Little Women

Little Women

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Christianity, Morality, and Goodness Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
The Role of Women Theme Icon
Christianity, Morality, and Goodness Theme Icon
Work and Social Class Theme Icon
Genuineness, Simplicity, and Natural Beauty Theme Icon
Love Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Little Women, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Christianity, Morality, and Goodness Theme Icon

In the opening pages of Little Women, Mrs. March urges her daughters to take their cue from Christian, the main character in the allegorical tale The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan. “Our burdens are here,” she says, “our road is before us, and the longing for goodness and happiness is the guide that leads us through many troubles and mistakes to the peace which is a true Celestial City.” And in many ways, the story arc of Little Women can be seen as a shadow of The Pilgrim’s Progress – through their mishaps and misdeeds, and through their constant struggle to do what is good and right, the March sisters’ progression from childhood to adolescence and young adulthood can be seen as a story of moral growth. How does one become a virtuous person? What constitutes virtuous behavior?

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Christianity, Morality, and Goodness Quotes in Little Women

Below you will find the important quotes in Little Women related to the theme of Christianity, Morality, and Goodness.
Part 1, Chapter 1 Quotes

“Our burdens are here, our road is before us…Now, my little pilgrims, suppose you begin again, not in play, but in earnest, and see how far on you can get before Father comes home.”

Related Characters: Margaret "Marmee" March (speaker), Josephine "Jo" March , Margaret "Meg" March, Elizabeth "Beth" March, Amy Curtis March , Robert March
Page Number: 16
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote sets the moral tone of the book in that it establishes that the primary conflicts of the novel will be internal: the girls battling their own worst instincts to try to live good and righteous lives. Here, Mrs. March references The Pilgrim's Progress, an allegorical novel about Christian life that the girls read and act out as children. Mrs. March suggests that this novel could represent not just a theatrical opportunity, but a road map for their spiritual lives. Indeed, Little Women itself is mapped onto The Pilgrim's Progress, with its plot arc and moral center heavily invested in constant self improvement, overcoming personal obstacles, and Christian values. 

This quote comes directly after the opening struggle of the book, in which the March girls must decide whether to buy themselves Christmas presents, since they have chosen to forego family presents this year. The March girls first fantasize about buying things they really want, but with each other's help, they conclude that the best way to spend the money would be to buy their mother presents. In a sense, Little Women is an accumulation of choices like this one. This quote of Mrs. March's indicates that this struggle is emblematic of the struggles of the entire book.


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Part 1, Chapter 8 Quotes

“I burned it up.”
“What! My little book I was so fond of, and worked over, and meant to finish before Father got home? Have you really burned it?” said Jo, turning very pale, while her eyes kindled and her hands clutched Amy nervously.

Related Characters: Josephine "Jo" March (speaker), Amy Curtis March (speaker)
Page Number: 81
Explanation and Analysis:

Each of the March girls have one particular character flaw with which they struggle throughout the book. For Jo, this flaw is her temper, which can be immoderate and destructive. In this quote, Jo realizes that Amy, in an act of revenge for an earlier unkindness of Jo's, has burned a book that Jo has been writing. This chapter shows the ways in which unkindnesses escalate if we don't check our impulses and tempers. Jo and Amy are caught in a cyclical spat, and each sister's next act of revenge is worse than the last until it leads to Amy being put in mortal danger. This chapter is particularly important because it is such a difficult challenge for Jo to choose love and forgiveness in the face of her strong temper (and love for her own creative work). Her failure to control her temper results in near-catastrophe, and it is a difficult and lasting lesson for Jo to learn. 

Part 1, Chapter 11 Quotes

“Work is wholesome, and there is plenty for everyone. It keeps us from ennui and mischief, is good for health and spirits, and gives us a sense of power and independence better than money or fashion.”

Related Characters: Margaret "Marmee" March (speaker)
Page Number: 124
Explanation and Analysis:

In this chapter, the March girls do an experiment to see if they enjoy putting aside all work for a week. While they begin the week optimistic that without work and chores they will enjoy themselves more, their contentment quickly unravels and becomes boredom, laziness, and petty fighting. It's important to note here that the book is set in 1860, and the March girls work hard--they have much more responsibility than a typical American teenager today. Even so, the conclusion they come to (summed up in this quote by Mrs. March) is that hard and consistent work is essential to happiness and virtue. This revelation is an important one to these girls, who are each occasionally prone to status anxiety and envy of the rich and idle. By not working for a week, the girls begin to see a virtue in their humble background. Not only does work keep them wholesomely occupied, but working is actually a source of power for them. Alcott frames work and responsibility not just as burdens imposed on the poor, but also as potential privileges that reap personal and spiritual rewards.

