“Little Women” is a novel written by Louisa May Alcott and published in two volumes in 1868 and 1869, respectively. Alcott wrote the book in response to a request from her friends and family to write a book for young girls.
The first novel was a huge success with readers and Alcott was inundated with letters requesting the second volume immediately. She quickly wrote the next volume to accommodate them. Eventually, the two volumes were released as one novel in 1880 called “Little Women”.
The novel continues to be very widely read and the ambitious female characters in it contributed to the rise of feminism in 20 century America. It revolves around the story of the four March sisters and their lives as they grow into adults. The girls must contend with learning to become good women and learning about who they are as people with the help of their mother and father.
Many years of their lives are covered during the course of the book and in the end, they are all married mothers with happy lives.
“Little Women” begins on Christmas Eve. The four daughters of the March family are gathered in the living room of their simple home. Each girl has one dollar to her name but their mother feels that it is wasteful to spend money on Christmas presents during war time. The girls lament that they are not able to buy anything for each other until they light upon the idea of using their dollar to each buy something for their mother, Marmee.
The eldest girl, Meg is sixteen and very pretty, the second girl Jo is fifteen and a bit of a tomboy who is quick to anger. Third is Beth, who is a quiet girl and thirteen. And last is Amy who is twelve and a musician. The girl’s father, Mr. March was deemed too old to be a soldier in the Union Army. He signed up to be a chaplain instead and is away. The March family misses him very much and the girls gather around their mother to read his newest letter that evening by the fire. Their father urges them to be good so that when he returns he may be fonder and prouder than ever of my little women. The girls all decide to play a game where they try to improve one thing about themselves. Meg decided to be less vain, Jo to be more feminine, Beth to be less shy and Amy to be less selfish. Their mother promises to help them on this journey as she can and to give them all etiquette guidebooks.
The next morning, the girls awake to find the guidebooks under their pillows. The girls surprise their mother with the gifts that they have bought for her and she is very pleased and touched. Friends of the family gather to watch a play that Jo has written and the girls are acting in. The play goes well despite a few prop mishaps and the family as well as their friends enjoy a nice Christmas feast afterward. The feast is a gift from Mr. Laurence, the kindly rich man who lives next door to them.
Meg and Jo attend a New Year’s Eve party nearby. Jo worried about being perceived as ladylike especially as her best dress has a burn mark on it and her gloves are stained with Lemonade. During the party, Jo meets Theodore Laurence, the nephew of her neighbor. He tells her to call him Laurie and the two get along because of their matching interest in boyish games.
After New Year’s the girls must return to work. Meg resents this as she remembers a time when Mr. March had more money before he lost his property. Meg is the governess for a wealthy family named King. Jo works as a helper for their stuffy Great Aunt March. Beth stays at home and helps the March maid, Hannah. Amy attends school and is popular among her classmates.
One day, Jo decides she wants to get to know Laurie. She throws a snowball at his window in order to get his attention and finds out that he has a head cold and is bored of staying in his bed. He invites her in and the other sisters all send gifts over for him. Beth lends her cats to Laurie and he plays with them and forgets his shyness. Laurie shows Jo his grandfather’s large library and Jo agrees to wait there while Laurie sees the doctor. Mr. Laurence stumbles across Jo in the library and the two decide to have tea together. Jo brings up that she feels that Laurie needs more company and that he is lonely. Mr. Laurence agrees that he does and decides that Laurie should spend more time with the March family. Laurie comes back and plays the piano for Jo and his grandfather. This visibly upsets Mr. Laurence and when Jo goes home later she learns that Mr. Laurence’s son married an Italian musician even though he protested the arrangement. The couple died and Mr. Laurence took in Laurie to raise. However, Laurie’s talent as a musician reminds him of his son and makes him solemn.
The March’s begin to visit the Laurence house regularly and everyone enjoys the opulence except Beth who is afraid of the stoic Mr. Laurence. Mr. Laurence overhears her saying this, however, and asks if she wouldn’t mind playing his piano for him so that it will stay in tune. Beth agrees and begins to play the piano daily. It is a dream come true for her to play on such an expensive piano. To show her gratitude, Beth makes Mr. Laurence a pair of slippers and Mr. Laurence decides to give her the old piano that his granddaughter used to play.
