Significant Allusions

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Last Updated on August 15, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 646

Literary Allusions: Alcott alludes to many literary works and characters. Literature plays a central role in the March girls’ lives, especially at the beginning of the novel, when they are at their most ambitious and creative. 

  • The Pilgrim’s Progress: In chapter 2, each of the March sisters receives a copy of John Bunyan’s 1678 allegory The Pilgrim’s Progress for a Christmas present. The plot of Little Women unfolds much like that of The Pilgrim’s Progress, which follows a sinner named Christian as he conquers his sins on the journey to salvation—the Celestial City. The Pilgrim’s Progress was widely read in Alcott’s time, especially by children studying the morals that they would be expected to embody in adulthood. Bunyan’s classic was one of the first texts to celebrate family life, which is at the center of Little Women. However, in writing Little Women, Alcott adapts Bunyan’s pilgrimage for the domestic space that women occupied during the 19th century. Each March sister sets out to conquer her sins on a journey of moral development that shapes each of them into the mid-19th-century ideal of womanhood. 
  • The Pickwick Papers: The March sisters have a secret society called the Pickwick Club, whose activities include writing and sharing newsletters, stories, and poetry written by the girls. The name of the Pickwick Club alludes to Charles Dickens’s first novel, The Pickwick Papers, or The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club. The novel follows four men who start a club of the same name. Each member travels around England and reports his adventures to the other members of the club. At their meetings, each March sister pretends to be a member of the Pickwick Club: Meg is Samuel Pickwick, Jo is Augustus Snodgrass, Beth is Tracy Tupman, and Amy is Nathaniel Winkle.

Biblical Values: The moral lessons of Little Women are grounded in Christian values, which Mrs. March strives to cultivate in her daughters. Though the Bible is not directly referenced as a text, lessons in Bible stories help the March sisters conquer their moral weaknesses in order to become dutiful young women. 

  • Treat Others as You Wish to Be Treated: There are many passages in the Bible, including Luke 6:31 and Matthew 7:12, that advise treating others with kindness in order to receive kindness in return. The Marches are highly concerned with living according to this particular Christian value, shown especially when Marmee and Beth model in their charity towards the impoverished Hummel family. In chapter 2, Meg alludes to Galatians 5:14 when she declares that giving away their Christmas breakfast to the Hummels is “loving our neighbors better than ourselves, and I like it.” 
  • Avoiding Idleness: Idleness—a major concern in the March household—is explicitly frowned upon in the Bible. Proverbs 19:15 warns that “slothfulness casts into a deep sleep, and an idle person will suffer hunger”—a truth that partially comes to fruition when Mrs. March gives the household maid, Hannah, the morning off so that the girls learn the consequences of not working to prepare meals. The March sisters regularly fight the temptation to be lazy, even forming a Busy Bee Society that expels members who are not productive. 
  • Biblical Womanhood: Proverbs 31:10-31 explores the characteristics of a “wife of noble character” from the biblical perspective. These traits include dignity, piety, hard work, loyalty, modesty, and generosity, all of which Mrs. March attempts to instill in her daughters. The March sisters have a variety of experiences that reinforce the importance of these traits, such as when they are rewarded for their generosity to the Hummels. According to Proverbs 31, a noble wife ought to be honored and revered by all. This is reflected in Little Women when Jo cannot help but admire Meg’s maturity and seemingly idyllic married life, and she begins to consider marriage from a different perspective.

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