Little Women | Study Guide

Louisa May Alcott

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Little Women | Quotes


I can't get over my disappointment in not being a boy.

Jo, Part 1, Chapter 1

Jo says she prefers the games, work, and manners of boys and would like to go to war. From the outset of the novel, Jo signals her rebellion against the restrictions placed on her as a female. Jo's spiritual and psychological journey involves accepting her gender as it is defined by society.


I know they will ... conquer themselves so beautifully that ... I may be fonder and prouder than ever of my little women.

Mr. March, Part 1, Chapter 1

Mr. March's comment in the first chapter sets the moral tone for the novel—he expects his daughters to conquer themselves through self-denial and self-sacrifice, which in his view leads to perfection. As "little women" transitioning from girlhood to womanhood, his daughters are expected to understand what is expected of them.


We can't give up our girls for a dozen fortunes. Rich or poor, we will keep together and be happy in one another.

Mr. March, Part 1, Chapter 4

Aunt March is a childless widow, so she offers to adopt one of the girls when the family falls on hard times. She is rich and can be a good provider, but the family values its members and will not give up one of them for any amount of money, signaling that the Marches place love above prosperity.


Poor Jo tried desperately to be good, but her bosom enemy was always ready to flame up and defeat her.

Narrator, Part 1, Chapter 8

Jo's worst fault is her fiery temper, and although she does her best to keep it under control, it flares up from time to time. Jo learns from her mother (who also experiences anger as a prominent emotion) that her anger can be attenuated only with continued patience and the willingness to spend a lifetime taming her "bosom enemy."


She had drawn nearer to the Friend who always welcomes every child with a love stronger than ... any father, tenderer than ... any mother.

Narrator, Part 1, Chapter 8

After Jo's anger results in a close call for Amy when she falls through the ice, Jo has sincere remorse and is horrified by the effects of her anger. She is comforted by her mother but more so by the Friend, who can be thought of as God or the spiritual presence that comes with sincere prayer and has the ability to bring comfort.


To be loved and chosen by a good man is the best and sweetest thing which can happen to a woman.

Marmee, Part 1, Chapter 9

Marmee is saying that being loved by a man is the best and most important thing that can happen to a woman. Nonetheless, she also tells her daughters they would be better off as "old maids than unhappy wives, or unmaidenly girls." Thus, she gives them permission to stay single if the right man doesn't come along.


There is a lovelier country even than that, where we shall go, by-and-by, when we are good enough.

Meg, Part 1, Chapter 13

In a scene where the girls are playing pilgrims, they settle in a clearing overlooking the hilltops. As they work and admire the view, remarking on the beauty of the country, Meg makes this remark. She is referring to the Celestial City (heaven), which they all hope to obtain. They are Christian pilgrims traveling through life and seeking to make themselves morally perfect and deserving of heaven.


Don't try to make me grow up before my time ... let me be a little girl as long as I can.

Jo, Part 1, Chapter 14

Jo says this to Meg when she senses her moving away from her into the realm of womanhood. Meg has just scolded Jo for running. Jo claims she wants to stay a child, but what she really means is that she does not want any of them to marry and separate, and she doesn't want to face the additional restrictions that will be placed on her as a woman.


If I was a boy, we'd run away together ... but as I'm a miserable girl, I must be proper and stop at home.

Jo, Part 1, Chapter 21

After Laurie has a fight with his grandfather, Jo approaches him to make peace, and he proposes that they go to Washington, D.C., to visit her sick father. Such an adventure would be heaven for Jo, but she pulls back, knowing it is an impossibility. Because she is a "miserable girl," she is restricted in her movements and must follow the rules of propriety.


All three ... [paused] ... to read with wistful eyes the sweetest chapter in the romance of womanhood.

Narrator, Part 2, Chapter 25

On Meg's wedding day, her sisters are caught up in the fairy tale of love, marriage, and "happily ever after." Most girls dream of their marriage and long for a husband who will be their Prince Charming. A bride on her wedding day believes she has obtained that dream, and Meg's sisters watch wistfully, hoping in that moment to someday be as lucky as Meg.


You can go through the world with your elbows out and your nose in the air, and call it independence ... That's not my way.

Amy, Part 2, Chapter 26

Amy and Jo are discussing their diametrically opposed approaches to maneuvering in the world. Jo wishes to be beholden to no one and doesn't like to be polite simply to smooth her way in social situations or to follow the rules of etiquette if they seem nonsensical to her. Amy understands that observing the rules and greasing the wheels of social intercourse with a genteel and pleasant demeanor will help her avoid unnecessary roadblocks and obstacles. Being "nice" will make her life a lot easier.


She ... discovered that genuine good will toward one's fellow men could beautify and dignify even a stout German.

Narrator, Part 2, Chapter 34

Jo has this thought as she ponders why Professor Bhaer is so well-liked even though he has neither good looks, money, nor high social standing. She realizes he is attractive because he likes people and feels nothing but goodwill for fellow human beings. For this reason, they are drawn to him.


You'll be happier in doing that than writing splendid books ... for love is the only thing that we can carry with us when we go.

Beth, Part 2, Chapter 40

On her deathbed, Beth asks Jo to take her place and "be everything to Father and Mother when I'm gone." According to Beth, sacrificing oneself on the altar of love for the benefit of another brings greater happiness than anything else. Jo agrees to renounce her ambition, pledging herself to the care of her parents. Nevertheless, after Beth's death, Jo has a difficult time resigning herself to such a narrow life.


Gentlemen ... be courteous to the old maids, no matter how poor and plain and prim.

Narrator, Part 2, Chapter 43

The narrator suddenly seems to unmask herself in this scene as she gives a "homily" to boys and young men, asking them to have compassion for the women who slide into old age without a family of their own, even as they spend their time and resources helping the children of others as best they can. She asks these gentlemen to remember all their maiden aunts and other spinster relatives and friends whose goodwill they have received. They deserve nothing but courtesy and chivalry.


Ambitious girls have a hard time ... and often have to see youth, health, and precious opportunities go by, just for want of a little help at the right minute.

Amy, Part 2, Chapter 44

Amy wants to use some of Laurie's money to help the poor, but rather than help the most indigent, she would help the working poor—girls who try to better themselves. These are girls like herself and her sisters. Amy may be speaking for the author here, who saw her own youth and health disappear as she worked to support her family. She perhaps missed out on opportunities in her single-minded pursuit of income.

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