Beth and Mr. Laurence become friends after this. Amy buys her classmates at school a jar of pickled limes to share and breaks the school rules in the process. Her teacher punishes her by swatting her palm and making her stand in front of the class until lunchtime. This experience is humiliating for Amy as she has never been punished like this before. She leaves school and goes home of her own volition. Marmee scolds Amy for her conduct but withdraws her from school nonetheless. In retribution for not being allowed to go to the theater with Laurie, Meg and Jo, Amy burns up a manuscript book that Jo had been writing in. Jo is furious and boxes Amy’s ears. Amy realizes that she was wrong but Jo is not willing to forgive. The next day, Laurie and Jo go ice skating and Amy follows. Jo refuses to tell Amy which ice is safe to skate on and she falls through. Laurie and Jo manage to save her.
Once they get back home, Jo admits to her mother that she was so angry at Amy that she made a mistake and nearly killed her. Marmee confesses to Jo that she, too had a bad temper at her age but she later learned to control it. Jo takes comfort in this and vows to never let her anger get the better of her again.
That spring, Meg goes to spend two weeks with her friend, Annie Moffat, a wealthy girl. Meg is upset that she does not have nicer things to bring but reminds herself to be grateful for the opportunity. While attending a party at the Moffat’s, Meg overhears some gossip saying that her mother wants her to marry Laurie for his money. Meg is upset more by the fact that her friends are gossiping about her than the idea that her mother would want her to marry Laurie. She cries that night and the next morning her friends are kinder to her. Although Meg realizes that it is only because they now think that she may end up being Laurie’s wife. This amuses Meg. Another girl, Belle offers to lend Meg a dress for the next party. Meg agrees and finds that the high society people are nicer to her and pay her more attention when she is better dressed. Laurie, who is also at the party, tells Meg that he doesn’t like the way she is acting. Meg agrees that she feels uncomfortable with the attention and how she is expected to act.
When she gets home, Meg tells her family of the odd happenings at the Moffat’s. Marmee regrets sending her but Meg insists that she is thankful for the experience as she feels it taught her a lesson. Marmee explains to her daughters that she does not wish for them to marry rich so much as she wants them to grow to be good women and find loving husbands. She trusts that truly good men will not be put off by their poverty.
The following summer, Meg, and Jo receive three months off from work as their employers are busy elsewhere. They decide to spend the summer resting and having fun. Marmee agrees to give them one week with nothing to do but warns that they will miss having some work to balance the fun. Soon, the girls discover that she is right and that they are bored. Beth soon realizes that she forgot to feed her bird, Pip all week and that he has died. The girls have a small funeral for him. Marmee asks them if they enjoyed the experience. They confirm that the idleness grew annoying and there was much work to catch up on when they started again. Marmee explains that work helps them feel independent and useful. She tells them that it’s important to balance work and fun.
One day that summer, Meg receives a poem and a glove from a man named Mr. Brooke, who is Laurie’s tutor. Marmee begins to wonder what his intentions toward Meg are. However, another boy, Ned Moffat is also interested in Meg. He makes his intentions clearer but Meg does not flirt with him as she does not want to stir more gossip.
The girls and Laurie have a picnic. The girls describe what they want for their future. Meg wants a nice home filled with kind people that she loves and nice things, Jo wants to be an author, Amy wants to go to Rome and be an artist and Beth only wishes to stay at home. Laurie confesses that he is worried his grandfather will make him go into the family business which he does not want to do. Meg tells him to be dutiful to his grandfather but Jo encourages him to go his own way.
That evening, Laurie decides to stay with his grandfather and give up on the idea of being a musician. Laurie and Jo bump into each other in town and Jo reveals that she has been to the newspaper and left two stories there. She is waiting to see if they will be printed. Laurie reveals that Mr. Brooke kept one of Meg’s gloves. He feels that the romance is sweet but Jo worries that Meg is growing up faster that she is. Soon, Jo’s story does get published in the newspaper and she reads it to the family.
That fall, Mr. March falls ill and Marmee must go to Washington to be with him. Mr. Brooke agrees to go with her as an escort. Meg is very grateful for this. Jo goes to town and returns with $25. She reveals that she sold her hair to the barber to help her father. Marmee leaves the girls with Hannah and Mr. Laurence to watch over them. Mr. Brooke writes from Washington that their father is doing better and then begins to write daily reporting on the news of his health. The girls are happy with this and throw themselves into their work to keep from worrying.
Beth goes to help a family whose baby is sick. The baby soon dies of Scarlet Fever. The doctor warns Beth to take belladonna so as not to get sick. Meg and Jo have already had Scarlet Fever and, thus, are immune, but Amy is sent to live with Aunt March for a short while so that she will not catch it. Jo begins to nurse Beth as the girl falls ill. Hannah worries that telling their mother and father of Beth’s illness will only worry them and warns the girls not to write them.
