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Little Women

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Little Women

by Louisa May Alcott (1832-1888)

Type of Work:

Sentimental, life drama


A small New England town; mid 1800s

Principal Characters

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

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 daughter

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

Story Overview

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 comfort.

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 very night Marmee returned, Beth's crisis passed and her health improved. It was a happy family that welcomed their mother home.

As the second Christmas arrived, the girls anticipated their father's homecoming. Their joy was complete when Laurie arrived and announced, "Here's another Christmas present for the March family," and in walked their father. During the jubilant family reunion, Mr. March admired his family, reflecting on how the girls had changed over the years. Meg had defeated



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