Key Plot Points
While we recommend reading Alcott’s Little Women in its entirety, we understand that your classroom may have time constraints. The following Key Plot Points are meant to guide you and your students to the most relevant parts of the text so you can plan your lessons most efficiently.
The Marches Give Away Their Christmas Breakfast (Part 1, Chapter 2): The March sisters—Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy—live with their mother in a modest house. It is Christmas in the early 1860s, and the girls’ father is volunteering as a chaplain in the Civil War. Mrs. March, or “Marmee,” tells them that a nearby family, the Hummels, are starving. The girls enthusiastically give their Christmas breakfast to the Hummels and opt to eat bread and milk instead—an act that impresses their wealthy neighbor, Mr. Laurence. He rewards the girls with a lavish breakfast that includes ice cream and cake.
Jo and Laurie Dance at a New Years Eve Party (Part 1, Chapter 3): Meg and Jo, the oldest March sisters, are invited to a New Year’s Eve party at the wealthy Gardiners’ house. Jo, who is clumsy, burns the back of her dress while getting ready and must stand against a wall throughout the dance so that no one notices. Mr. Laurence’s nephew, Laurie, asks her to dance, and suggests that they go into the hallway when Jo reveals that her dress is damaged. They dance alone and spark up a great friendship.
Amy is Beaten at School (Part 1, Chapter 7): Each of the March sisters faces a personal struggle: Meg covets finery she cannot afford, Jo is hotheaded and tomboyish, Beth is shy and insecure, and Amy is vain and self-conscious about her family’s low social status. Amy asks Meg, who works as a governess, if she can borrow money. She has accumulated a significant debt of pickled limes, which are in fashion among her classmates, and must repay them. Limes are banned in Amy’s classroom, and upon discovering Amy’s, her teacher beats her palm with a switch. The March household is infuriated when they find out. Amy is allowed to stay home with Beth, who is too shy to go to school.
Jo’s Resentment Nearly Kills Amy (Part 1, Chapter 8): Amy is upset when she is not permitted to go to a play with Jo, Meg, and Laurie because she is sick. Jo snaps at Amy, who takes revenge by burning Jo’s manuscript. Jo is outraged and refuses to forgive Amy. The next day, Amy follows Jo and Laurie when they go ice-skating. Laurie warns Jo that the ice is thinning in the middle of the river, but Amy does not hear him and Jo does not tell her. Amy falls through the ice and Jo, terrified, forgives her at once and feels ashamed for letting her temper get out of hand.
Meg Stays with the Moffats (Part 1, Chapter 9): Meg spends two weeks with her friend, Annie Moffat, who comes from a rich family. The Moffats host multiple parties, and Meg feels insecure about her clothes. During the first party, she overhears her friends gossiping about her relationship with Laurie and about the simpleness of her dress. Meg is horrified and allows Annie to dress her up in an extravagant, low-cut gown for the next party. She receives a lot of attention, but Laurie—who is in attendance—tells her he dislikes “fuss and feathers.” Meg is ashamed of her vanity and is relieved to return home.
The March Sisters Meet with the Vaughns (Part 1, Chapter 12): The March sisters spend an afternoon in Longmeadow with Laurie, Mr. Brooke, Ned Moffat, Sallie Gardiner, and the Vaughns, who are Laurie’s English friends. Fred Vaughn cheats at a game of croquet with Jo, and Kate Vaughn looks down on Meg’s job as a governess. Mr. Brooke defends Meg and invites her to read a German passage. Kate shows off her own perfect German by reading a passage aloud; in contrast, Meg’s reading is error-ridden but emotional, and Mr. Brooke clearly enjoys it. When Kate leaves them, Mr. Brooke reflects that America is the best place for “us workers,” underscoring the key theme of hard work versus leisure in the novel.
(The entire section is 1,541 words.)