Soon, however, Beth grows worse and Mrs. March is sent for. Laurie reveals to Jo that he had disobeyed Hannah’s order and sent for Mrs. March the day before. Jo is so relieved that she kisses Laurie. She quickly gets embarrassed and thanks him again before leaving. Beth begins to recover shortly before Mrs. March arrives home.
After Marmee returns home, she tells Jo in secret that Mr. Brooke told her he plans to secure a comfortable living and then ask for Meg’s hand in marriage. Marmee intends to gauge what Meg’s feelings are for Mr. Brooke. She soon decides that her daughter does not love John yet, but she will learn to. Laurie figures out that Jo is keeping some secret related to Meg and Mr. Brooke and comes up with a plan to find out what it is. He sends a letter to Meg professing great love for her and signs it “John Brooke”. Meg tells Mr. Brooke that she is too young to marry and that she must speak to her parents. However, John is surprised to hear about the letter and he claims to have no knowledge of it.
Jo realizes that it must have been Laurie that wrote the letter and makes him apologize to Meg. Meanwhile, Mrs. March tells Meg of Mr. Brooke’s true feelings for her. Meg still feels that she is too young to marry and is uneasy at being a lover. She claims that she only wishes to be friends with Mr. Brooke. Mr. March arrives home on Christmas Day to the delight of his daughters. Mr. March notices that his daughters have changed much since he last saw them. Meg’s once beautiful, smooth hands are now rough and hardened from work, Jo has become more of a lady, Beth has gotten less shy and Amy has become more patient and less vain. Despite the happiness of having her father home, Meg still has a problem to deal with in the form of Mr. Brooke’s proposal.
One day, Mr. Brooke stops by to see Mr. March and, when he and Meg are alone he takes her hand and asks her if she cares about him. Meg answers that she doesn’t know. Aunt March walks into the room and notices the scene playing out between the two. Mr. Brooke steps out of the room and Aunt March tells Meg that if she agrees to marry Mr. Brooke, she will never give them a penny. This angers Meg, and she contrarily states that she will marry whom she likes. She defends John, saying that he is kind and courageous and works very hard. Aunt March leaves in a huff and John re-enters the room, having overheard Meg’s defense of him. He asks once again if she cares for him and Meg, passing on the opportunity to make the speech she had practiced refusing him, agrees.Jo returns and is upset to see Meg and John sitting together. Jo tells her parents and sends them to deal with the situation so that she can stay in her room and cry.
Jo returns and is upset to see Meg and John sitting together. Jo tells her parents and sends them to deal with the situation so that she can stay in her room and cry. Mr. Brooke convinces the March’s that Meg is old enough to be engaged and agrees to wait for three years with the hope that by then he will have a home and a steady income. Part two begins three years later. The war has ended and Mr. March is home full time now. He works as a minister in the town.
Part two begins three years later. The war has ended and Mr. March is home full time now. He works as a minister in the town. John Brooke was fought in the war, was wounded and honorably discharged and now works as a bookkeeper. Meg has fallen in love with him and is preparing to marry him. The two will live in a house named Dovecote, which is modest but well outfitted with help from their family and friends.
Jo devotes much of her time to writing and Beth, who remains weak from the bout of Scarlet Fever, still struggles to recover. Amy now works as a companion for Aunt March. Laurie is at college paid for by his grandfather. Meg and John marry in a simple ceremony with their families in attendance. Mr. Laurence tells Laurie that if his grandson chooses to marry he hopes that he will marry a March girl. Laurie agrees to do his best.
Jo continues to submit stories to the newspaper and eventually starts earning money as a writer. Meg soon becomes pregnant and gives birth to twins named Margaret and John but which she nicknames Daisy and Demi. Amy soon receives an invitation from the girl’s aunt Carrol to go to Europe. Jo is hurt and upset that she was not asked instead but supports her sister and helps her pack. Amy asks Laurie to watch over the family while she is gone and he agrees.
While in Europe, she meets up with a college friend of Laurie’s named Fred Vaughn. She begins spending time with him and decides that if he asks to marry her she will accept. Back at home, Jo notices that Beth has been feeling a bit sad and begins to think that her sister might be in love with Laurie. She decides to make Laurie love Beth although Laurie actually loves Jo, herself. Laurie has been trying to bring up the idea of courting to Beth for years but she always ignores or denies him. She speaks to Laurie about Beth but does not mention her name. Laurie assumes that she is talking about herself and takes it as a sign that Jo will be ready to marry him after he finishes college.
