What is the Main Conflict in Little Women?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The main conflict in Little Women is the struggle which the March family has with the vicissitudes of life. While Mr. March, who has lost his fortune, is off to serve as an army chaplain in the Civil War, Mrs. March and her girls struggle against the tribulations of war, poverty, sickness, and personal relationships. The daughters also experience the internal conflicts of maturation.

The opening passages of Alcott's classic tale indicate that the March family must make sacrifices now that the only male member of the family is gone. While Jo grumbles, "Christmas won't be Christmas without any presents," Meg reminds them that Mother has said that they must do their share during the war. Nevertheless, she and the other sisters all have complaints about their financial situation. After a while, the girls decide that they will each spend the one dollar that their mother has given them. However, after some discussion, the girls decide to pool together their money and buy Marmee (their name for the mother) a well-deserved present. They will not tell her of their decision, so that she will be happily surprised.

Later in the narrative, Marmee receives a telegraph from a hospital in Washington, D.C., that reads "Your husband is very ill. Come at once." Everyone cries; their servant Hannah is the first to recover saying, "The Lord keep the dear man! I won't waste no time a cryin', but git your things ready right away, mum." (Ch. 15) Because Marmee needs some money for the trip, Jo makes an uneasy decision; she has always been proud of her luxurious hair, but she unselfishly has it cut to be used for a woman's wig. With the $25.00 that she earns, she returns home and gives it to her mother for the trip to the hospital in Washington. In the night, Jo cries as she feels the loss of her prized possession, but she recriminates herself for her vanity.

Because the novel is episodic, several conflicts contribute to the main one of dealing with life. As the title suggests, the narrative is about the ways that women support one another and form strong bonds of sisterhood, love for family, and friendship. They struggle together against various hardships, sickness, and personal trials, but always their love for one another provides them strength and solicitude.

mkcapen1 | Student

In the book Little Women Mrs. Marsh's husband is away at war and the family must depend on help and live very poorly.  The girl's are very helpful and get along pretty well.  They put on plays and engage in fun activities with one another.

The main conflict that I see is that the girls are having difficulty socializing when they are poor.  Some others may identify the conflict as being, the family having to move in and be under the support of an aunt due to the husband's being sent off to war.

The book has a lot of little conflicts and resolutions through out which makes it interesting.

graceqi | Student
The conflict between self and desire. Jo desperately wants to be respected for her work as an author and wants to live her life the way she feels is fair. She is caught up in the expectations of society and what she knows her family expects of her. She does not want to disappoint those that she loves, but does not want to sacrifice her beliefs.