Free Study Guide: Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

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Chapter 1: "Playing Pilgrims"


The March family consists of Marmee and her four girls, Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy and Father who is off working as a chaplain in the Civil War. We meet the girls first in Chapter 1 as they sit around the living room bemoaning the fact that they will not be having Christmas presents this year. They each have one dollar which seems too little to help any social cause. The girls discuss what they are going to buy for themselves with their money.

The girls are in the process of warming their mother’s ragged slippers before the fire when Beth decides that she will use her dollar to get her mother a pair of new ones. This brings animated discussion as each girl thinks about what she might be able to buy her mother. They all agree to go shopping the next day to buy gifts for Marmee.

Planning and discussion takes place for other Christmas festivities. The girls will be putting on a play, something which seems to be a family tradition. At the end of the chapter, Marmee comes home bringing a letter from Father who sends them news and his love, but reveals that he will be away from home for at least another year.


The first chapter introduces us to each of the March girls and to their mother. The father is absent, as the story begins during the Civil War and Mr. March is preforming the duties of chaplain at a Union post. We get a brief glimpse at the personality of each girl. Meg acts very grownup and scolds the others for immature behaviors; she also feels a little guilty because she is not able to make her sacrifices "gladly." Amy comes across as self-centered and seems to think only of what others are going to be getting. When the girls decide to spend their money on Marmee, Amy makes sure that her present is better than anyone else’s. Amy’s passion is her art, while Beth’s is her music, although Beth’s wishes are so softly spoken that no one hears them. Jo is outspoken and good natured, but is also quick to scoff at Amy for mistakes in "vocabulary" especially when Amy tries to sound cultured and uses words incorrectly.

Religion permeates every aspect of their lives. A story they were taught in early childhood is Pilgrim’s Progress; they still act out parts of it and use events in the novel as metaphors for their own lives.

Marmee (Mrs. March) herself sets an example of continuous self-sacrifice. She is never heard complaining about their state, but instead makes daily excursions into the neighborhood to help those who are worse off than the March family.

Chapter 2: " A Merry Christmas"


The girls wake up on Christmas morning to find no stockings hanging by the fireplace, but instead a small Bible under each girl’s pillow. Following Meg’s example they vow to read a little every day. Their mother has already gone somewhere; Amy disappears for a while and returns with a larger, prettier bottle of cologne for Marmee’s present. She says she felt guilty about buying the small one in order to save a little money for herself, and now she will be giving Marmee the best present of all.

Mrs. March returns to tell the girls about a family who has a new baby and six other children huddled in a bed trying to keep warm without heat or food. She asks if the girls would be willing to give up their breakfast to which they almost immediately agree. After making the family as comfortable as they can, the return home to a breakfast of bread and milk, then continue with their Christmas plans, putting on a play for a dozen friends.

Christmas dinner is ample reward for their morning sacrifice. Mr. Laurence, their next door neighbor has sent over cake and ice cream along with flowers for decoration. The note says he heard of their generosity and wanted to send a few "trifles" of appreciation. The girls decide they would like to become better acquainted with Mr. Laurence and his grandson Laurie.


Chapter 2 introduces the pattern of caring for others in the neighborhood and shows that although the girls complain about their state, they will immediately give up something they wanted if someone else needs it. It also prepares the scene for the entrance of the Laurence’s into the March lives.

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