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Literature / Little Women

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"A book for girls being wanted by a certain publisher, she hastily scribbled a little story describing a few scenes and adventures in the lives of herself and sisters—though boys were more in her line—and with very slight hopes of success sent it out to seek its fortune.

Things always went by contraries with Jo. Her first book, labored over for years, and launched full of the high hopes and ambitious dreams of youth, floundered on its voyage, though the wreck continued to float long afterward, to the profit of the publisher at least. The hastily written story, sent away with no thought beyond the few dollars it might bring, sailed with a fair wind and a wise pilot at the helm into public favor, and came home heavily laden with an unexpected cargo of gold and glory."
Louisa May Alcott, Jo's Boys

So Louisa May Alcott vicariously describes the story behind the publication of the book that made her a celebrity overnight with an instant success most authors never dare to dream of. Alcott never intended, however, for Little Women to be her magnum opus; she only needed a little money. Isn't irony wonderful? The novel was published in two volumes in 1868-1869.note 

Little Women is the story of four sisters, modeled after Alcott and her own, whose once-prosperous New England family has fallen into genteel poverty. Now all young teenagers, the book chronicles their various small attempts to cope with their newly-reduced status, get along with each other, and just generally grow up while their father is away during The American Civil War. The March sisters are:

  • Meg (short for Margaret), the brunette beauty of the family and the responsible first-born who tries to set a good example for her sisters, make Jo behave more like a lady and Amy less like one, and look less poor than she is in front of her rich friends, the Moffat family. Good-hearted and motherly, but also constantly fights against vanity, self-indulgence and discontent, especially given she's the sister who can most clearly remember the family's prosperous past.
  • Jo (a Tomboyish Name for Josephine): Alcott's Author Avatar and, by 19th-century standards, a tomboy—i.e., she likes to stand with her hands in her pockets, whistle, and exclaim "Christopher Columbus!". Jo generally tends to occupy the opposite end of the Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism from her sisters, being plain faced, bold, ambitious, blunt, terribly unladylike, and the unofficial protagonist. Like Alcott, she is a devoted writer. She grows out of her immature, occasionally Big Sister Bully ways with Amy and becomes more maternal and in control of her temper, particularly after she starts her career in New York.
  • Beth (short for Elizabeth): Shy, quiet, tranquil and gentle, practically perfect in every way except for her utter timidity around everyone and everything but her family. Jo's closest confidante along with Meg, as her real-life counterpart Lizzie was to Alcott (the one counterpart, in fact, whose name wasn't changed). Like the real Beth, she becomes ill with scarlet fever and remains fragile and weak long after recovery.
  • Amy: The yellow-haired, graceful, vain but essentially good-hearted youngest child who grows from a Spoiled Brat into a Naïve Everygirl, and very pointedly Jo's opposite. Her talent—which, she famously laments, isn't exactly genius-level—lies in the visual arts.

Their closest friend is their wealthy old neighbor's newly-arrived grandson: handsome, mischievous, half-Italian Theodore "Laurie" Laurence. He quickly befriends Jo, and the others soon after. Women in town wonder to which sister their mother is planning to marry him off, but in fact they are all Just Friends, Like Brother And Sisters—which becomes a significant plot point later.

Other characters include: their strong-willed mother Margaret, whom they call "Marmee" (in the 19th-century New England accent, "Marmee" would be pronounced "Mommy"); their father, a gentleman reverend ruined financially through helping a friend (an idealized version of Louisa's father, prominent Transcendentalist Bronson Alcott); their maid and friend, Hannah; Laurie's tutor, John Brooke, who falls in love with Meg; and their nightmare of a meddling relative, Aunt March, for whom Jo and later Amy work as a companion. The book is fraught with Shout Outs and Homages to Pilgrim's Progress and Anvilicious Aesops at a time before that was considered cliche.


The book has been adapted to film several times.

It has also spent time in other media:

  • Ai no Wakakusa Monogatari is a 1987 animated series adapting the novel.
  • Geronimo Stilton (The Classic Tales Series) had an issue which adapted the novel using the illustrated mouse characters.
  • A miniseries adaptation was produced for the BBC in 2017, penned by acclaimed playwright and screenwriter Heidi Thomas. It starred Emily Watson as Marmee, Maya Hawke as Jo, Willa Fitzgerald as Meg, Kathryn Newton as Amy, Annes Elwy as Beth, and Jonah Hauer-King as Laurie.
  • Four anime works (three TV series, including one called Jo's Boys but actually based on Little Men, and a TV special).
  • A musical and an opera.
  • A professional fanfic — Geraldine Brooks' March, telling the story of Mr. March, the mostly-absent father from Little Women — won a Pulitzer Prize for fiction.
  • Pemberley Digital, the YouTube company behind The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, adapted this story into The March Family Letters, video-diary entries which are being sent to Marmee while she's away for a year.
  • A modern graphic-novel retelling, called Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy, was released in February 2019, that relocates the family to modern-day Brooklyn written by author Rey Terciero and illustrator Bre Indigo.
  • Little Witches: Magic in Concord — A graphic novel published by Oni Press in October, 2020 that casts the main characters as witches.
  • Jo: A Graphic Novel — A graphic novel adaptation set in the modern day.
  • Marmee (2022), a retelling from Mrs. March's perspective and secrets of her own.
  • My Little Pony Classics Reimagined: Little Fillies (2022-2023) — A four-issue comic series retelling the story with the cast of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic.

