Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Meg March, the oldest of the March girls, a plump governess to unruly neighborhood children. She marries John Brooke.
Jo March, a tall, awkward, tomboyish girl who likes to write and to devise plays and entertainments for her sisters. In character and personality, she corresponds to the author. She resents Meg’s interest in John but later is happy to have him as a brother-in-law. She writes and sells stories and becomes a governess for Mrs. Kirke in New York. Proposed to by Laurie, she rejects him. She later marries Professor Bhaer, with whom she establishes a boys’ school at Plumfield, Aunt March’s old home.
Beth March, a gentle homebody helpful to Mrs. March in keeping house. She contracts scarlet fever, from which she never fully recovers. She dies during the spring after Jo’s return from New York.
Amy March, a curly-haired dreamer who aspires to be a famous artist. She is a companion of Aunt Carrol on a European trip. She marries Laurie.
Mrs. March (Marmee)
Mrs. March (Marmee), the kindly, understanding, lovable mother of the four March girls.
Mr. March, her husband, an army chaplain in the Civil War who becomes ill while away but who later returns well and happy.
Theodore Laurence (Laurie)
(The entire section is 329 words.)
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Themes and Characters
Like John Bunyan's allegorical work Pilgrim's Progress, in which Christian faces many obstacles in his journey from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City, Alcott's novel chronicles the four March girls' efforts to overcome individual character flaws and thereby become "little women." Sixteen-year-old Meg, who cares too much about her appearance and too little about work, must learn to devote more time to her family and less time to dreaming of a life of glamour and luxury. Fifteen-year-old Jo's burden is her violent temper. An adventurous, rebellious, spirited girl who writes plays, poems, and short stories, she must reconcile herself to being a girl of poise, grace, and patience. Thirteenyear- old Beth, an excellent pianist, must overcome her shyness. Ten-year-old Amy, artistically talented but impractical, must overcome her thoughtlessness and learn to help others.
At the end of Part I, Father returns home on Christmas Day and evaluates his daughters' year-long struggles to emulate Christian in Pilgrim's Progress. He is pleased with what he sees. Meg is less vain. Jo is less boyish, more ladylike and quiet. Beth has recovered from scarlet fever and is gradually conquering her shyness. And Amy is less selfish, less concerned with her appearance.
Mr. March is away from home during the first half of the novel, and even after his return, he remains in the background of the narrative. His presence is felt rather than seen....
(The entire section is 971 words.)
Little Women focuses on the characters of Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy March. The novel is filled with their games, struggles, interests, and adventures, which usually involve Laurie, the boy next door, and often the girls' mother, Marmee. Meg is sixteen when the novel begins, and pretty, "plump and fair," Her faults are vanity and envy. In the chapter entitled "Castles in the Air," Meg imagines "a lovely house, full of all sorts of luxurious things — nice food, pretty clothes, handsome furniture, pleasant people, and heaps of money."
Jo is fifteen, tall and thin, with "big hands and feet, a flyaway look to her clothes, and the uncomfortable appearance of a girl who was rapidly shooting up into a woman and didn't like it." Jo's faults are a ready anger and disdain for the feminine proprieties. "It's bad enough to be a girl, anyway, when I like boys' games and work and manners! I can't get over my disappointment in not being a boy." Jo is creative, and dreams of writing and getting "rich and famous." Many feminist critics find a healthy gender confusion in Jo.
Beth at the start is thirteen, "a rosy, smooth-haired, bright-eyed girl" with no ambition but to "stay at home safe with Father and Mother, and help take care of the family." Beth is the truly selfless sister, a peacemaker, "an angel in the house." Her only fault is her shyness. Amy is twelve, spoiled, and conceited. She loves art, and wants to "go to Rome, and do fine pictures." Amy is...
(The entire section is 1817 words.)
Amy is the youngest of the March girls and is twelve at the beginning of the novel. She is spoiled and throws tantrums, and her family strives to correct her behavior before she gets older. Like Meg, Amy loves luxuries and takes an interest in her appearance that is unusual for someone so young. She is also concerned with behaving properly and being popular among her peers. Her pride is her beautiful hair, which falls into golden ringlets. Amy is the artist of the family and spends time drawing and sculpting animals out of clay.
When Beth becomes ill, Amy is sent to stay with Aunt March, who likes the little girl very much. Aunt March releases Jo from her duty as a companion and instead employs Amy, for whom she provides expensive art lessons. Amy travels with another family member to Europe (at Aunt March's expense). While Amy is in Europe, Beth dies and Laurie (also traveling in Europe) finds Amy to comfort her. The two fall in love and marry.
Amy's marriage is comfortable because she marries a man she cares for who happens to be wealthy. Unlike the other sisters, Amy never has to worry about work and has all the fine things she always desired.
(The entire section is 209 words.)
The second eldest of the four March sisters, Jo is independent, tempestuous, vivacious, clever, and self-confident. She struggles throughout the story to learn to control her temper and her tendency to hold a grudge. She is a tomboy who is more interested in reading and playing games than in primping or gossiping with girls her age. She is sixteen when the story opens, and she has no desire to get married, preferring the happy and satisfying life she enjoys with her family. In fact, when Meg prepares for marriage, Jo is very upset at the prospect of the family breaking up. No longer in school, Jo is the paid companion of Aunt March, a duty she fulfills out of obligation.
Jo has a special relationship with Beth, the next youngest sister. While all of the girls look to Marmee for guidance and advice, Jo watches over Beth and provides additional sisterly support. Jo's relationship with Beth reveals a soft, maternal side of Jo that is rarely seen.
Besides reading, Jo loves to write plays and short stories. The girls enjoy performing Jo's plays, in which she always plays the men's roles. After having two of her stories accepted for publication by a local newspaper, Jo takes her writing more seriously, falling into whirlwind "fits" of writing. Writing brings her success and allows her to earn money doing something she loves. As she observes other young women, Jo is proud of herself because she is able to earn her own money and feel independent. Jo...
(The entire section is 420 words.)
Professor Friedrich ("Fritz") Bhaer
On her trip to New York, Jo meets Professor Bhaer, a German man with a thick accent. He is a stout, educated, older man who takes care of his two orphaned nephews, Franz and Emil. Because he is a bachelor, he undertakes such domestic tasks as cleaning and darning his own socks.
When Jo returns home, Bhaer makes frequent visits, and he and Jo eventually marry. He encourages her to keep writing, but to challenge her talent by writing good fiction rather than the sensa-tionalistic pieces she usually writes. He and Jo open a boys' school at Plumfield.
Mr. John Brooke
Mr. Brooke is Laurie's tutor. As he gets to know Meg, he falls in love with her. In accordance with her parents' request, he waits to marry Meg until she turns twenty. This period gives him an opportunity to establish himself and buy a house. Although Mr. Laurence offers to help Mr. Brooke, the young man refuses, preferring to make his own way without incurring any debt.
Mr. Brooke takes a job as a clerk and earns a modest living for himself and his new bride.
Hannah is the March family's housekeeper. She is colorful and energetic, and she loves the family dearly. She has been with the family since Mr. and Mrs. March married, and she gave Mrs. March her first cooking lessons.
Mr. Laurence is Laurie's...
(The entire section is 1307 words.)