Part 1, Chapter 18 Quotes

“…she can’t love Bethy as I do, and she won’t miss her as I shall. Beth is my conscience, and I can’t give her up. I can’t! I can’t!”

Related Characters: Josephine "Jo" March (speaker), Elizabeth "Beth" March
Page Number: 190
Explanation and Analysis:

Throughout the novel, Jo and Beth share a special closeness that transcends the depth of normal sisterhood. The intensity of this bond seems to be because the two are so opposite, and yet they love and respect one another so much. Beth is meek and sweet, while Jo is bold and often brash. When Jo says that Beth is her conscience, she means that almost literally. To Jo, Beth is the embodiment of goodness and virtue. Beth inspires Jo, checks Jo's excesses, and her love provides redemption when Jo errs. So this quote reveals Jo's panic when she believes that Beth is going to die. The sentiment expressed here is a mixed one, because, while it is clearly rooted in a deep love for Beth, it also seems quite selfish and immature. Jo is only considering what this loss would mean to her. For instance, Jo here diminishes Meg's potential grief, saying that she loves Beth more than Meg does.

Part 1, Chapter 20 Quotes

“I knew there was mischief brewing. I felt it, and now it’s worse than I imagined. I just wish I could marry Meg myself, and keep her safe in the famiy.”

Related Characters: Josephine "Jo" March (speaker), Margaret "Meg" March, John Brooke
Page Number: 208
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Jo has just learned that Meg is to marry Mr. Brooke, which marks the first engagement among the March girls. Jo alone is not happy for Meg, because she sees this as a threat to the closeness and love of their immediate family. Jo's reasons for this sentiment are complex, but it seems that, in general, Jo finds familial love to be superior to romantic love. Jo does not have a particularly nuanced understanding of romantic love (as shown in her plays), and her personal distaste for it seems to come from her perception that married women are beholden to their husbands, and, thus, romantic love contradicts Jo's values. Part of Jo's development as a person throughout the course of the book is learning that she can maintain her values and independence without rejecting romantic love outright. Jo must also learn that romantic love and familial love are tightly linked; the March family was founded on the romantic love between Marmee and Mr. March, for example. This quote, then, marks Jo's naive but well-meaning attitude about her family and about love.

Part 1, Chapter 22 Quotes

“I remember a time when this hand was white and smooth, and your first care was to keep it so. It was very pretty then, but to me it is much prettier now, for in these seeming blemishes I read a little history. A burnt offering has been made to vanity, this hardened palm has earned something better than blisters, and I’m sure the sewing done by these pricked fingers will last a long time, so much good will went into the stitches.”

Related Characters: Robert March (speaker), Margaret "Meg" March
Page Number: 227
Explanation and Analysis:

As many incidents in this book have illuminated, Meg's greatest vice is her vanity, and she has struggled against it frequently in her attempts to live a virtuous life. Meg is particularly vain about her pretty white hands, but the hardships she has faced since Mr. March went off to war have left her hands scarred. In this passage, Mr. March has just returned home and he praises Meg's hands, for their blemishes reveal the sacrifices she has made for her family and her progress in overcoming vanity in favor of more important concerns. This passage is another nod to the importance of work in the novel. Alcott sees work as the path to a good life, and idleness as courting vice. This quote is also important in that Mr. March, instead of encouraging Meg to protect her appearance (which some would have said was a woman's greatest asset), encourages Meg to work hard and help others, implicitly prioritizing her character over her appearance. This is another potentially feminist moment in the book. 

Part 2, Chapter 24 Quotes

“Meg and John begin humbly, but I have a feeling that there will be quite as much happiness in the little house as in the big one. It’s a great mistake for young girls like Meg to leave themselves nothing to do but dress, give orders, and gossip.”

Related Characters: Margaret "Marmee" March (speaker), Margaret "Meg" March, John Brooke
Page Number: 248
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quote, Marmee is once again describing the virtue to be found in humility and simplicity. Mr. Brooke has bought a small house for him and Meg to live in once they are married, and, while Meg wonders about the more glamorous married lives of her wealthy friends, Marmee insists that there will be as much happiness for Meg living simply as for her more extravagant friends. While the notion that happiness is not distributed based on social class has been thoroughly explored in the novel, Marmee goes even further here to suggest that there could be something actually morally superior to living humbly, because the imperative to work keeps one from falling into vice and idleness. As the March girls learned during their week of not working, sometimes it is lack of work in itself that sows the most unhappiness and infects relationships (in that case, sisterly ones, but it's applicable to marriage, too) with pettiness. So, Marmee is implying that Meg's marriage might be happier than her friends' marriages not in spite of their modest means, but, perhaps, because of it. 

