Little Women begins at Christmas time with the March family and Mr. March away in the Civil War. The adventures of the little women begins when a wealthy neighbor invites the family to join them for a Christmas party. This is where Jo meets Laurie, the grandson of the wealthy neighbor, while both are hiding from the party. While the text is too extensive for a full plot description here, the next major event occurs when Mrs. March is called away to the War herself because her husband is gravely ill and, in her absence, Beth contracts scarlet fever from the baby of a poor family she has gone to give comfort and aid to. To protect her from the fever, Amy is sent to Aunt March. Later at another Christmas party, Mr. Brooke declares his love and asks Meg to marry him. They must be content to wait for three years though as Meg is too young at present for marriage, although the eldest. Meanwhile, Beth recovers from her nearly fatal fever just as Mrs. March returns. The next surprise return to the family occurs when Laurie escorts Mr. March home from the War.
Part II opens three years later with Mr. March being a minister and Meg's wedding in preparation. Laurie hints to Jo that her wedding will follow Meg's, but she responds by saying she is far more interested in other things, such as the new career as an author, with a short story sold for $100 and a novel completed but rejected as needing major revisions. Aunt March was adamantly opposed to Meg's intended marriage but has relented over time and shows her change of heart through a lovely and extravagant gift for the new couple. After a time, Meg declares marriage to be good and bears twins to prove it. The romance between Jo and Laurie, however, takes a devastating turn when Jo, teaching now in New York and meeting other kinds of people, returns home and rejects Laurie's offer of marriage. To soothe his shattered hopes, Laurie travels to Europe with his grandfather. It happens that Amy had recently gone to Europe as well under Aunt March's auspice to study art. When news reaches the travelers of Beth's death, Laurie seeks out Amy to comfort her. It is no surprise when Laurie and Amy return from Europe hand in hand as husband and wife and Jo marries Professor Bhaer whom she met in New York just before rejecting Laurie's marriage offer. Jo and Bhaer open a school for boys in the house left to her in Aunt March's will.
This novel follows the lives and loves of the four March sisters and their mother as they mature from youth through adolescence and adulthood. Meg is the oldest, followed by Jo (who is said to be modeled after the author herself), Beth and Amy. They have different qualities and personalities, and different aims in life. Because they are poor but still part of an upper class social circle, they struggle with social pressures. Meg in particular is a social creature, and very attractive, and so feels embarrassed and self-conscious when she must attend dances or parties in hand-me-down clothing or gowns that are out of date. She would like to marry and have children. Jo, on the other hand, has little to no interest in parties or dances, and would rather spend her time reading or physical activity, and finds it hard to understand why Meg finds this world so important. Beth is kind and sweet-natured, although physically frail, and eventually suffers from scarlet fever. Amy, the youngest, is strong-willed and with a tendency to be rebellious.