Little Women Introduction
by Louisa May Alcott

Little Women book cover
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So you’re going to teach Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. Whether it’s your first or hundredth time, Little Women has been a mainstay of English classrooms for decades. While it has its challenges, teaching this text to your class will be rewarding for you and your students. Studying Little Women will give them unique insight into symbolism and important themes exploring gender roles, social class, and family. This guide highlights some of the most salient aspects of the text before you begin teaching. 

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Facts at a Glance

  • Publication Date: 1868 (volume 1) and 1869 (volume 2) 
  • Recommended Grade Level: 7th and up
  • Approximate Word Count: 183,800 
  • Author: Louisa May Alcott
  • Country of Origin: United States
  • Genre: Bildungsroman
  • Literary Period: Realism, American Regionalism
  • Conflict: Person vs. Society, Person vs. Self, Person vs. Person 
  • Narration: Third-Person Omniscient
  • Setting: A fictional town based on Concord, Massachusetts, in the 1860s 
  • Structure: Prose Novel
  • Dominant Literary Devices: Symbolism, Allegory
  • Mood: Lighthearted, Sympathetic

Texts that Go Well with Little Women

The American Woman’s Home: Or, Principles of Domestic Science (1869), by sisters Catharine Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe, offers instructions for keeping “economical, healthful, beautiful, and Christian homes.” In addition to providing context for the domestic life portrayed in Little Women, The American Woman’s Home offers students a glimpse into the cultural expectations placed on American women in the 19th century.

Hospital Sketches (1863), by Louisa May Alcott, is a compilation of four sketches based on actual letters that Alcott sent to her family during the Civil War. Whereas Little Women never directly portrays the violence and bloodshed of the war raging in the background, Hospital Sketches depicts narrator Tribulation Periwinkle’s experience as a volunteer nurse at an Army hospital in Georgetown.

Jane Eyre (1847), by Charlotte Brontë, follows the spiritual and emotional development of an orphan girl who seeks belonging and self-sufficiency. Like Jo March, Jane struggles to navigate a culture that excludes women from public life. She desires to provide for herself but also values a stable family life.

The Pilgrim’s Progress (1678), by John Bunyan, is a Christian allegory about a man named Christian who embarks on a pilgrimage from the...

(The entire section is 568 words.)