Part 2, Chapter 25 Quotes

It wasn’t at all the thing, I’m afraid, but the minute she was fairly married, Meg cried,” The first kiss for Marmee!” and turning, gave it with her heart on her lips.

Related Characters: Margaret "Meg" March (speaker), Margaret "Marmee" March
Page Number: 258
Explanation and Analysis:

In a last testament to Meg's willingness to prioritize genuine sentiment over fashion and tradition, Meg kisses her mother at the wedding before she even kisses her new husband. This shows the depth of Meg's love for her family, and the extent to which Meg is acting on genuine impulse throughout the chapter. It is Jo, in particular, who has fretted over a perceived conflict between familial and romantic love, but something that each of the girls must learn throughout the book is that the two are not at odds, and the sentiments, complexities, and rewards of familial and romantic love are quite similar. This moment shows clearly that romantic and familial love are not in conflict, since Meg is perfectly comfortable breaking with tradition and expressing her love for her mother first. This moment also alludes to the importance of the bonds between women. Meg's marriage is virtuous and based on real love, but it can never replace or diminish the importance of Meg's mother and sisters to her life. 

Part 2, Chapter 28 Quotes

…Meg learned to love her husband better for his poverty, because it seemed to have made a man of him, given him the strength and courage to fight his own way, and taught him a tender patience with which to bear and comfort the natural longings and failures of those he loved.

Related Characters: Margaret "Meg" March, John Brooke
Page Number: 291
Explanation and Analysis:

This passage comes near the end of a chapter about the struggles of Meg's married life, one of which was the resurgence of Meg's vanity and her extravagant purchase of a fancy dress. While Meg has always been vulnerable to envying the rich, she has become better and better at overcoming this inclination, and in this situation, the love of her husband helps her understand that she was wrong. Meg realizes here that her husband's poverty has actually made him a better, more empathetic person because it made him tougher and taught him to be patient and kind with the struggles of others. (Of course, this is not always the case in the real world.) Meg links John's ability to forgive her to the virtues he has cultivated through a modest and humble life, and this helps her understand that she strives to be more like him. This is another testament to what Alcott sees as the benefits of working, as it is through work that people learn strength and empathy.

Part 2, Chapter 34 Quotes

[Jo] began to see that character is a better possession than money, rank, intellect, or beauty, and to feel that if greatness is what a wise man has defined it to be, “truth, reverence, and goodwill,” then her friend Friedrich Bhaer was not only good, but great.

Related Characters: Josephine "Jo" March , Professor Friedrich "Fritz" Bhaer
Page Number: 361
Explanation and Analysis:

At this point in the book, Jo is pursuing her writing career in New York and is starting to become slightly "corrupted" by the types of stories she is writing and the people she's around. She sees Professor Bhaer as unique because of his kindness and goodwill and his imperviousness to bad morals in their circles, and she's drawn to this in him. This quote comes after Professor Bhaer defends the existence of God to intellectuals who are doubtful. Jo is deeply moved by this, because Jo's own faith is something that she has felt has not been shared by others in New York. This is another instance of Alcott showing that money and status do not correlate with being a good person, and that it is often those of humble background who are most noble of character. (Of course, Alcott also sees goodness as inextricably tied to Christian belief.) Jo isn't impressed by literary luminaries or society people, but by Professor Bhaer, who is unassuming but also fiercely good and willing to stand up for his beliefs. 

Part 2, Chapter 46 Quotes

“Ah! Thou gifest me such hope and courage, and I haf nothing to gif back but a full heart and these empty hands,” cried the Professor, quite overcome.
Jo never, never would learn to be proper, for when he said that as they stood upon the steps, she just put both hands into his, whispering tenderly, “Not empty now,” and stooping down, kissed her Friedrich under the umbrella.

Related Characters: Josephine "Jo" March (speaker), Professor Friedrich "Fritz" Bhaer (speaker)
Related Symbols: Umbrellas
Page Number: 488
Explanation and Analysis:

Once Jo lets Professor Bhaer know that she loves him, the professor is overcome with joy. He had worried that he did not have enough to offer her because he didn't have much money, but Jo has never been someone particularly impressed with status. This exchange, in a sense, turns Victorian expectations for women on its head; Bhaer laments that all he has to give are "these empty hands" and Jo responds by putting her hands in his and telling him they are "not empty now." Instead of the man needing to offer material security to his bride-to-be, Jo is confident in her own ability to support herself and her ability to give love equal to his. Putting her hands in his symbolizes her assertion that she can equally contribute to the relationship and, while she appreciates the love and protection that Bhaer provides (as symbolized by the umbrella), she is choosing this marriage because it enriches her life, not because she needs it.