Jo decides to go away for the winter to teach at a boarding house in New York in order to make Laurie forget about her and possibly start noticing Beth. Jo works with an older man named Mr. Bhaer who begins to tutor her in German. The two become friends. Jo continues to write stories and submits them to New York papers. However, in order to please the rougher, city editors she must write stories with more lurid details and less moral characters. She publishes them anonymously and does not tell anyone back home that they are hers.Mr. Bhaer realizes that she is writing the stories and becomes disappointed with her. Jo agrees that she is ashamed of writing such stories and stops writing for the rest of her time in New York.
Mr. Bhaer realizes that she is writing the stories and becomes disappointed with her. Jo agrees that she is ashamed of writing such stories and stops writing for the rest of her time in New York. When Jo returns home, Laurie has graduated from college. The day she comes back he proposes to her. Jo admits that she has tried to love him as he does her but that she cannot and apologizes. Laurie is hurt and tries to convince her that their match would still be good. Jo feels that they are both to quick-tempered to be married to each other. Laurie becomes angry and storms out of the room.
Jo begins to worry about him and goes to Mr. Laurence to tell him what has happened. Mr. Laurence decides to take Laurie with him to Europe for a few months so that he can forget about Jo. Laurie agrees to go. Jo worries that she has betrayed her best friend and that he will return differently. Jo begins to spend more time with Beth and realizes that her secret earlier that year was not that she was in love with Laurie but that she is dying. Beth admits that she has known she was weakening for a while and has made her peace with it. She only wishes to enjoy the time that she has left, peacefully.
Laurie and Amy meet up in France and begin to spend time together. They each realize that they have grown up a lot and that they may have feelings for one another. Meg begins to feel that she and her husband are spending less time together since the twins were born. Marmee encourages her to include John more in raising the children and to take more of an interest in world affairs as they affect her just as much as they affect men.
Back in France, Amy and Laurie have a conversation about Fred Vaughn. Laurie is disappointed to hear that Amy is considering marrying Fred as he is not the type of man that Laurie had pictured Amy with. The two argue over this and Amy mentions that she wishes Jo were there. Seeing Laurie’s reaction to hearing her sister’s name, Amy realizes that Jo must have refused him and that is why he has been acting differently. Amy apologizes and tells him that he needs to do something to make Jo love him. She says that he needs to leave France and go back to be with his grandfather, which he does.
Jo begins to nurse Beth again through her final months. Beth promises that she will always be with Jo and makes her promise to take care of their mother and father. Jo agrees and Beth dies peacefully the following Spring. Laurie goes to Vienna to try to be a musician. However, he soon realizes that it is more difficult than he thought. He realizes that his talent does not make him a genius and decides to give up on being a musician.
During this time, he begins to let go of his romantic feelings for Jo and is left with only a brotherly affection for her. Fred Vaughn soon returns to France and Amy realizes that her conversation with Laurie made her want to turn down Fred after all. He asks her to marry him and she declines. Amy soon learns that Beth has died. Laurie arrives soon after and the two realize that they have fallen in love although they do not say it. Soon, Laurie proposes to her and Amy accepts.
Jo begins writing again and receives acclaim from newspapers. She finally feels that she is writing what she wants to and that people are responding to it. A letter comes to tell of Laurie and Amy’s engagement and Jo feels genuinely happy for them. However, she wishes that she could find love. Laurie and Amy soon return from Europe and reveal that they have already gotten married. Laurie asks Jo if they can go back to being best friends and she happily accepts.
Jo is surprised one day when Mr. Bhaer comes for a visit. She introduces him to the family and they all befriend him immediately. Jo and Mr. Bhaer realize their feelings for one another soon after and he tells her that he is going to go west to find work so that he can provide a home for her. Jo is delighted by the idea of marrying him.
In the last chapter of the story, Aunt March dies and leaves her estate to Jo. Jo and Mr. Bhaer marry and move into the estate and decide to turn it into a school for orphan boys. Jo is happy to be surrounded by little boys and soon she and Mr. Bhaer have two sons of their own. Five years later, the family gathers at the estate to celebrate Mrs. March’s 60th birthday. The sisters sit together in the evening and remember how they wanted their lives to go as teenagers and how differently they all turned out. Meg does not have the luxurious things that she wanted but she is happy, Jo still intends to be an author, and Amy is happy to have her own daughter which she has named Beth. All three agree that they are happy and thankful.
Jo March – the main character of the book. Jo is a tomboy who is quick to anger in the beginning of the novel but later overcomes this. She also has a great passion for writing. Louisa May Alcott based Jo’s character largely on herself. Jo assumes that she and Laurie will end up together eventually although she repeatedly refuses his offers of marriage.
In the end, Jo marries Professor Bhaer and realizes her love of teaching. Jo displays both good and bad traits for a young woman of the 19th century and thus was a very unusual main character for the time. However, Jo’s bad traits make her more human and lovably flawed.
