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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."

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 vs. Cynicism from her sisters, being plain faced, bold, ambitious, blunt, terribly unladylike, and the unofficial protagonist. Like Alcott, she is a devoted writer.
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  • 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. Ironically, when the real-life May Alcott was later given the opportunity to illustrate her sister's books, the result was panned as woefully amateurish.

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 first edition of Little Women ended with Meg and John's engagement. With no Fora or wikis to conduct their Ship-to-Ship Combat, the fans were left to bombard Alcott with letters demanding a sequel, mostly to see Jo and Laurie get married, in the earliest case of Shipping as we know it today. Alcott duly wrote the sequel, but with the firm resolve that "I won't marry Jo to Laurie to please anybody."

Thus came Part II, occasionally published separately under the title Good Wives in the UK. Meg and John get married and have their twins, Beth dies, Amy goes to Paris, and Jo turns down Laurie and goes to New York to pursue her career. Laurie, faced with the dilemma of killing himself or going to Europe, opts for the latter, where he falls in love with and marries Amy. Manfully supporting her parents while grieving for her dead little sister, life improves for Jo near the end when she marries her beta reader and best friend, a wise German professor, Friedrich Bhaer, and Aunt March dies and leaves Jo her estate, Plumfield.

The book has been adapted to film several times: silent versions in 1917 (UK) and 1918 (US), and sound films in 1933, 1949, and 1994, as well as made-for-TV version in 1978. A miniseries adaptation was produced for the BBC in 2017, penned by acclaimed playwright and screenwriter Heidi Thomas. There have also been 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. Additionally, there is at least one professional fanfic: Geraldine Brooks' March tells the story of Mr. March, the mostly-absent father from Little Women. She won a Pulitzer Prize for fiction. 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.

A modern day adaptation is also set for release in 2018, to coincide with the 150th anniversary of the book. Lea Thompson will play Marmee, and High School Musical alums Bart Johnson and Lucas Grabeel star as Mr. March and Laurie, respectively.

A new movie adaptation, set to be released in December 2019 was announced in 2018, with Greta Gerwig as director and Emma Watson, Saoirse Ronan, and Timothée Chalamet in starring roles.

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 provide examples of:

  • 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 will play him in the upcoming modern adaptation.
    • 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.
    • 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 and eventual wife Amy.
  • 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 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.
  • 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.
  • Childhood Marriage Promise: Sort of. Laurie promises Amy that he'll kiss her one day, when she worries about dying of scarlet fever without being kissed. They end up marrying.
  • 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."
  • 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.
    • A week or so later, 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?.
  • Distracted from Death: 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.
  • 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.
  • 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."
  • Falling into His Arms: Done for laughs in the 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Full-Name Ultimatum: When Aunt March calls Jo "Josephine."
  • 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 fill the pretty and smart sister roles - notably when Jo has to act as Amy's teacher, they're at odds over Amy's lack of attention to her schoolwork.
    • 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, but not out of malice but because she's scared of losing Meg's emotional support.
  • 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.
    • More of a Grief Score, but "Valley of The Shadow" by Thomas Newman from the 1994 movie.
  • Happily Married: Parents Margaret and Robert, Amy and Laurie, Meg and John, Jo and Fritz.
  • Happy Rain: It starts to rain in the 1994 film when Jo accepts Professor Bhaer's proposal.
  • 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.
  • Held Gaze:
    • In the 1994 adaptation starring Winona Ryder and Christian Bale, Jo and Laurie share one before Laurie's Anguished Declaration of Love and their Big Damn Kiss. It's actually kind of funny because on Jo's side, it seems more like she's frozen in fear.
    • The 1991 adaptation also includes another Held Gaze between Jo and Prof. Bhaer at the end before she hugs him, ecstatic that he's not leaving.
  • Heroes Want Redheads: Laurie wants Jo but doesn't get her in the end since she never wanted him back.
  • Hidden Heart of Gold: Laurie's grandfather turns out to be quite a softie, especially towards Beth.
  • 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.
  • Hopeless Suitor: Laurie for Jo, forcing him to Settle for Sibling after being rejected.
  • Hot-Blooded: Jo is very loud, a Motor Mouth at times and prone to saying the wrong thing.
  • Ill Girl: In keeping with the tragedy of her real-life counterpart Lizzie, Beth has always been delicate, but after she contracts scarlet fever as a little girl her health continuously decays until her death as a young adult. Truth in Television, as scarlet fever was a much more serious illness then; one of the frequent complications was rheumatic heart disease, ie. serious damage to the major valves—wholly untreatable back then.
  • Impoverished Patrician: The Marches were once very well-to-do. Amy acts like they still are.
  • Incorruptible Pure Pureness: Beth. Out of all the sisters, she's the most pure and innocent, and does nothing but try to please others.
  • In Medias Res: The Musical adaptation.
  • I Should Write a Book About This: True to the author herself, Jo writes a book about her sisters and publishes it at the end.
  • 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.
  • 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: For Amy, though this was unintentional on the author's part. In one chapter she burns Jo's manuscript as revenge for not going on an outing. She then tries to apologize only after the whole family gives her a What the Hell, Hero? lecture, since it was Jo's only copy, but Jo refuses to forgive her little sister. Come another outing, where Jo's off to skate with Laurie, and Amy only thinks about how she's missing the last ice of winter and yet another outing; she tags along at Meg's advice and nearly drowns when rotting ice breaks under her skates. Although Jo gets a My God, What Have I Done? moment for not warning Amy about the rotting ice, Amy really shouldn't have tagged along where she wasn't wanted and while Jo hadn't cooled her temper.
  • 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 th 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 1994 version he 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.'"
  • 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.
  • 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
  • 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.
  • Of Corset Hurts: In the 1994 film, Marmee is prone to rants about how corsets are responsible for womankind's reputation as weak and ill (taking her cue from her creator, who did the same in a number of her stories), and when Meg gives in to pressure from her stylish friends, there is the obligatory scene where she is painfully laced into a corset by a strong-armed maid.
  • 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 = ? (We only know him as Father/Papa/Mr. March). Robert Bhaer = Rob
    • Theodore Laurence = Laurie (Jo calls him Teddy). Theodore Bhaer = Teddy or Ted.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Proper Lady: Meg, and Amy in all the books after the first one.
    "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.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: Jo and Meg. Jo is the hot tempered Red, Meg is the calm Blue.
  • Relative Error: A variation. Fritz calls at the March house and hears something about "Ms March and her fiance". Jo has to hurriedly run down the street to explain that it's her sister who has got engaged.
  • 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.
  • Right Behind Me: In the 1933 film version, when Jo is looking at the picture of Laurie's grandfather, she tells Laurie that she likes his grandfather, even though he looks stern and ready to bark at them. Of course, Laurie's grandfather is right behind Joe when she says this, and chooses that moment to make his presence known.
  • 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, 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. In the 1994 film, not only is he a terrible teacher (if Jo's concerns about Amy's poor spelling 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.
  • 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) fulfil 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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, spoiled artistic beauty, obsessed with her appearance, who aspires to be the perfect Proper Lady and marry a rich man.
  • 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.
  • Triumphant Reprise: Jo accepting Professor Bhaer's proposal in the 1994 film is followed by a swelling reprise of "Orchard House", the music that played over the opening credits.
  • 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.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: Jo and Laurie. This is exactly why she turns him down when he proposes to her.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Wham Line
  • 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.
  • Widow's Weeds: Amy's black hair ribbon and jet-colored jewelry are mentioned. She wears them in mourning for her sister Beth.
  • Your Door Was Open: In the 1994 movie version, Aunt March frequently barges in, complaining about how her family doesn't lock their door.


Example of: