so.”
  4. Back to the basics: Marmee’s life is guided by basic principles of piety, simplicity, honesty, hard-work and thrift. We often forget to reinforce them to the children  though her values stand the test of time.
  5. Money isn’t happiness: Though they are poor Marmee doesn’t push her daughters to marry for money and yet she isn’t biased against the wealthy Laurie. Here’s a woman to whom money truly  didn’t make a difference.
  6. Beyond vanities: She encouraged her daughters to look beyond external vanities. She brings a beautiful balance in her upbringing. Though she doesn’t forbid her daughters from dressing up or going to parties she does stress that they should be more than just that.

Linking up to ABC Wednesday with thanks to Mrs Nesbitt who thought up this wonderful meme.

abc 17 (1)

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29 thoughts on “Six lessons modern-day parents can learn from Marmee

  1. nabanita

    Nicely articulated Tulika…This books brings back a lot of memories..I could have never analysed Marmee as beautifully and objectively as you have done…I’m bookmarking this…

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  2. Shailaja/ The Moving Quill

    One of my favourite books and with good reason too. This is the kind of book I want Gy to read, fall in love with and go back to reading over and over again. There’s something so primally touching about the character sketches of some books and the author has done wonderful justice to Marmee. You have done the same to the analysis. Pat on the back, Tulika 🙂

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    1. Beat About The Book Post author

      It’s quite the perfect book for reading out to kids. Thanks for dropping by Roger.

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  3. Shilpa Garg

    Pretty sound advice that holds true even today! Have read Little Women in school, must read it sometimes soon again and read it with new eyes!

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  4. readerwil

    Marmee was a bit like my mum, who kept us alive in a Japanese concentration camp.I also liked this book “Little women”. I also loved the books about “Anne of Green Gables”.
    Thanks for your visit . Have a great week.
    Wil, ABCW Team

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    1. Beat About The Book Post author

      Thanks Wil. I am always amazed at how you and your family must have survived the concentration camps. You certainly would have had a strong mom to get you through it all.

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  5. shanayatales

    I had read this in school and I remember loving it. After this post, this book has climbed to the very top of my re-read list. Very well articulated, Tulika. 🙂

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  6. Nilima

    I have read the book couple of times in school. We being 3sisters loved it. I have just finished reading Black Beauty. These old classics really take you to another world & show what really living Life means 🙂 Thanks to you, my next classic fix is going to be Little women 🙂

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    1. Beat About The Book Post author

      It seems to have a number of film adaptations so you have plenty of choice Suzy.

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  7. deepsmenon7

    This book was an astounding part of my childhood, and when the three sequels came out, it was like Paradise Regained. The girls were so beautifully characterized, and it is a fact that most of us missed out on the quiet strength of Marmee, who held them all together! Thank you fo this lovely blog post!

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    1. Beat About The Book Post author

      It was a pleasure doing it. I completely know what you mean about the sequels. We couldn’t wait to to them. And then we also read up Eight Cousins and Rose in Bloom by Alcott, which were quite similar to Little Women. Totally delightful reads, all of them.

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  8. Melody

    A week late but nevertheless even sincere my “thank you” to you for participating in ABC-Wednesday !

    I didn’t know this story…nor book…. being Dutch that is not that strange ofcourse.

    Wishing lots of fun with books to come.

    Have a nice abc-week / – day
    ♫ M e l ☺ d y ♫ (ABC-w-team)

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  9. Su-sieee! Mac

    Great post. You’ve given me a different take on Marmee. I always thought her so pious and perfect. Yet, if I had kids, I would’ve strived to be a mother like her.

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