Skip to main content

A Review of "Little Women" by Louisa May Alcott

Since retiring, Paul has taken to reading classical English literature. British romantic classics from the 19th century are his favorites.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott is a classic of American literature enjoyed by many generations of readers and especially myself. When I was a young boy in the early 1950s, Louisa May Alcott was introduced to me in a card game called Authors that I can still remember playing with my mother. At that time, I remember seeing her picture on playing cards along with other famous American authors such as Nathaniel Hawthorne, Washington Irving, and Mark Twain.

Readers of all ages have delighted in Little Women, which is a story loosely based on Alcott's childhood and her experience with her three sisters. The novel tells of American girlhood and young womanhood in the second half of the 19th century as lived through the choices made by four sisters—Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy.

According to Regina Barreca, professor of English and feminist theory at the University of Connecticut, autonomy, creativity, freedom, and community are the legacies of Little Women.

Setting and Characters

The setting of the novel Little Women is (presumably) the Alcott home in Concord, Massachusetts during and following the American Civil War (1861–1865). Major characters in the story include the four March sisters (Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy), Mrs. March (or Marmee), and Laurie (or Teddy), Mr. Laurence's grandson.

At the beginning of the novel, Meg the oldest (16 years) and most beautiful sister, works as a governess during the day to help support her family. At 15, Jo is rebellious and tomboyish with a very bad temper. During the day, she also works outside of the house as a companion for her rich Aunt March. The next oldest, Beth, is 13. She is delicate, sickly, and endowed with musical talent in playing the piano. She receives her education at home. Amy, the youngest at 12, is spoiled, artistic, and very worldly. She attends school.

Mrs. March or Marmee is a wise religious mother who wants her daughters to appreciate hard work and poverty and also be of service to the community. Laurie, or Teddy, is the 15-year-old grandson of the next-door neighbor, Mr. Laurence. He is an orphan living with his grandfather. This fun-loving lad is being tutored at home by Mr. John Brooke.

Plot Synopsis

The book begins just before Christmas in (probably) 1861. Mrs. March and her four daughters—Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy—are living in poor conditions in (probably) the New England area of the United States. The father, Mr. March, is serving as a chaplain with the Union Army during the Civil War.

On Christmas Day, the Marches give their breakfast to a German immigrant family whose mother has just given birth. In the following days before New Year's Day, Meg and Jo attend a holiday party in a distant neighborhood. There they meet the 15-year-old boy, Laurie, who lives next door to them.

Within the next few days, Jo takes the initiative to make friends with Laurie. He quickly becomes almost a brother to all of the sisters and develops a special friendship with Jo. During the next year, the friendship between the March and the Laurence family (Laurie and Mr. Laurence) grows and blossoms. Laurie is included in all of the daily fun activities the girls partake in, including writing clubs, picnics, skating, and going to the movies.

During the year, Jo starts writing short stories for money and a romance develops between John Brooke and Meg. Jo is taught how to control her temper and Amy is punished at school for trying to impress her classmates with a stock of prohibited lemons in her desk. After Beth endears Mr. Laurence by playing the piano, he presents her with a small piano that was originally intended for his dead granddaughter.

After Mrs. March travels to Washington D.C. to be with her husband who is seriously ill with pneumonia in December of probably 1862, Beth contracts and almost dies of scarlet fever. Christmas is happy, however, as Beth's fever breaks, and she starts to recover right when Mr. and Mrs. March and John Brook return from Washington.

As part two of the novel begins, three years have passed, and the March sisters are now almost all "little women." After Meg and John Brooke get married, Laurie starts his college life. Amy, who has impressed her aunt and other relatives with good manners, is rewarded by them and taken on a long trip to Europe.

A while later, Jo suspects that Beth loves Laurie. To let a relationship between them develop, Jo decides to take a job as a governess in New York City during the autumn and winter in a boarding house run by Mrs. March's friend. While there, Jo does more writing and meets Professor Bahre.

Shortly after Jo returns home, Laurie graduates from college and wants to marry her. When Jo refuses, Laurie is heartbroken but agrees to go with his grandfather on a long trip to Europe to forget about Jo. While in Europe, Laurie meets up with Amy.

Scroll to Continue

Read More From Owlcation

While all of the above is happening, Beth is starting to seriously fail in her health, probably due to complications of her scarlet fever. Beth eventually dies. The end of the novel is surprising but happy. You must read this book to find out what happens to Jo, Amy, Laurie, and Professor Bahre.

Important Themes

As I read Little Women, I realized four main themes are expressed in this outstanding novel. They are as follows:

1. Independence and Freedom of Women

Independence is demonstrated by the actions of Jo. According to Jo, women need not be tied down and supported by men or others. They can make their living and choose their careers.

2. Remaining True to Principles

This is a virtue given to the March sisters by their mother and father. Professor Bahre reinforces this virtue when critiquing Jo's writing. Meg and Amy also learn that they should not put on an air and pretend to be people they are not.

3. Creativity

This theme is expressed in the writing ability of Jo, the music of Beth, and the art of Amy. It is also seen in the drama skits written and produced by all four sisters.

4. Helping the Community

Early in the book, Mrs. March shows her daughters how to be compassionate when she helps the German immigrants. The grandfather, Mr. Laurence, also helps the community with his philanthropy. Finally, Jo exhibits this virtue in her plans to establish a school for boys.

