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Little Women | Study Guide

Louisa May Alcott

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Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of the preface from Louisa May Alcott's novel Little Women.

Little Women | Preface | Summary


This study guide breaks down Little Women into two parts and sixteen chapter groupings. Chapters appear in groups of three and four in Part 1 and in groups of three in Part 2.


An adapted poem from The Pilgrim's Progress (1678) by John Bunyan directly addresses the author's work (using the literary technique of apostrophe) and asks the "little Book" to entertain as well as teach its readers to be good pilgrims—even better than the writer or the book itself. The excerpt specifically addresses young women ("damsels"), advising them to follow a personified Mercy and to "prize" (value) the world to come and thus walk in the footsteps of saints.


The Pilgrim's Progress is an allegory—a story in which characters or events symbolize ideas, oftentimes moral or religious. Bunyan's book tells the story of a pilgrim's journey through life to reach the Celestial City (heaven; salvation). The author quotes from this famous and beloved Christian text to advise the reader that her story, first written as a "girl's book," is meant to both entertain and instruct and is, like Bunyan's tale, a guidebook for Christian living. The journey toward spiritual perfection is a recurring motif in the novel, and the March sisters, like Christian in The Pilgrim's Progress, face trials and tribulations on their way to the Celestial City.

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