Also, despite sharing the same names for the protagonists, this one has absolutely nothing to do with Burst Angel.

Note: Little Men and Jo's Boys tropes are NOT LISTED HERE. They can be found and added to this page.

Little Women provides examples of:

  • Actually Pretty Funny: When Jo grumbles about having to help Amy arrange a social outing for a bunch of rich girls who aren't likely to accept the invitation, Amy snaps that she prefers being personable to affecting independence by going about with her elbows out and her nose in the air. Jo laughs so hard at this caricature of herself that she doesn't complain any more about pitching in.
  • Adaptational Attractiveness:
    • Save for Meg who is always described as being the prettiest of the March girls (and very pretty generally) and the adult Amy who grows to be "attractive and pleasing to the face" though not beautiful, the book makes no attempt to hide the very ordinary looks of some of its protagonists (especially Jo and Professor Bhaer), which obviously isn't going to work onscreen.
    • In the 1994 film, Professor Bhaer, who is described in the novel as overweight and rather grizzled, is played by Gabriel Byrne. In the 1949 version, he's played by the handsome and dashing Italian actor Rossano Brazzi, who was only 32 at the time. The very handsome Ian Bohen plays him in the 2018 adaptation. Louis Garrel, from the 2019 version, is one of the most attractive actors to portray Friedrich in live-action.
    • Likewise Jo, who in the book is described as "tall and brown, with big hands and feet and a flyway look to her" is played by petite, fair-skinned June Allyson in the 1949 film and Winona Ryder in the 1994 film. Katharine Hepburn probably comes closest to averting this; while Hepburn was certainly striking, in the film she is all coltish limbs and angular face, definitely not a classic beauty like Allyson or Ryder. Saoirse Ronan in the 2019 version is also fair-skinned and pretty, although with her stronger, more angular features, she does stand out as less of a classic beauty than her sisters, much like Hepburn did in 1933.
    • Marmee is described as "greying and not particularly handsome". She's been played by Susan Sarandon and Mary Astor in notable adaptations. Spring Byington in the 1933 version is closer to the book.
    • To a lesser extent, Meg, the novel does describe her as very pretty and the beauty of the family but also as "plump" (though considering the time-period of the book, this doesn't mean "fat" or "overweight" but rather shapely and womanly), which doesn't describe the figures of the actresses that portrayed her.
  • Age Lift: The 1949 film version portrays Amy as a teenager, with Beth being a child several years younger than the other three.note 
  • Affectionate Nickname: "Teddy" for Laurie, which he is called by childhood friend Jo.
  • Alpha Bitch: Amy's classmate, Jenny Snow, and, to a lesser degree, her artistic rival, May Chester.
  • Author Appeal: Professor Bhaer, according to some theories.
  • Author Filibuster: Some of the Author Tract pages mentioned below can get a little boring and preachy. Alcott pleads guilty when she writes about Jo's experience writing a novel that might more accurately "have been called an essay or a sermon, so intensely moral was it."
  • Author Tract: The entire series has whole pages of Alcott's views on life, from respecting old maids to staying true to your faith.
  • Backup Twin: They did this in the 1979 TV-film adaptation; Eve Plumb had the role of Beth, and she was so popular they brought her back as an identical cousin.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For:
    • The old "a week of all play and no work" experiment takes up a chapter of Little Women. The March sisters decide to take the entire week off without doing any chores at all, but they eventually realize that a whole week of doing nothing can get extremely boring, along with the fact that even the most basic household chores need to be done when you're on vacation.
    • In "Jo Meeets Apollyon," Amy causes all of the trouble by burning Jo's book after Jo refuses to let her go on an outing with the older siblings and adults. This means everyone is angry at Amy, who at first is only apologetic because she feels "unloved". The next day, she whines that "crosspatch" Jo isn't taking her skating for the last ice, and Meg gives her permission to go for an opportunity for Jo to forgive her little sister. This "suited" Amy fine, and she goes, only to fall through a rotten patch of ice due to Jo not warning her. Then it means no more outings for Amy for a while as she needs her bedrest.
  • Best Friends-in-Law: Jo and Laurie become this when Laurie marries Amy.
  • Better as Friends: Jo feels this way about Laurie. She says that the two of them are Too Much Alike ever to pursue a romantic relationship successfully. Laurie disagrees until he marries Amy (the sister who is most different from Jo), after which he tells Jo he's happy to love her as his sister.
  • Betty and Veronica: In the 1987 anime series, Laurie and Anthony (an anime-only character) are this to Jo... who doesn't really fancy either one of them.
  • Bookworm: Jo loves literature and is also a devoted writer.
  • Brainy Brunette:
    • Jo has thick chestnut hair and is a wildly intelligent and imaginative girl.
    • Arguably, Meg is this as well, since she does work as a tutor for a rich family.
  • Break the Haughty: Amy's particular besetting sin is vanity, and thus it gets several small tweaks throughout — most notably when she tries to be In with the In Crowd at school by bringing in forbidden pickled limes, is caught and gets humiliated by her Stern Teacher. Meg gets a similar gentle smackdown while trying to play 'fine lady' at the Moffats'.