Meg March – the eldest March sister. In the beginning of the novel Meg is very beautiful but very naive and delicate. She constantly struggles with her love of the finer things and eventually marries a poor man for love. Meg best represents the good, kind archetype of 19th-century literary characters. She sometimes tries to change herself to make others happy, as when she allows herself to be made over at Annie Moffat’s house. Eventually, she becomes a well-mannered, quiet housewife, forgoing anything luxurious and pretending to be interested in everything her husband likes.
Beth March – the third March sister. Beth starts out the story as a very shy, timid girl. She resents the work she must do to keep the household running. Beth is closest to Jo as they both have introverted tenancies. Beth represents a more old-fashioned heroine for the time. In killing her off, Alcott was killing off the angelic heroines of contemporary literature.
Amy March – the youngest of the March sisters. Amy is a talented musician and artist who is uncommonly good at manipulating others, sometimes without even realizing it. Amy tries, as a teenager to act like a proper lady although she does not always understand the words she is using or the things she is doing.
In the end, she succeeds in obtaining popularity, a trip to Europe and a rich husband. Like Jo, she is an artist that struggles to balance societies expectations of her role as a woman with what she really wants to do with her life. However, Jo is somewhat of a foil to Amy as she appears more generous and genuine. But both characters are accentuated by their flaws.
Laurie Laurence – neighbor to the Marches’, best friend to Jo and eventual husband to Amy. Laurie battles with his grandfathers desire for him to take over the company and struggles with telling him that he wants to become a musician instead. He bonds with Jo over these struggles as she feels similarly about becoming a lady.
In between the publication of part one of “Little Woman” and part two, Alcott received many letters from fans asking her to marry Jo and Laurie in the end. For some reason, she decided to go against this in a cheeky way and had Laurie marry Amy instead.
Louisa May Alcott Biography
Born on November 29, 1832, which just happened to be her father’s thirty-third birthday, Louisa May Alcott grew to be not only an amazing writer but also a feminist and an abolitionist. Louisa’s family was not very wealthy, and her father often had trouble supporting his family of girls, so they women had to work,also. Louisa and her sisters filled in jobs as teacher, seamstress, governess, housekeeper, and for Louisa, she was also a writer.
Louisa’s father, Amos Branson Alcott, was a member of the Transcendental Club. He even tried to start a school for children that taught using his beliefs in transcendentalism. Transcendentalist believed in their idea of perfection and was always striving for it. They were a naturalist who thought the best way for people to move forward is by doing away with the old, set ways and find new insights. Society and it’s institutions were corrupt. They taught self-reliance and independence. But, still, Louisa’s wildness angered her father, often.
With her father as her primary teacher, and his friends, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau and Margaret Fuller, helping in her education, Louisa’s could hardly prevent becoming a writer. But, the surprising part was her gift for children’s books.
Louisa May Alcott’s literary work was topped by her book, “Little Women”, and the sequels, “Good Wives”, and “Jo’s Boys”. The books were semi-autobiographical and based on her life growing up, with three sisters, Anna, Elizabeth, and Abigail May. She wrote her first book in 1849 when she was seventeen, Flower Fables, as a gift for the daughter of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Ellen. For a while, Louisa wrote passionate and sensational stories under the name A. M. Barnard. These books were aimed more for an adult audience and didn’t do as well as her children’s books. At the time the American Civil War broke out, Louisa was working as a journalist for the Atlantic Monthly.
Louisa tried to fill in as a nurse during the war. She spent six weeks at the Union Hospital in Georgetown, D. C., but was forced to quit when she contracted typhoid. She did use manage to write some letters home during her convalescence that were published in the Commonwealth as Hospital Sketches. They exposed the mismanagement of hospitals and how the surgeons she encountered showed indifference and callousness.
Having never married, Louisa explained her “spinsterhood” to having the soul of a man trapped in a woman’s body. But, she did fall in love once. While she was in Europe, she had a romance with a young Polish man, Ladislas “Laddie” Wisniewski. She based her character, Laurie on him in “Little Women”. Apparently, the romance didn’t end well, because she destroyed any evidence of him in her journals before her death. Although she never had children, she did raise her sister, Abigail May’s daughter after she died from what was termed, childbed fever. Lulu was born in 1879, and Louisa cared for her until her death in 1888.
On March 6, 1888, Louisa May Alcott died after suffering a stroke at the age of fifty-five. Her health had not been very good since the typhoid she contracted during the Civil War. She is buried in the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord, Massachusetts. Near her are the graves of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Henry David Thoreau. The site is known as Author’s Ridge.