Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (1832-1888)

Little Women
by Louisa May Alcott

Type of Work:

Sentimental, life drama


A small New England town; mid 1800s

Principal Characters

Mrs. March ("Marinee"), mother of four

Mr. March, her husband, and army chaplain
in the U.S. Civil War

Meg, their 16-year-old daughter

Jo, 15, wants to be an independent writer
(and serves as the novel\'s narrator)

Beth, a frail girl of 13, the "heart"
of her family

Amy, 12, the beautiful pampered youngest

Theodore Lawrence (Laurie), the boy who
moves in next door

Story Overveiw

The upcoming Christmas looked like it
would be a bleak affair to the four March girls. With their father at the

Civil War battlefront, and their saintly mother, Marmee, as they called
her, working to support her family, the holiday would be void of many of
its traditional pleasures. With the dollar Marmee said they might spend,
the girls each settled on buying simple gifts for their mother and for
the Hummel family down the road; and receiving, in kind, surprise treats
of ice cream and bonbons from rich old Mr. Lawrence next door.

The girls resolved to face life as Pilgrims,
to overcome their weaknesses, and be "good little women" by the time their
father returned. The oldest, Meg, determined to enjoy her work more and
fret less about her looks. The tomboy, Jo, pledged to better control her
temper, upgrade her writing abilities and develop feminine qualities. Amy
desired to be less selfish and less vain concerning her beautiful golden
hair. Everyone believed Beth, the home-body, to be perfect, but she earnestly
prayed to overcome her fear of people. The girls labored for the next year
to acquire these qualities, with much success and occasional failure.

At year\'s end, Meg confidently and excitedly
attended a fashionable New Year\'s dance. She talked Jo into accompanying
her, but Jo didn\'t care much for "girls or girlish gossip," and felt as
much out of place as a "colt in a flower garden." Running from a prospective
dance-mate, Jo hid behind a curtain. But she wasn\'t the only bashful one.

To her surprise, there she met little Theodore Lawrence, or "Laurie," as
everyone referred to him, the new next-door-neighbor boy. Awkwardly, they
introduced themselves, but as they peeped through the curtain together,
gossiping and chatting, they soon felt like old acquaintances. A lifelong
friendship was formed. Laurie had been orphaned as a baby and now lived
with his crusty Grandfather Lawrence in his great mansion. In the March
family, Laurie found a circle of sisters and a mother he never knew; and
they found, in him, a brother and a son.

Through that year, the girls learned to
be happy in their work. Meg, by spending two weeks at the estate of a wealthy
girl friend, discovered how wonderful her own home life was, even if her
family was poor. Jo detected that she was not the only one struggling with
outbursts of anger. Much to her amazement, her mother also possessed a
hidden temper. This knowledge helped Jo believe she could, with effort,
control hers. After all, her great wish was to become a famous romance
writer; reaching that goal would require discipline. Jo\'s romantic novels
were soon published. Amy continued to grow more beautiful, but also came
to understand the need for humility. After being embarrassingly reprimanded
before the whole school, she began to understand that "conceit spoils the
finest genius." And Beth remained extremely shy, but was still the heart
and joy of her family. Everyone, especially Jo, came to gentle Beth for

One winter day, a telegram arrived from
the war department: Mr. March was critically ill. Heartsick by this news,

Marmee felt she needed to be with her husband. With no money to spare,

Joe offered to sell her only vanity - her long, flowing chestnut hair.

The sacrifice, though tearfully made, brought twenty-five dollars, and
financed the trip. Mr. Lawrence sent along John Brooke, Laurie\'s tutor,
to assist Mrs. March in her journey. Both Mr. and Mrs. March grew to be
very fond of John - and he, in turn, became very fond of Meg.

Back at home, dark days were to visit the
little women. Patterning herself after her mother, Beth continued to care
for the large, impoverished Hummel family. One night she returned home
depressed and crying. She had just held the Hummel baby in her arms as
he died of Scarlet Fever. Beth also contracted the fever, becoming much
more infirm than anyone expected. It was a somber time for all, as she
hovered near death. Fearing the worst, the girls finally telegraphed their
mother of Beth\'s deteriorating condition. But the