  • Broken Aesop: Amy dumps Fred Vaughn, deciding it's wrong to marry someone you don't love for their money, only to turn around and fall in love with her wealthy childhood friend Laurie. This is probably more of an author fumble. It's supposed to be taken for granted that Amy is the perfect girl for Laurie (Jo even says he needs a refined girl in her "Like Brother and Sister" speech), and they actually do fall in love over time. Still, the fact that Amy gets true love AND a rich man doesn't help. Laurie himself teases her about this, to Amy's utter mortification, and she hustles to assure him that she'd never, ever, ever marry him unless she loved him.
  • The Caretaker: Jo, towards Beth in the second half of Little Women.
  • Canon Foreigner: David March in the 1987 anime.
  • Caught in the Rain: When Jo shares an umbrella with Mr. Bhaer, a proposal soon follows.
  • Collateral Angst: It's painful for Beth to die young; it's more painful for Jo to live without her dead little sister. As Louisa knew firsthand.
  • Cool Old Lady:
    • Marmee is a kind and doting mother to her daughters, dishing out sound life advice and encouraging them to follow their dreams.
    • Averted with Aunt March, to the point that it's Lampshaded: "Some old people keep young at heart in spite of wrinkles and grey hair, can sympathize with children's little cares and joys, make them feel at home, and can hide wise lessons under pleasant plays, giving and receiving friendship in the sweetest way. But Aunt March had not this gift."
  • Cool Uncle / Cool Aunt:
    • Professor Bhaer is a fun uncle, and Jo catches him frolicking with not only his own nephews, but the children of the boarding house's landlady and maid.
    • Jo herself is Daisy's and Demi's favorite playmate. "Aunt Dodo" is not afraid to frolic with the children, either, and happily dotes on her sister's babies.
  • Cross-Cast Role: An In-Universe example in the 2019 film, with Meg in such a role for the play she and her sisters are performing.
  • Deadpan Snarker: From a nineteenth-century perspective, Jo and Laurie, the latter especially.
  • Did Not Get the Girl: Laurie because said girl didn't even want him in the first place, and made it very clear when he spoke to her.
  • Disproportionate Retribution:
    • Amy burns Jo's manuscript of the book she'd labored over for years in order to make her sister "pay" for the not-exactly-heinous crime of not allowing her to accompany the adults to the theatre. It's even worse since Jo promised to take her on another outing, as well as pointing out Hannah was going to take her and Beth to see the play the next week.
    • The next day, with none of this resolved, Jo and Laurie go skating. Amy, once again snubbed by Jo, follows them anyway. She skates on a dangerous part of the ice, but she doesn't know this. Jo does, but doesn't warn her. Amy almost drowns as a result, and Jo suffers a serious My God, What Have I Done?.
  • Disney Death: As Jo and Meg are watching over the sleeping, scarlet fever-wracked Beth, the fever flush suddenly leaves her face and her expression turns peaceful. For just a moment Jo thinks her sister has died, but then Hannah checks her vital signs and realizes that just the opposite is true: her fever has broken and she's on the road to recovery. Sadly, she never fully recovers really does die several years later.
  • Distracted from Death: A few adaptations handle Beth's death this way.
    • In the 1994 film, Jo gets up from Beth's deathbed when the wind opens some shutters. When she returns to the bedside, Beth has died.
    • In the 2019 film, Jo wakes up to find Beth's bed empty, her body having already been removed.
    • In Mark Adamo's 1998 opera, Beth falls asleep after her last conversation with Jo, and then Jo dozes off too. When she wakes up, she finds that Beth has died in her sleep.
  • Easily Forgiven: Subverted. This is how every good person should be in this time period, but Jo cannot forgive Amy for burning her manuscript. She only forgives Amy when the latter nearly dies from drowning in a pond, and when her temper led to her not warning Amy of the danger.
  • Embarrassing First Name: Laurie is not too fond of being a Theodore because he objects to the schoolboy nickname Dora; he insists upon being called Laurie... a feminine name to modern readers. This is referenced in an episode of Friends where Joey reads the book. He first assumes that Laurie is a girl, and that Jo must be a boy. Lampshaded as well in the 1994 movie when Jo mentions Laurie to Professor Bhaer... and he thinks she's talking about one of her sisters.
  • Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: While the Moffats aren't evil, per se, they are shallow, vain, and materialistic, and assume that Marmee is being kind to Laurie in the hopes that he will one day marry one of her daughters and thereby gain access to his fortune. Meg's friend Sallie, who married Ned Moffat, loves visiting Meg's house, even though it's tiny and unfashionable, and she has no idea why she enjoys it so much. The narrator hints that it's because Meg's and John's marriage is warmer than Sallie's, and so too is their home and family life, especially with their children.
  • Executive Meddling In-Universe: Jo meets several publishers who won't publish her work unless she piles up the tragedy and gore and cuts the aesops because "Morals don't sell."
  • Faint in Shock: Marmee faints when she receives the news that her husband has contracted pneumonia while serving as a chaplain in the American Civil War.
  • Falling into His Arms: Played for Laughs in the Winona Ryder film. Meg, Jo, Laurie and John Brooke return from an evening at the theater, and as they exit the carriage, Jo raves about the lead actress being "a wonderful swooner."
    Jo: If only I were the swooning type! [dramatically falling from the carriage]
    Laurie: [sardonically, watching her fall] If only I were the catching type.
  • Fashion Hurts: But oh, my, we must be elegant or die!
