Little Women (1868)

by Louisa May Alcott

Even though written to communicate moral lessons to girls of the late 19th century, Little Women remains beloved today. Its portrayal of women as equal partners with minds and talents, its emphasis on the value of character rather than image, keep it relevant. Main character Jo, who is outspoken, unladylike, and determined to make her own way in the world, continues to win over readers.

Most people know the outlines of the plot. Little Women opens with the four March sisters — Meg, 16; Jo, 15; Beth, 13, and Amy, 12 — and their beloved mother, Marmee, living in genteel poverty in small-town New England. The formerly well-to-do family has fallen on hard times. Mr. March is away as a Civil War chaplain. The sisters keep up their spirits through
chats with the wise Marmee, interests like writing and drawing, and group activities like homemade plays and literary societies, in which they're joined by “poor little rich boy” Laurie, a neighbor they befriend. They have experiences through which Alcott meant to teach lessons about overcoming character traits such as Meg's vanity, Jo's temper, Beth's shyness, and Amy's selfishness. Their father returns; the girls grow up; there are marriages, births, and a death; and the little women are launched on their adult paths.

Alcott grew up in Concord, Massachusetts, with three sisters, and Little Women is loosely based on her experiences. She wrote two sequels featuring the March sisters, Little Men (1871) and Jo's Boys (1886).


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