Every writer has that character, that one they encountered somewhere within the pages of another writer’s work and said “Ah-ha! I have found my literary twin.”
I was talking about this with a writing friend recently, and I’ve decided to introduce you all to my literary twin: Jo March. Perhaps you’ve heard of her. 😉 Created by Louisa May Alcott, she is featured in the literary classic, Little Women.
What is it about her I connect with so deeply? I didn’t grow up with a cohort of sisters. My father didn’t go off to war. There was no mysterious boy living next door to me. And I certainly never harbored a deep desire to live in the time of hoop skirts and corsets. I’m happy to live in a vastly different world from Jo March.
It isn’t her situation that resonates with me. It’s her personality.
Jo is tomboyish and ambitious. She has the overwhelming desire to do something great and is haunted by the possibility that she may achieve nothing. She has an untamed wildness, a free-spirited wholeheartedness that I understood the moment I met her.
While my friends were giggling about boys and dreaming of marriage marriage, I was dreaming about becoming something, about having a career, about making a difference in the world. Somehow. Some way. Sure, I thought it would be nice to be married one day, but that wasn’t my big life goal. I had too much ambition to tie all my dreams to one event.
This strange contrast between my peers and me was never more evident than when, at church, we were given an evening to dress up like what we wanted to be.
I dressed up like Jo March. Not because I wanted to live in the hoop skirt century but because I, like her, wanted to be an actress (dressing up like a literary character was another nod to those ambitions) and a writer. I wanted to earn those ink-stained fingers. It was a bit of a complicated concept to explain to the other eight-year-old girls.
Somewhere around 50% (likely more) of them were dressed up as expectant mothers.
I think motherhood is an awesome goal and I have all the respect in the world for women who choose that life, but I wanted to say “Is that really all you want from life?” It baffled me that the greatest ambition of these young humans was to create more humans. Didn’t they have dreams of accomplishing things? Changing the world? Couldn’t they have ambitious dreams and be mothers?
Like Jo, I looked at the girls around me and found them to be a bit alien. I climbed trees, taking my pencil and notebook with me. I played in the dirt and I hated dresses. (I’ve since come around to dresses but man am I glad I live in a time where I can wear pants.) I devoured books and laid awake at night just imagining things.
I found the injustices of the world appalling and angering. I wanted to save orphans and battle evil. I wanted to speak up for those who had no voice. I didn’t know how, exactly. Just somehow.
I never wanted a normal life.
It’s an amazing thing, to peel open a book, expecting to find a story and discover a mirror instead. One that reflects your personality in a different time and place. But the same spirit fighting to be seen.
There’s a scene at the beach when Beth compares all her sisters to birds. She compares herself to a peep, tame and content. Meg is a turtle-dove, and Amy is a lark, aiming for the clouds but always returning home. But she says of Jo: “You are the gull, Jo, strong and wild, fond of the storm and the wind, flying far out to sea, and happy all alone.”
I was happy to be alone, independent. But then I found another gull who didn’t want to tie me to the earth but who was willing to fly with me, much like Jo found in Professor Bhaer.
I’m still trying to find my path. I’m still striving and aiming for something, chasing down passions wholeheartedly. I think it’s safe to say Jo would approve.