  • Felony Misdemeanor: To the contemporary audience: Amy's teacher hits her for bringing in pickled limes. This was considered perfectly reasonable at the time, but Marmee doesn't approve of it and pulls her out of school in response.
    • The 2019 version changes the reason for the punishment to Amy drawing a caricature of her teacher. While it keeps the Disproportionate Retribution effect intact, it makes it clearer to modern audiences to see how a teacher might see that as a punishable infraction while still being able to sympathize with Marmee pulling Amy out of school, and also foreshadowing Amy's artistic talents.
  • Fiery Redhead: Jo's hair is chestnut brown, which at least has a hint of red in it. She is, however, almost always a redhead in The Musical, as that is how she was initially played by Sutton Foster. One of the anime adaptations portrays her as a freckled blonde. She's also played by redhead Saoirse Ronan in the 2019 film.
  • The Film of the Book: Many, including
  • First-Name Basis: In the middle of their Relationship Upgrade, Jo slips and calls Professor Bhaer "Fritz," which is what she's always called him in her head.
  • Flower Motifs: While Laurie and Amy are taking a walk through a rose garden, Laurie gets pricked by a red rose he tried to pick while thinking of Jo, whom he last saw when she turned down his marriage proposal. Amy then gives him a thorn-free white rose. Laurie instantly thinks of the color symbolism - red roses are for romance, white roses are for funerals, and he wonders if this is either a sign about his changing feelings for the two sisters or an omen of death. He chides himself for being so superstitious and laughs it off, but since eventually he and Amy fall in love and Beth dies, it doesn't sound so funny.
  • Foreshadowing: When introducing Beth, the narrator makes a remark about how her type of quiet kindness and cheerfulness is never fully appreciated until it is gone forever; the tone is such that there might as well be an arrow pointing to Beth with "DOOMED" written on it in letters of fire.
  • Four-Girl Ensemble: The original!: Meg, the oldest, is the lecturer and mature example-setter who wants a husband and family; Jo is the tomboy who wants a career, fame, and fortune; Beth is the shy, gentle and musical one who wants to stay with her family; Amy is the vain and spoiled but later artistic and flirty young lady who wants to marry someone with money.
  • Four-Temperament Ensemble: Meg is phlegmatic, Jo is choleric, Beth is melancholic and Amy is sanguine.
  • Forbidden Fruit:
    • Meg is poised and ready to reject John Brooke's marriage proposal out of fear, until Aunt March shows up and, unaware of her decision, orders her not to accept him.
    • A literal example are the pickled limes Amy brings to school despite being forbidden to do so by the stern teacher Mr. Davis.
  • Friend to All Children: Professor Bhaer. He happily plays with not only his own nephews, but Mrs. Kirke's daughters and Tina, the daughter of the boardinghouse's maid. When he comes to court Jo, he gets on famously with Daisy and Demi, and the narration slyly notes that men often are seized with sudden and inexplicable admiration for the young relatives of the women they wished to marry— but no, he actually just really loves kids and has a great talent for sympathizing with them and not trivializing them, which is part of what makes him such an excellent teacher. That he goes on to not only open a boarding school for boys, in addition to raising his two nephews and two sons of his own, says it all.
  • Full-Name Ultimatum: When Aunt March calls Jo "Josephine."
  • Gag Haircut: Jo accidentally burns a bit of Meg's hair off while trying to curl it before Belle Gardiner's coming out ball. Thankfully she's able to hide it with a bow.
  • Gentle Giant: Professor Bhaer is as tall as he's kind.
  • Get A Hold Of Yourself Man: Laurie gets this treatment from Amy after Jo rejects him. It works very well.
  • The Glorious War of Sisterly Rivalry:
    • Amy and Jo are often shown to be at loggerheads, both being of stubborn and fiery temperaments and often holding wildly different views on social norms and issues. They mellow out as they get older, with Beth's death bringing them closer together.
    • Averted with Jo and Meg, who are actually very close despite how different they are. The closest to "fights" that they have consist of Meg telling Jo off for Saying Too Much or things like that. Jo even shows jealousy of Meg's boyfriend and later husband John Brooke. Not out of malice, but because she's scared of losing Meg's emotional support. Also averted with Meg and Amy, the latter being Meg's "pet," although she does sometimes tell her off too, and even further averted with Beth, who adores and is adored by all her sisters, especially Jo.
  • Gossipy Hens: The old ladies that wonder if Meg and Jo are Gold Diggers in training under Marmee's direction, and unknowingly drive Meg to an Heroic BSoD when she hears them. They also appear in the 40's movie adaptations, and are overheard by the hidden Beth and Amy instead.
  • Grief Song:
    • "Days of Plenty" from the musical, sung by Marmee after Beth's death.
    • More of a Grief Score, but "Valley of The Shadow" by Thomas Newman from the 1994 movie.
  • Happily Married: Very nuanced with Meg and John Brooke. They love each other to to bits, but it takes some time for them, especially Meg, to understand that marriage isn't just playing house— it's also about not neglecting each other's needs, being willing to ask forgiveness, and making an effort to be a part of each other's lives.
  • Have a Gay Old Time
    • From the beginning of part two of Little Women:
    I can only say with Mrs. March, "What can you expect when you have four gay girls in the house?"
    • The chapter All Alone contains this doozy:
    Jo: Mothers are the best lovers in the world, but I don't mind whispering to Marmee that I'd like to try all kinds. It's very curious, but the more I try to satisfy myself with all sorts of natural affections, the more I seem to want.
