Free Study Guide: Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

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The overall plot of the novel is fairly simple. Four girls begin the story as teens or nearly teens, and each matures through a variety of experiences to enter adulthood. As they grow, they learn to place value on things of real worth, and they establish their individual priorities.

Within that framework, however, the novel contains a number of subplots. Three of these involve romance in which Meg, Jo and Amy have very different ideas of their future mates than the people they actually fall in love with. Meg and Jo grow up very close to the people they marry, but fail to realize it until circumstances give them a different look at their menfolk. Jo never intends to marry at all and has little patience with romantic notions; thus she is quite innocent of her own growing attachment to Professor Bhaer. Bethís death is the climax for Jo because it emphasizes her loneliness and motivates her to look for another friend.

Bethís story is another subplot, one which ends in her death. Another is the development of Jo as a successful author. When Jo receives payment for her first story, we might expect her to pursue a writing career with more enthusiasm. For a time, she does write prolifically, but as she becomes more involved with tutoring young lads, her writing is set aside.


Family love

All members of the family as well as the adopted family, the Laurences, are an important part of the emphasis on closeness and caring. Because the girls do love each other, they sometime take each other for granted and excuse small slights given and taken.


The emphasis on sisters is a sub-theme of family love. Two of the sisters, Jo and Amy, are outspoken and opinionated. They pair up with the two quieter sisters, Meg favoring Amy and Jo favoring Beth. In spite of a little sibling rivalry, however, once they are adults, the sistersí interrelationship is strongly cemented by their desire and determination to continue helping and looking out for each other.

The Definition of Wealth

Wealth-or the value of it-is a dominant thread through the entire novel. The loss of wealth and status was keenly felt by LMA herself, and she built the concepts into her characters as they long for something that has been lost, learn to live without it, eventually realize that there are different kinds of wealth, and finally understand that true wealth has very little to do with money or high society.


The theme of growing up goes hand in hand with understanding wealth, appreciating what they have, and finding the value in each other. Two of the characters, Meg and Beth donít change much by the end of the novel, but Jo and Amy both adjust their priorities, learn to be considerate of others and discover ways to share their possessions and their individual talent.


The Campbell style heroís journey enters into the story with three of the characters, Jo, Laurie and Amy. Although each characterís journey takes place for a different reason, each one leaves in "quest" of one thing and finds something else. Jo leaves to get away from Laurie and to earn some money and finds a lifelong friend and mate. Amy leaves to pursue her artistic talent and finds that a life behind an easel isnít want she wants after all. Laurie leaves-at the insistence of his grandfather-to find consolation and explore his music after being rejected by Jo and finds Amy who is much better suited to him, but whom he had not previously considered in his lifelong plans.

Female Independence versus Submission

Female independence is surely the most controversial theme of the novel and is likely to stir lively discussion. The narrator emphasizes submission and places responsibility for maintaining a pleasant home squarely on the shoulders of the women even. Yet, much of the income is brought into the home by the March sisters, and the March women in general "run" things. One must ask whether the narrator is trying to convince the reader or herself of the "appropriate" attitude and behavior for females.

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Little Women by Louisa May Alcott: Free BookNotes Summary

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