The Takeaway

I have nothing but good things to say about Little Women. It is a great book for all ages, especially girls and young women. The plot of the book moves very smoothly, and I guarantee that you will fall in love with most of the characters. This novel should be read today because it is filled with very good moral messages. These messages include the importance of work, compassion, helping neighbors, being true to your principles, and loving your siblings and parents.

Although some might judge Little Women as being too juvenile or pro-feminist for the time it was written, you can't deny that it is a great novel for the moral messages the author succeeds in getting across to readers.

Biography of Louisa May Alcott

Louisa May Alcott was born in Pennsylvania on November 29, 1832. Her father, Amos Bronson Alcott, was an unsuccessful poet who taught Louisa until she was 16. During Alcott's childhood, Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Nathaniel Hawthorne were family friends and taught her about writing.

When Louisa was a girl, the Alcotts lived in Boston and Concord Massachusetts. Due to family poverty, from 1850 to 1862, Louisa May Alcott worked as a teacher, seamstress, governess, domestic helper, and writer to help support her family.

Alcott's writing career began in 1851. That year, she published poems, short stories, and thrillers under the pen name of Flora Fairfield. Based on her service as a nurse in Washington D.C. during the Civil War, Alcott published Hospital Sketches in 1863. Louisa May Alcott started using her real name in articles written in the Atlantic Monthly and Lady's Companion during the 1860s.

After a trip to Europe in 1865, Little Women was published in two volumes in 1868 and 1869. Other notable books written by Louisa May Alcott include Little Men (1871), Eight Cousins (1875), and Jo's Boys (1886). All of these books were sequels to her masterpiece Little Women. Louisa May Alcott was single throughout her life and died in Boston on March 6, 1888.

(This biographical information was researched at Wikipedia and

© 2015 Paul Richard Kuehn


Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on September 01, 2020:

Thanks for your comment. No, I have watched the movie adaptation of "Little Women," but I am anxious to do so.

Literarycreature from Argentina on August 19, 2020:

I have read "Little Women" numerous times, and it is one of my favorite books ever (I have also written an article about it myself last year) so it is wonderful to find people who appreciates the story as it deserves. Some people think that it is boring, and girlish, and I really can't understand it, it is so beautifully written!

Have you watch the last movie adaptation of "Little Women"? Since you think so highly of the book I thought I would ask for your opinion on the subject.

Great review!

Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on May 14, 2020:

Thank you very much for your nice comment about my review of Little Women. Have you read other books by Alcott?

LisaJane on May 14, 2020:

I love this book review. You did a great job. I have read this book and it is one of my favorite books.

Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on February 10, 2019:

Donetta, I am very happy that you think highly of my review. Have you read the other books in the series, namely "Little Men" and "jo's Boys?" I won't tell you the ending of Little Women. If you read the other two books, you will find out.

Donetta Sifford from Parrott, Virginia on February 10, 2019:

I read Little Women when I was a child and adored it. My favorite of the March sisters was Jo and I remember being disappointed when she turns down Laurie's proposal. This is a wonderful review. It's been quite awhile since I read the book so I have forgotten the ending. I must put this on my reading list so I can be reminded of the March sisters' fate.

Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on November 03, 2015:

I have just finished reading "Little Men". It is a good sequel to "Little Women" and I think you will enjoy it, too.

- from Scotland on August 10, 2015:

Made for very interesting reading and having read your post it makes me want to read it all over again! So interesting the background and to read anothers observations.

Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on April 11, 2015:

Larry, As soon as you have the chance, you should read Little Women. You definitely won't regret it. I'm happy you liked my review.

Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on April 11, 2015:

Hi Mary, For a strange reason, I started becoming very interested in the Bronte sisters 4 years. I really loved the romantic themes in Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre. I turned to Louisa May Alcott because I wanted to compare her with the Bronte sisters who wrote at almost the same time. I am very happy you liked my book review.

Larry Rankin from Oklahoma on April 10, 2015:

Little Women is a classic that I haven't got around to reading yet.

Great read.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on April 09, 2015:

I absolutely loved reading that book as well as some others written by Louisa May Alcott and your review of it was excellent. It definitely teaches good moral values and is an interesting snapshot of that day and time as well as that family's circumstances. Up votes and happy to pin to my books board as well as share.

Mary Craig from New York on April 09, 2015:

Very interesting review of Little Women Paul. I have to admit I was surprised when I first read you were reviewing it but you have done a masterful job. I'm not saying you can't review a book, it's just that Little Women is such a woman's book! Well done my friend.

Voted up, useful, awesome, and interesting.

Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on April 08, 2015:

Unfortunately I never read any of Louisa May Alcott's books when I was young. Maybe it's because I only thought they were intended for girls and young women, I wish I would have read Little Women before, because I found it very interesting and enjoyable. Thanks for the votes, pinning, and sharing with followers!

C E Clark from North Texas on April 08, 2015:

I loved all the books Alcott wrote. My grandmother had them all in hardcover, the ones you named, and loaned them to me when I was just 9 years old. They were quite worn as they had been loaned to all my girl cousins too, and I have a lot of cousins!

Voted up and interesting. Pinning to Awesome HubPages and shared with followers.

Related Articles