    • From Jo's Boys:
    Uncle Laurie was never happier than when rowing, riding, playing, or lounging with two gay girls beside him.
    • Jo submits her story to a newspaper called, ahem, The Spread Eagle.
  • High-Class Gloves: Meg and Jo are invited to a New Year's party. Meg is aghast that Jo has ruined her white gloves with lemonade, and thus can't dance. Buying new gloves isn't an option with the March family's current state of near-poverty, so Jo's only solution is for each girl to wear one of Meg's nice gloves and carry one of the bad gloves in their other hand so nobody can see that its ruined. Meg isn't enthusiastic (Jo's larger hands will ruin her nice glove), but has no alternative. Ironically Jo doesn't even dance with anyone except Laurie, and they did that out in the hall where nobody would've noticed her lack of gloves.
  • Hired Help as Family: The servant Hannah is like a family member to the March family. "[She] had lived with the family since Meg was born, and was considered by them all more as a friend than a servant."
  • Hot-Blooded: Jo is very loud, a Motor Mouth at times and prone to saying the wrong thing.
  • I Should Write a Book About This: It's popular in film adaptations to have Jo finally achieve literary success when she writes a book about her sisters. In the novel, Jo writes a well-received short story after Beth's death which is wildly successful, but it's never stated what the story is about. She does write a book about her sisters in Jo's Boys, though, and even though she only wrote it for money, it's a massive success.
  • Impoverished Patrician: The Marches were once very well-to-do. Amy acts like they still are.
  • In Medias Res: The Musical adaptation.
  • Incorruptible Pure Pureness: Beth. Out of all the sisters, she's the most pure and innocent, and does nothing but try to please others.
  • Intergenerational Friendship: Mr Laurence takes a liking to Beth due to her sharing a love for music with his late granddaughter, and after Beth overcomes her initial fear of him they become best friends.
  • Intimate Healing: In the 1981 anime adaptation, we actually see Marmee in her husband's hospital room, and he is so sick that Marmee has to give him his medicine via mouth to mouth.
  • It's for a Book: Jo actually does research poisons for her horror stories.
  • Kill the Cutie: Beth. Especially in the 1949 film where she's the youngest and cutest sister.
  • Killed Offscreen: Most of the screen adaptations avoid actually showing Beth's death, as does the Broadway musical. Of the best-known versions, only the 1933 and 1994 films, the 1998 opera, and the 2017 miniseries give her an onscreen/onstage death scene, and even then, the two movies don't show the actual moment onscreen, but cut away to another image until afterwards. Meanwhile, the 1949 film, the 1978 miniseries, and the Broadway musical just follow Beth's talk with Jo about her fate by skipping ahead several months to a short time after her death, while the 2019 film has Jo wake up in the morning to find that Beth died during the night.
  • Kind Hearted Cat Lover: Beth loves taking care of her pet cats.
  • Lampshade Hanging: It's Laurie himself who points out the Broken Aesop of Amy marrying him after she decided against marrying Fred Vaughn for his money. Amy responds she would still love him if he was poor and he believes her.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: The whole debacle of "Jo Meets Apollyon" happens because Amy wants to go on an outing and Jo tells her no, while promising to take her another time. Amy the next day calls Jo a "crosspatch" for not taking her skating, even though Jo went to cool her temper about Amy burning her book, and the younger sister happily tags along when Meg suggests using the opportunity to make amends. After Amy falls through the ice, due to Jo not warning her in a fit of spite, she'll probably have to spend the next few days in bed, which means she won't be going on outings for a while.
  • Lethal Chef: Jo in Chapter 11 of Little Women, Experiments. Averted in the next chapter, Camp Laurence, which takes place the following month: when John Brooke asks who can make good coffee, Meg nominates Jo - who had spent the time between the two chapters taking cookery lessons. Meg herself experiences some of this during the fateful jam incident in her first year of marriage.
  • Like Brother and Sister: Jo and Laurie end up like this.
  • Limited Wardrobe: The entire March family, and pretty much the whole cast, in the Nippon Animation adaptation, even after Aunt March buys the girls each a new wardrobe.
    • Their outfits do change slightly during the series, and they do wear outfits appropriate for the weather, at least.
  • Literalist Snarking:
    "I wonder if you will ever grow up, Laurie," said Meg in a matronly tone.
    "I'm doing my best, ma'am, but can't get much higher, I'm afraid, as six feet is about all men can do in these degenerate days," responded the young gentleman, whose head was about level with the little chandelier.
  • Lonely Rich Kid: Laurie, which is why the March sisters let him join in on their games.
  • Long Hair Is Feminine: Everyone admires Jo when she sells her hair to get money for her family as it's her "only beauty".
  • Love Epiphany: Laurie has one of these while recovering from Jo's rejection.
  • Love Hurts: Poor Laurie. In the book and in the 1994 version he even wells up with Manly Tears when Jo rejects his proposal.
  • Love Letter Lunacy: A prank by Laurie. The victims — Meg and John. The one in charge of smoothing things over — Jo.
  • Love Potion: The sisters perform a play with a villain who purchases a love potion from a witch, along with poison to kill his romantic rival (probably to avoid that "power of true love" loophole). The witch, however, double-crosses him, stops the princess from drinking the potion, and slips the villain his own poison.
