Back To Course9th Grade English: Homework Help Resource
21 chapters | 271 lessons
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Francesca M. Marinaro has a PhD in English from the University of Florida and has been teaching English composition and Literature since 2007.
When nineteenth century American writer Louisa May Alcott first wrote Little Women as a way to earn money, she never imagined it would be such a tremendous commercial success. But, the novel is a well-loved classic of children's literature, with relatable, memorable characters and the warm, homey feeling of being drawn into the world of a nineteenth century American home. While Alcott was reluctant to even write the story, it earned her fame and fortune and encouraged readers to embrace her later work as well. She originally published the book in two volumes in 1868 and 1869, when, after reading volume one, readers demanded to know more about the characters. Volume two, Good Wives, was combined with the first volume in 1880, and published as Little Women.
Little Women is a coming of age story that begins in Civil War America. It follows the lives and growth from girlhood to womanhood of the four March girls: Meg, 17; Josephine (or Jo), 15; Beth, 14; and Amy, 12. Their father, a minister, is serving in the war, and the girls and their mother must keep the house running and work hard in their father's absence. When we first meet the girls, it's just before Christmas, and they are sad because their poverty and the current hard times won't really make things feel much like Christmas—especially since they can't afford presents. Realizing how fortunate they are to have their mother and each other, they resolve to work harder to be more selfless and good, as their father would want.
They begin by bringing their breakfast to a needy family nearby, the Hummels. Their wealthy neighbor, Old Mr. Laurence, who they all fear because he looks like a grim man, sends them flowers and ice-cream as a reward for their kindness. This opens the door for a friendship between the girls and his grandson, Theodore (or Laurie). When Jo and Meg attend a dance, Jo, something of a tomboy, hides from the dancing and discovers Laurie doing the same. The two begin chatting, and when Meg sprains her ankle, Laurie drives the girls home in his carriage. For the girls, who've never had a brother, this friendship is refreshing. They visit Mr. Laurence's home and enjoy its rich interior. Jo loves the library, for she is an aspiring writer; Meg loves walking in the conservatory among all of the flowers; Beth, a musician, plays the grand piano; and Amy likes to practice her drawing by copying the artwork.
When Mrs. March receives a telegram that her husband is ill, Mr. Laurence sends Mr. Brooke (Laurie's tutor) to accompany her to her husband, leaving the girls at home. During her mother's absence, Beth contracts scarlet fever from caring for the Hummels' baby and becomes dangerously ill. While the fever breaks, her health never fully recovers. While Mrs. March is caring for her husband, Mr. Brooke confesses to them his love for Meg. They eventually agree to marry, though they plan to wait until Meg is older, and Mr. Brooke can save money for a home.
Three years later, Meg and Mr. Brooke marry, and Jo works on a novel that is rejected with the explanation that it needs revision. The girls' Aunt Carol plans a trip to Europe, and Amy accompanies her so that she can have an opportunity to study art. Meanwhile, Jo moves to New York and becomes a governess. There she meets Professor Bhaer, who is charming and intelligent but very poor, and obviously is taken with Jo. When she returns home for the summer, Laurie proposes, but she rejects him, saying she can only love him as a brother. Crushed, Laurie decides to accompany his grandfather to Europe.
While Laurie is in Europe, Beth dies peacefully, and he is able to comfort Amy, who he has come across in his travels. Laurie and Amy return home from Europe married, to everyone's delight. Professor Bhaer and Jo also marry, and Jo inherits a huge home, Plumfield, from her Great Aunt March (the elderly aunt of her father who she cared for as a paid companion). She and Professor Bhaer move there and establish a school for boys, and the family continues to flourish, growing with husbands and children.
Now let's take a closer look at some of the characters.
The March family consists of four sisters:
Meg, the oldest, remembers a time when the family had more money and longs for luxury, but she works hard as a governess and takes pleasure in the domestic tasks of running a household. Despite her vanity, she enjoys pleasing others and making home comfortable.
Jo is the second March girl, and she is independent and headstrong with a sometimes violent temper. She is a tomboy and especially close with Laurie. To help the family earn money, she is a paid companion to her elderly Aunt March. She has always dreamed of becoming a writer and is always scribbling stories, and she loves getting lost in Mr. Laurence's library.
Beth, the third daughter, is quiet and extremely shy and awkward, except with her family. She studies at home because she feels too bashful for school, and her greatest pleasure is in making the house comfortable for her mother and sisters. The one person other than Jo who seems to connect with her is crotchety old Mr. Laurence, and the two develop a close bond. After going to care for the poor Hummels' baby, who has scarlet fever, Beth catches the illness and never fully recovers. She dies in her late teens, peacefully in her mother's arms, leaving the family and the story with the same gentle quietness with which she inhabited their lives. The sisters remember her kindness and her willingness to serve others, and despite her life being so short, she inspires them to be kinder toward each other.
Amy, the youngest, is the family pet, spoiled by everyone and with a preoccupation about her appearance. She puts on airs about herself that her mother and sisters try to correct, but beneath her spoiled nature, she has a good heart and loves her family.
Mr. Laurence is the old man who lives in the big mansion near the March house. Until the girls meet him, they think he's a grumpy old man, but as they become acquainted with his grandson, they grow to love him as a surrogate grandfather.
Theodore 'Laurie' Laurence is Mr. Laurence's grandson, roughly the same age as Jo. With both of his parents dead and no brothers or sisters, he takes quickly to the March girls, who become like sisters to him, and looks up to Mrs. March as a surrogate mother. While he loves Jo for a time, he eventually marries Amy not long after Beth's death.
John Brooke is Laurie's tutor, and in getting to know the March girls through Laurie, he falls in love with Meg. He is the model of a hard-working young American who wants to honestly earn a life for himself and his family. Though he can't offer Meg much in the way of luxury, he works hard for her, and together they build a happy home and marriage.
Professor Fritz Bhaer is the man whom Jo meets on her trip to New York and marries at the end of the story. He is poor and has to care for his two orphaned nephews. He encourages Jo to write fiction, but challenges her to write above the popular sensational literature being published because he thinks she's a great writer. When Jo's wealthy aunt leaves her a house and fortune, the two are able to marry, and in addition to having two boys of their own, they turn Plumfield, Aunt March's estate, into a school for boys.
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Back To Course9th Grade English: Homework Help Resource
21 chapters | 271 lessons
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