What is the main theme of Little Women?
The central theme in Little Women is the need for self-sacrifice, which ultimately brings happiness by doing for others, and that one must balance duty to family with personal desires in order to truly grow up. True sacrifice is rooted in love, compassion, charity and selflessness.
One of the key themes of Little Women is the importance of family. The March sisters are extremely close to one another and to their parents. Receiving a letter from their father, who is away from home in the army as a chaplain, is a treat that raises the girls' spirits.
Another theme is the need to take on responsibility during difficult times and to maintain a strong outlook in the face of adversity. It is important to remember two things about the story. First, the March girls are living during a war. Many, if not most, of the men are away. Second, the March family is an old established one that once had money and now is poor relative to their extended family. Yet, they are encouraged to deal with life's difficulties and not complain, but to act as "little women" with maturity beyond their actual years.
It does not mean that the girls do not want to have nice things or strive for more exciting times. However, it is important for them to remember to be thankful for what they have. There are religious overtones to this message that can be seen in the game the girls play as youngsters, Pilgrim's Progress. Marmee tells them that,
"Nothing delighted you more than to...let you travel ... from the cellar, which was the City of Destruction, up, up, to the housetop, where you had all the lovely things you could collect to make a Celestial City."
In the game, the March girls aspire to travel from the City of Destruction to the Celestial - or heavenly - City. Moreover, when the story opens, they are living during a time of war or destruction. Many young men and even many older men like their father are away in the army and so the women that they have left behind must fend for themselves. It is not a time to complain, but to deal with life as it comes. As Meg tells her sisters in the very first chapter, this is the reason that Marmee asked them to forego presents at Christmas because it will be a hard winter for everyone and no time for frivolity.
Meg says, "our men are suffering so in the army." They can do their Christian and patriotic duty by acting bravely and recognizing how difficult things are for everyone.
Louisa May Alcott's Little Women has resonated with readers over time precisely because it has opened up questions about women's ever-evolving role in society through is portrayal of four very different sisters. And while the film presents a variety of themes centered around femininity, the validity of gender stereotypes, the importance of hard work and the connection between happiness and moral living, the most overarching theme in the book is really that of sacrifice.
We see examples of this idea of sacrifice throughout the story, and it’s one of the central tenets of growing up that all the March sisters consequently face. Amy has to sacrifice her goal of being an artist, Jo her goal of being a...
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