  • Makeup Is Evil: Meg penitently confesses to having worn makeup among other sins at a party, and her mother says that she was wrong to let Meg stay with these people without knowing them better. However, it's less the makeup itself and more the general vanity and shallowness of the people she's with, and the fact that she was attempting to act like someone she's not.
  • Malaproper: Amy... oh, Amy. "I know what I mean, and you needn't be 'statirical' about it! It's proper to use good words and improve your 'vocabilary.'"
  • Manly Tears: Laurie cries with Jo as he comforts her during Beth's first illness ("It might be unmanly, but he couldn’t help it, and I am glad of it," writes the narrator), and later when she rejects his marriage proposal. Later still, Professor Bhaer sheds Tears of Joy when his marriage proposal is accepted by Jo.
  • Mr. Imagination: Beth's "little world was peopled with imaginary friends," and she cares for her sisters' cast-off dolls as if they were invalids in a hospital.
  • Mood Whiplash: The heartbreaking chapter describing Beth's death is immediately followed by several humorous paragraphs describing Laurie's efforts to improve his life in Europe after being lectured by Amy, yet never crediting her because his sense of manly dignity won't allow it. This tone shift isn't a bad thing, as it helps to maintain the book's Slice of Life balance between lightheartedness and drama.
  • Most Writers Are Writers: The protagonist Jo is a writer and is pretty much an Author Avatar for Louisa May Alcott.
  • Mrs. Hypothetical: Jo realizes she is in danger of, as she sees it, losing Meg when she finds out Meg has been scribbling "Mrs. John Brooke."
  • The Musical: Premiered on Broadway in 2005 and has been a staple of community theatre and high schools ever since.
  • Neat Freak: Aunt March.
  • New England
  • No Antagonist: As it's a Coming of Age Story the main conflicts come from the Civil War keeping the father away, scarlet fever keeping Beth ill, sexism of the time preventing Jo from selling a story, and a few arguments between the sisters.
  • Old Maid: Near the end of Part II, Jo is almost 25 and worries about never marrying and becoming an old maid.
  • The One Guy: Laurie. He's pretty much the only major male character in a series mainly about women.
  • One-Steve Limit: Inverted. Almost every main character is related to someone else with the same name; but they all have different nicknames.
    • Elizabeth March = Beth. Elizabeth Laurence = Bess.
    • John Brooke = John. John Brooke Jr. = Demi (short for "Demijohn")
    • Josephine March I = Aunt March. Josephine March = Jo. Josephine Brooke = Josie.
    • Margaret Curtis March = Marmee. Margaret March = Meg. Margaret Brooke = Daisy
    • Robert March = Father/Papa/Mr. March. Robert Bhaer = Rob
    • Theodore Laurence = Laurie (Jo calls him Teddy). Theodore Bhaer = Teddy or Ted.
    • Also, two unrelated German characters are named Minna: one of the little Hummel girls, who dies of scarlet fever, and Professor Bhaer's deceased sister, the mother of his two nephews.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Three of the four March sisters are routinely identified by shortened forms of their lengthy first names. Although the real names are given in the introductory chapter, they are rarely otherwise used in the novel and readers grow quite used to thinking of them as Meg, Jo, and Beth. (This creates a bit of confusion for some readers when Jo occasionally uses alternative nicknames for her sisters, like "Peggy" for Meg and "Betty" for Beth, both being common, old-fashioned nicknames for "Margaret" and "Elizabeth.")
    • Also Marmee, whose real name is never actually stated; it's understood that her name is Margaret (and Meg, and later Daisy, are named after her), but no character ever addresses her by her name. In the 1994 film adaptation, her name is changed to 'Abigail', the name of Alcott's real-life mother (albeit Abigail Alcott was most often known as 'Abba').
    • The same applies to Mr. March: we don't find out his real name until the final chapter introduces Jo's elder son, Rob, who is named after him. Who is himself usually called "Rob," "Robby," or "Robin," while Teddy, like his mother, occasionally mixes it up, calling him "Bob" or "Bobby."
  • Paper Destruction of Anger: Amy burns Jo's manuscript in anger to punish her for not wanting to take her to see a play. Jo is enraged and attacks Amy, then runs upstairs and cries. Jo worked on her stories for years and she has just copied them and destroyed her old drafts.
  • Parental Marriage Veto: Aunt March tries to impose one on Meg by virtue of her wealth, and fails.
  • Peaceful in Death:
    • In Part I, when all traces of pain and fever fade from the sick Beth's face as she sleeps, Jo momentarily thinks it's this trope, but it turns out that actually, her fever has broken and she's beginning to get well. For the time being, anyway.
    • Played straight in Part II, when Beth is Killed Off for Real. Her face is so serene in death that her family can't help but smile through their tears and thank God that she's "well at last."
  • Platonic Life-Partners: Jo and Laurie are this in the first part of Little Women. Later, they become more Like Brother and Sister.
  • Plucky Girl: All the sisters, but particularly Jo.
  • Preacher's Kid: All the sisters, but they don't really fit under either type since they are fairly developed as characters, except Beth, who most fits under the Angelic type
  • Princess for a Day: In "Vanity Fair", Meg attends a high class party... only to be humbled by ladies whispering behind her back about her and her family's poverty, and speculating that her mother intended to marry her to Laurie for his money. That and those dancing slippers really hurt.
