Thoughts on ‘Little Women’ Part 3

Introduction

The second character I’ll look at will be a bit more in depth.  This is the character of Beth.

Beth in the Novel

Her character includes much more characteristics than those that meet the eye.  Throughout the novel, she is described by these nicknames and adjectives:

*        dear

*        patient

*        quiet

*        rosy

*        bright-eyed

*        Mouse

*        peacemaker

*        “Little Miss Tranquility”

*        bashful

*        housewifely

*        shy

*        gentle

*        timid

*        round

*        very good

*        the best of little creatures

The character of Beth is made quite clear by Louisa May Alcott through these words, as well as the actions Beth takes in the novel.

From these words we could that she is more of a fixture in the March household for others to reap from.  However, notice ‘bright-eyed’ which means ‘alert and lively’.  If you read the novel you can easily spot that Beth can be an excited and energetic person around her close family.  It is strangers and acquaintances she is frightened and shy of.

She is quite scared of Mr. Laurence.   At one of their first meetings, he was unaware of her fear of people and looked closely at her and said ‘Hey’ rather loudly, which caused her to ‘run away’ in fright.

To sum it up, Beth in the novel is good, shy, and quiet.  Being quiet does not necessarily mean you are shy.  Beth is both quiet and shy around those she is not well acquainted with.

The definition of the word shy, according to the New Oxford American Dictionary is as follows:

1 being reserved or having or showing nervousness or timidity in the company of others…”

The word quiet is defined:

2 making little or no sound 2. tranquil and reserved by nature; not brash or forceful”

So you see, ‘shy’ and ‘quiet’ really are two different things and are not interchangeable words when used properly.  It is possible, and this is Beth’s case, to be quiet because of being shy.

After acquiring scarlet fever, Beth becomes an ill wisp and doesn’t fully recover from the sickness.

Beth in the Movie

This takes me into talking about the Beth in the 1994 movie.  Beth in the movie does not seem so frail and weak during and after becoming ill.  She looks like a strong girl throughout the movie.  Now, you may notice the adjective ‘round’ above.  This does not indicate that Beth resembled a circle.  Dozens of times in the novel we can see the word ‘round’ used in place of ‘around’. For instance ‘glancing round the room’, ‘tiles all round it’, and ‘turned her round’.  Yet, this doesn’t fit Beth’s character.  One definition of the word ‘round’, according to the New Oxford American Dictionary:

“…4 (of a person or their manner of speaking) not omitting or disguising anything; frank and truthful”

I can see the above definition very fitting to Beth’s character.  The part of the book that describes Beth as being ‘round’:

“…At seven o’clock, the four members ascended to the clubroom, tied their badges round their heads, and took their seats with great solemnity.  Meg, as the eldest, was Samuel Pickwick, Jo, being of a literary turn, Augustus Snodgrass, Beth, because she was round and rosy, Tracy Tupman, and Amy who was always trying to do what she couldn’t, was Nathaniel Winkle…”

In this passage quoted above are two usages of the word ‘round’.  Both are being used in different ways.

Before moving on, I want to define ‘rosy’.  Below are two definitions of the word.

New Oxford American Dictionary:

2 promising or suggesting good fortune or happiness; hopeful”

Merriam-Webster Dictionary:

2 characterized by or tending to promote optimism”

Obviously, Louisa May Alcott did not mean to imply that Beth was red or pink in facial tone.  She meant that Beth was hopeful and optimistic.

Words in the English language have many meanings.  Until researched, things assumed should not be accepted as facts.  So instead of saying ‘round and rosy’ you could say almost the same thing by saying ‘truthful and optimistic’.

Beth in the Musical

Lastly, her musical character is kind and selfless.  She, before passing away, tells Jo in the song Some Things are Meant to Be:

ALL MY LIFE I’VE LIVED FOR LOVING YOU
LET ME GO NOW

She does not seem as shy and quiet in the musical, though, and that is Beth’s main characteristic.  Losing that   does not make it completely Beth March.  She speaks rather boldly to Mr. Laurence in an exchange I already mentioned but shall mention again.

Beth is playing the piano when Mr. Laurence enters the March home.  He looks at her and says ‘Which one of the dreadful March girls are you?’ she replies, dropping a quick curtsy ‘Dreadful Beth’.

That does not seem like a shy, quiet, and frightened person, which Beth is around strangers.

In the Next Part

Tomorrow, we will look briefly on the character of Mr. Laurence.

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