What are some of the literary techniques in Louisa May Alcott's story Little Women?  

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Louisa May Alcott's Little Women, the following quotes provide several distinct techniques (found in Chapter I.1 and I.2) to capture the reader's attention. First, imagery is used. Imagery is the use of specific details by the author to create a mental picture in the reader's mind.

[T]he four sisters....sat knitting away in the twilight, while the December snow fell quietly without, and the fire crackled cheerfully within.

Personification is also used in this same passage. Personification is giving human characteristics to non-human things. In the following example, the fire cannot be "cheerful." Only people are cheerful.

...the fire crackled cheerfully within.

In describing the character of Jo, the author uses a metaphor. A metaphor is the comparison of two dissimilar things that share similar characteristics. Here Alcott is comparing the young girl to a colt.

...Jo was very tall, thin, and...reminded one of a colt, for she never seemed to know what to do with her long limbs, which were very much in her way.

The author also uses a simile to create a vivid image in the reader's mind. A simile is when two dissimilar things are compared, using "like" or "as" in the comparison.

A quick, bright smile went round like a streak of sunshine.

Finally, Alcott uses an allusion, which is the reference to a famous person, place, quotation, etc. This is found in Chapter I.2 of the novel; the original quote is from the Bible in Mark 12:31—

The second is this: "Love your neighbor as yourself."

It is Meg that delivers the allusion to this familiar verse:

That's loving our neighbor better than ourselves, and I like it...

The use of a variety of techniques provides a more interesting reading experience for the reader. By creating images and quoting familiar passages, the tale comes alive and the reader is better able to not only imagine what is being described, but also to identify with the characters and become engaged in the plot development of the story.

favoritethings eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Jo uses a simile when she tells Meg, "I hate to think I've got to grow up, and be Miss March, and wear long gowns, and look as prim as a China-aster!"  Jo does not want to grow up, and she especially detests the idea that she should act like a lady, as Meg wants her to.  She has no interest in looking like a "China-aster," which is a type of flower: hence, the comparison.

Jo uses another simile when she says, "'I'm dying to go and fight with papa, and I can only stay at home and knit, like a poky old woman!'"  Jo longs to be active and to go off to the Civil War with the men; instead, she is forced to stay at home, engaging in stereotypical female behavior; this makes her feel useless and without purpose, so she compares herself to a silly old woman who has nothing of importance to do (in her mind).

Metaphors are employed when the girls call Amy "a goose," and the narrator calls Beth "a mouse."  These comparisons serve to illuminate their characters: Amy puts on airs, according to Meg, and acts a bit stuck up, reminding them of a goose.  Beth is quiet and sweet and sometimes goes unnoticed because she does not draw attention to herself.  

Alcott uses an allusion when Marmee and the girls discuss Pilgrim's Progress, an allegorical text by a minister named John Bunyan.  The girls used to pretend to be characters in this text when they were children;  they would act out the adventure of the protagonist journeying toward the Celestial City—Heaven—by going from their basement all the way up to their attic.  This allusion helps us to understand the family's values and faith.

Another simile is employed when a kitten climbs up Meg's back, and it "stuck like a burr just out of reach."  The girls are particularly frustrated because they have to return to work after the holidays.  This kitten is just one more thing to irritate Meg.