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"Christmas will not be fun if we don't get new things," said Jo March. "Why can't we have money like other people?" said Meg. She looked down at her old shoes. "Other girls have lots of nice things. We have very little," said Amy. "We have Father and Mother. And we have enough to get by," said Beth. "But Father is not here!" said Jo. "He could be away for a year or more." Mr. March was away helping the Army. The four March girls were getting ready for Christmas. They did not have a lot of money. They did have lots of love. Meg was the oldest. She was pretty with big eyes and soft, red hair. Then there was Jo. She had dark brown hair. Jo liked to make up plays. The girls would act them out. She wished she were a boy, and acted like one. Next came Beth. She had the kindest face. She was always good. Last of the March girls, was Amy. She was as pretty as a picture and thought so, too . The girls heard a noise from outside. Mother was home at last. She had gone to help a woman who could not get up and around. The woman had no food to eat. Mother thought it would be nice to bring Christmas breakfast to the woman.
Table of Contents
|Suggestions for Further Reading||xxix|
|A Note on the Text||xxxi|
Reading Group Guide
1. In the first two chapters, the girls use John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress as a model for their own journey to becoming "little women." What was Alcott trying to say by using such a strongly philosophical piece of literature as the girls' model?
2. What purpose does Beth's death serve? Was Alcott simply making a sentimental novel even more so, or was this a play on morality and philosophy? Do you think Beth was intended to be a Christ figure?
3. Consider the fact that Beth will never reach sexual maturity or marry. What do you think this says about the institution of marriage and, more important, about womanhood?
4. Consider Jo's writing: While we are treated to citations from "The Pickwick Portfolio" and the family's letters to one another, we are never presented with an excerpt from Jo's many literary works, though the text tells us they are quite successful. Why is this?
5. Do you find it surprising that once Laurie is rejected by Jo, he falls in love with Amy? Do you feel his characterization is complete and he is acting within the "norm" of the personality Alcott has created for him, or does Alcott simply dispose of him once our heroine rejects him?
6. Some critics argue that the characters are masochistic. Meg is the perfect little wife, Amy is the social gold digger, and Beth is the eternally loving and patient woman. Do you believe these characterizations are masochistic? If so, do you think Alcott could have characterized them any other way while maintaining the realism of the society she lived in? And if this is true, what of Jo's character?
7. The last two chapters find Jo setting aside her budding literary career to run a school with her husband. Why do you think Alcott made her strongest feminine figure sacrifice her own life plans for her husband's?
8. Alcott was a student of transcendentalism. How and where does this philosophy affect Alcott's writing, plot, and characterization?
9. Do you believe this is a feminine or a feminist piece of work?
"I am not afraid of storms, for I am learning how to sail my ship."
Louisa May Alcott (quote from Little Women