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 City of Destruction to the Celestial City. The Pilgrim’s Progress, which is reread many times by the March sisters, was once so popular that it outsold every text aside from the Bible. The allegory offers a symbolic template for living a pious life—something that Mrs. March wishes for her daughters.
Pride and Prejudice (1813), by Jane Austen, follows the five Bennet daughters as they navigate courtship, family life, and Regency propriety. Both Jo March and Elizabeth Bennet are headstrong, independent women who must overcome their flaws and judgmental attitudes in order to obtain happiness. Little Women and Pride and Prejudice center the experiences and opinions of women, emphasizing the values of choice and individuality as they relate to happiness and equality within marriage.
The Red Badge of Courage (1895), by Stephen Crane, details the psychological turmoil experienced by a soldier fighting in the Civil War. The protagonist, Henry Fleming, is initially enthusiastic about fighting for his country but is immediately overcome with terror when he sees bloodshed on the battlefield. The Red Badge of Courage is lauded not only for its portrayal of warfare but also for its focus on an ordinary person’s struggle to cope with violence.