  • Prized Possession Giveaway: Jo may not be the prettiest of the March sisters, but her hair was acknowledged as the most beautiful. After Selling One's Own Hair during a family energy, she does lament tearfully having done this that day's night, but says that this will help her work out her vanity.
  • Proper Lady: Meg in the first novel and Amy once she grows up in the second novel.
    "If Amy was to go to court without any rehearsal, she'd know exactly what to do."
  • Race Lift: In the 2019 graphic novel modernization, Robert and Meg are fully African-American, and Beth and Amy are mixed race. Meg and Jo (who is white) are stepsisters in this version, while Beth and Amy are their half-sisters.
  • Radish Cure: Marmee achieves this by consenting when the girls decide to have a week of all play and no work. Boredom, household necessities piling up, and Beth's pet canary starving to death teaches them the value of their chores.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech:
    • Amy gives one to Laurie in Nice for how he's handling his heartbreak over being rejected by Jo. He eventually agrees with Amy's belief that he has changed for the worse by becoming Idle Rich. Although it comes from a place of love, Amy gives him a fairly brutal lecture about being lazy, overspending, smoking and not doing anything useful with himself.
    • Marmee gives a very loving, very gentle one when Jo complains about Amy getting chosen by Aunt March to tour Europe with Aunt Carrol and Florence. She kindly points out that Jo was very rude during her and Amy's visit with their aunts, according to a note from Aunt March, claiming that "favors burdened her" and that she hated French, so it's hardly surprising that Aunt Carrol would prefer to take a much more well behaved Amy.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: Jo and Amy to Meg and Beth. Jo and Amy are both fiery Red, Meg and Beth are the calm Blue.
  • Replacement Goldfish: Beth is this, to an extent, for Laurie's grandfather - as it happens, she has a personality very similar to that of his deceased granddaughter, whom he adored. The 1980 anime adaptation takes it a bit too literally and has Beth look exactly like the granddaughter, which freaks them both out.
  • Sadist Teacher: Mr. Davis, Amy's schoolteacher, is a borderline example that probably closer to a Stern Teacher. He does whip Amy's hands, a common punishment at the time and have Amy stand in front of the class until recess (15 minutes), but the narration states the swats "weren't many or hard", as well as stating that if Amy had not acted so prideful, Mr. Davis would have let her off with a warning since she is one of his favorite students, and when Jo was sent to get Amy's things, he feels completely awful about the whole ordeal.
    • His punishment varies depending on the adaptation, the 1933 and 1949 films have him make Amy stand on a platform with a slate reading "I am ashamed of myself," (for drawing on her slate during class instead of bringing pickled limes to school) while other adaptations (including both anime series) have him whip her hands. He is about to whip her in the 1949 version, but has a change of heart and dismissed her right before he could. The 1978 miniseries has him actually whip her hands for drawing boarders on her slate, and made her stand in front of the class for at least several hours. In the 1994 film, not only is he a terrible teacher (if Jo's concerns about Amy's poor schoolwork is anything to go by), but also Amy says he believes that educating girls as is useless as bathing a cat. The 2017 miniseries plays the trope straightest (that we see), since he unnecessarily pulls Amy up by her hair before he whips her hands hard enough they bleed, as well as feeling no guilt whatsoever until Jo gets Amy's things and scares him. The 2019 film has Amy struck on the hand hard enough to make it bleed, after she drew a (actually rather nice) picture of Mr. Davis on her slate instead of paying attention.
  • Secret Message Wink: Discussed when Meg and Jo are attending a fancy party. Jo is concerned about her ability to maintain proper decorum, which is very important to Meg, so she suggests that if Meg spots her doing anything wrong, "just remind me by a wink, will you?" Meg immediately vetoes the idea because "winking isn't ladylike," and they work out a different code instead.
  • Selling One's Own Hair: During a family emergency, Jo sells her hair to a wigmaker for $25. Her father has been injured in the Civil War, and the family needs money to send her mother to Washington, D.C. to take care of him.
    Jo: I hadn't the least idea of selling my hair at first, but as I went along I kept thinking what I could do, and feeling as if I'd like to dive into some of the rich stores and help myself. In a barber's window I saw tails of hair with the prices marked; and one black tail, longer, but not so thick as mine, was forty dollars. It came over me all of a sudden that I had one thing to make money out of, and, without stopping to think, I walked in, asked if they bought hair, and what they would give for mine.
  • Setting Update: The 2018 film and 2019 graphic novel move the setting to The Present Day.
  • Settle for Sibling: Laurie's marriage to Amy, in a way. Though he actually became interested in Amy after Jo turned him down twice and likes Amy for herself, and never tried to shape her into a Jo replacement.
  • Shipper on Deck: Jo is a Meg/Laurie shipper in Part I and a Beth/Laurie ditto in Part II.
  • Ship Sinking: "I won't marry Jo to Laurie to please anybody!"
  • Shout-Out: Contains many reference to The Pilgrim's Progress, as many of the chapter titles suggest ("Vanity Fair," "Jo Meets Apollyon," etc.). The girls act out the story as children and often use Christian's struggles as analogies for their own problems.
  • Shrinking Violet: Beth, who is The Quiet One and prefers imaginary friends to real ones. She finds it very difficult, even painful, to talk to people outside her immediate family, and stops going to school out of shyness.
