Little Women Book Summary - Little Women Book explained in key points
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Little Women summary

Louisa M. Alcott

A Coming-of-Age Novel about True Love and Finding One's Place in Life

4.7 (67 ratings)
23 mins

Brief summary

Little Women by Louisa M. Alcott is a classic novel that tells the story of the March sisters as they navigate through adolescence and adulthood. It explores themes such as family, love, and the challenges of growing up in the 19th century.

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    Little Women
    Summary of 4 key ideas

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    Key idea 1 of 4

    Love Thy Neighbor

    It was Christmas, and the four March sisters, Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy, were determined to make the best of it. It wasn’t easy. Meg, the oldest at sixteen years of age, hated the fact that the family had very little money these days. Jo, a year younger than Meg, also had to wonder whether Christmas can really be Christmas without any presents. Meanwhile, 13-year-old Beth hoped she would still be allowed to spend a little money and buy some new sheet music, while 12-year-old Amy longed for some new drawing pencils.

    This less-than-ideal Christmas was the result of a couple extraordinary factors. Years ago, when the sisters were quite young, their father, Robert March, lost a good deal of money trying to help out a friend. Since then, the Marches had not enjoyed the level of comfort and wealth they once did.

    But the more pressing matter was the ongoing American Civil War. Mr. March had enlisted to become a chaplain for the Union Army, meaning the four sisters were without a father this Christmas. The war also meant that the matriarch of the family, Margaret – or “Marmee” as she is known among the siblings – believed that with so many men suffering in the army, the family could show their respects by not wasting money on frivolous pleasures.

    Meg agreed that this was a sacrifice they should all make gladly, even though she admitted that she herself couldn’t quite rise to the “gladly” part. But the family would make an even nobler sacrifice that morning. When they got downstairs for breakfast, their mother explained that a nearby family, the Hummels, had six starving children with nothing at all to eat. Marmee asked her daughters, would they give their breakfast to the Hummels as a Christmas present? There was a pause, but then Jo spoke up, thanking her mother for speaking up before they began eating. Quickly, the food was wrapped up and they all walked over to the Hummels to deliver the much needed and appreciated food.

    Their sacrifice didn’t go unnoticed by their neighbors, the Laurences, who lived in a grand house across the way. The house was occupied by Mr. James Laurence, and his grandson Theodore – who more often went by either Laurie or Teddy. Laurie was often holed up in the big house reading, studying and practicing the piano. He had a habit of peering out his window and taking note of the games and lively activities that the March sisters were always engaged in. 

    That Christmas, Laurie brought the selfless actions of the March family to his grandfather’s attention, and a feast of cakes, bonbons, ice creams, and flowers awaited them on the dinner table. Jo has a hunch that the “Laurence boy” was behind this, and her suspicions were eventually confirmed by the elder Mr. Laurence. Before this warmhearted gesture, the relationship between the Marches and the Lawrences had been mostly polite and formal. But afterward, the two households grew quite close.

    Jo always had a good feeling about Laurie, and the rest of the sisters found Jo’s intuition to be spot on. The young gentleman – he was just a little bit older than Jo – was smart, polite, honest, and in need of the kind of imaginative fun that the sisters specialized in. Laurie eventually took part in the plays that the sisters would put on, and joined the Pickwick Club, the secret society that the sisters created.

    While many of the March sisters had previously thought Laurie’s grandfather was an intimidating figure, it turned out he was actually very kind. He was grateful for the lively spirit that the sisters brought into his world. Especially Beth. She was the shyest of the sisters, but also the most talented musician. Mr. Laurence ended up gifting his baby grand piano to Beth who was beyond grateful, for the upright piano in the March house was old and worn out. Through closeness to the Laurences, the March sisters are also introduced to Laurie’s tutor, John Brooke.

    Okay. Let’s put a pin in the story here, since we’ve just met nearly all of the major characters.

    In the first couple of chapters, we get to know the four sisters rather well. We know that Meg is the one who is most concerned with wealth and all of the trappings and comforts that comes with it. As the oldest of the sisters, she best remembers what life was like before the family lost its money.

    Jo is, in some ways, the opposite. She hates sentimental nonsense and likes “boyish” things like climbing trees, racing, and other activities that Meg would consider unladylike. At one point, in order to help the cash-strapped family, she cuts off her hair and sells it, much to Meg’s horror. We also learn that Jo is a voracious reader and an aspiring writer, having written some of the plays that the sisters put on.

    In one of the most memorable early scenes in the book, Amy is jealous of Jo’s friendly relationship with Laurie and burns one of her journals, in which she was writing poetry and short stories. Jo doesn’t believe she’ll ever forgive Amy, who immediately becomes contrite and apologetic for her action. But Jo is stubborn, and doesn’t want anything to do with her sister. Then, when trying to make amends and join Jo and Laurie as they go ice skating, Amy falls into the water and nearly drowns. She’s rescued by Laurie and Jo, and the sisterly bond is mended, but it serves to remind Jo of her inability to control her temper. If Amy had died as a result of being shunned by Jo, she’d never forgive herself. She promises to be better.

    One of the continuing themes in Little Women is having a self-awareness of our shortcomings and wanting to do better. Beth knows that there are more important things in life than money, parties, and fancy clothes. Jo knows that she has a temper that needs to be better controlled. Throughout the story, Marmee is there to remind her “little women” of the virtues of modesty, being a good neighbor, and practicing self-control. In a conversation with Jo, Marmee reveals that she too once had trouble controlling her temper – and that she still experiences anger, but that over the years, by being diligent, she has learned to control it. 

    In the following sections we’ll see how the sisters continue to be tested, and how they are able to learn from their experiences and – more often than not – rise to the occasion.

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    What is Little Women about?

    Little Women (1868-1869) tells the story of the four March sisters, and the struggles and day-to-day obstacles they faced while becoming young adults. While the story takes place in the American Northeast, it’s a universal coming-of-age story that has been appreciated around the world.

    Little Women Review

    Little Women (1868) tells the heartwarming story of four sisters growing up during the American Civil War. Here's why this book is definitely worth reading:

    • With its timeless themes of love, family, and independence, it resonates with readers of all generations, reminding us of the enduring power of sisterhood.
    • The book effortlessly portrays the complexities of female characters as they navigate societal expectations and pursue their dreams, creating relatable and inspiring heroines.
    • Through its rich narrative and emotional depth, Little Women captures the essence of personal growth, offering valuable life lessons and a genuine sense of empathy.

    Who should read Little Women?

    • Fans of stories told from a female perspective
    • Lovers of classic literature
    • Anyone who likes a good young adult story

    About the Author

    Louisa May Alcott was a writer of popular novels and short stories during the 1860s and through to the 1880s. She also worked as a nurse at a Union Hospital during the American Civil War and was an active abolitionist. She died in 1888, just 55 years old.

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    Little Women FAQs 

    What is the main message of Little Women?

    The main message of Little Women is the importance of family, love, and resilience.

    How long does it take to read Little Women?

    The reading time for Little Women varies depending on the reader's speed. The Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is Little Women a good book? Is it worth reading?

    Little Women is a timeless classic worth reading. It captures the joys and struggles of sisterhood, growth, and the pursuit of dreams.

    Who is the author of Little Women?

    Louisa M. Alcott is the author of Little Women.

    What to read after Little Women?

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    • Lord of the Flies by William Golding
    • Nineteen Eighty-Four (1984) by George Orwell