  • A Simple Plan: Jo's dinner party in Little Women; Amy's party in Little Women Part II
  • Snooping Little Kid: In the 1949 movie, Beth (Margaret O'Brien) and Amy (Elizabeth Taylor) fullfil the role in the Christmas party. Then they overhear some Gossipy Hens...
  • Spirited Young Lady: Jo, given her outspoken, tomboy nature and her intellectual gifts. Though she starts off as more of a Tomboy, she gradually conforms a bit more to society's standards as she ages: witness her very domestic mending of Professor Bhaer's clothes as an adult. Meg plays the Proper Lady in contrast.
  • Spoiled Brat: Amy, as a child, is prone to behave in a vain and self-centered way, especially if she doesn't get what she wants.
    • Jo lashes out in tantrums several times, even resorting to violence twice- including letting her baby sister get nearly frozen to death.
  • Stealth Pun: In the last chapter, Jo's students call her "Mother Bhaer". One of her sons is named "Teddy" Bhaer, but that's coincidence: the stuffed toy didn't exist for another 35 years.
  • Stock Foreign Name: Friedrich, for Professor Bhaer. Jo calls him "Fritz," which is another example of the trope.
  • Surprise Multiple Birth: After Meg gives birth to her twins, they surprise Laurie when he arrives by making him close his eyes and then put two babies in his arms. Justified, given that this is 1868 and sonograms don't exist yet.
  • Sweet and Sour Grapes: Laurie himself is the first to point out that Amy married him after learning her lesson not to marry Fred Vaughn for his money, although he is mostly teasing her.
  • Textile Work Is Feminine: Jo takes up her sewing when Professor Bhaer arrives at her parents'.
  • Title Drop: In the first chapter, Mr. March's letter ends with his hopes that the improvements the girls will make to their characters by the time he sees them again will make him "fonder and prouder than ever of my little women."
  • Tomboy and Girly Girl: Jo (Tomboy) and Amy (Girly Girl). Jo is a headstrong Spirited Young Lady with a fiery temper who rejects female values and convention and finds sentimentality utterly repellent (except in books). Amy is a vain, artistic beauty, obsessed with her appearance, who aspires to be the perfect Proper Lady and marry a rich man.
    • They are quite similar though; both are strong-minded, assertive and ambitious women which was not the feminine ideal at the time. Meg and Beth are much more classic Girly Girls, and this contrast between Jo and Beth is even noted in the book.
  • Too Good for This Sinful Earth: Beth is "a dear, and nothing more" and "the pet of the family," virtuous and selfless. She's the only one who doesn't have extravagant ambitions in the chapter "Castles in the Air." In the end, of course, she dies.
  • Trying Not to Cry: Jo promises herself (and Laurie) she won't cry at Meg's wedding.
  • Umbrella of Togetherness: Jo and Professor Bhaer during his proposal at the end.
  • Underdressed for the Occasion: Meg doesn't have a silk ball dress to wear when visiting Sallie Moffat, so she wears an old tarlatan instead. She actually makes a better impression in her simple and worn out clothing than she does when her friends dress her in borrowed splendor.
  • Uncle Pennybags: Aunt March is not, and the narration snarkily points this out, when talking about how someone (not to hint Aunt March) should do something to help Beth's study of music. Old Mr. Laurence, on the other hand, sends over flowers and ice cream for the girls when he hears about how they gave away their Christmas breakfast to the Hummels, and Beth saw him respond to a woman asking a fishmonger to let her work in exchange for fish (and being denied) by grabbing the nearest fish and buying it for her.
  • Unto Us a Son and Daughter Are Born: Meg's twins, Demi ("Demi-John") and Daisy ("Margaret").
  • Unusual Euphemism:
    • Jo's favorite exclamation of "Christopher Columbus!" counts as this, since it's generally understood to be her version of swearing.
    • In the musical, Aunt March interrupts Bhaer's marriage proposal and he says it.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: the Hummels' children get scarlet fever, which is then passed to Beth. She survives, but it "weakens her heart forever," and she later dies.
  • Victorious Childhood Friend: Little Women itself plays with the trope, as Laurie ultimately marries a girl he's known since childhood (Amy) but not the one he's harbored romantic feelings for since then (Jo). So Laurie was both unlucky and victorious.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: Jo and Laurie. This is exactly why she turns him down when he proposes to her.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: The whole family calls out Amy for burning Jo's manuscript, since it was Jo's only copy; even Meg is hurt on Jo's behalf. Once Amy starts to realize that what she did was Disproportionate Retribution, she tries to apologize but Jo is still fuming and refuses to forgive her sister. Jo then receives criticism in turn for not forgiving Amy in due course.
    • Jo gives herself one when she slyly neglects to warn Amy of rotten ice while they skate, which nearly kills her as a result, purely out of selfish rage.
  • When She Smiles: Roger Ebert had this to say of Ryder in his review of the 1994 film:
    Ebert: ...late in the film, when she tells Friedrich that, yes, it's all right for him to love her, Ryder's face lights up with a smile so joyful it illuminates the theater.
  • Widow's Weeds: Toward the end of her stay in Europe, Amy's black hair ribbon and jet-colored jewelry are mentioned. She wears them in mourning for her sister Beth.
  • Youngest Child Wins: Of all four sisters, Amy gets everything she wanted in life—a wealthy husband, an exotic vacation, and a great romance. The only thing she dreamed of that she doesn't get is a career as a professional artist.

Alternative Title(s): Little Women 2017