Little Women

Little Women

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Genuineness, Simplicity, and Natural Beauty 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.
Genuineness, Simplicity, and Natural Beauty Theme Icon

“I don’t like fuss and feathers,” Laurie remarks when he sees Meg dolled up in borrowed finery at a dance thrown by one of her wealthy friends. Simplicity and genuineness are touted as values of the highest order in Little Women, and they’re often seen as an antidote to the difficulties of poverty. Similar to a number of other late 19th century thinkers (the doctor and cereal tycoon John Harvey Kellogg, for instance), Alcott is a proponent of natural beauty. The March girls discover that corsets and dainty slippers often cause fainting and sprained ankles, and they receive far more praise, pleasure, and moral good from wearing their simple hand-me-down dresses and adorning themselves with a few hot house flowers from Mr. Laurence’s conservatory.

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Genuineness, Simplicity, and Natural Beauty Quotes in Little Women

Below you will find the important quotes in Little Women related to the theme of Genuineness, Simplicity, and Natural Beauty.
Part 1, Chapter 3 Quotes

“I don’t believe fine young ladies enjoy themselves a bit more than we do, in spite of our burned hair, old gowns, one glove apiece and tight slippers that sprain our ankles when we are silly enough to wear them.”

Related Characters: Josephine "Jo" March (speaker)
Page Number: 39
Explanation and Analysis:

In this chapter, the March girls attend a party held by a wealthy neighbor. While the Marches are well-respected in town, they are not wealthy and the party invitation induces status anxiety in the girls, as they do not have clothes that will be as fashionable as others at the party. This quote encapsulates the lesson of the chapter; the girls spend lots of time fussing about their appearances and worrying what others will think of them, but these concerns only bring unhappiness and misfortune (sprained ankles, damaged clothes). What they ultimately find joy in is a true human connection they establish with Laurie, whose kindness is unrelated to shallow concerns like social status. From the anxieties and misfortunes of the party, the girls learn that their vanity comes at a cost, and from Laurie's new friendship they learn that joy comes from unexpected sources. This quote is Jo conceding that all their fuss was unnecessary--their own humble lives can be just as pleasurable as (or even better than) the lives of richer women.


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Part 1, Chapter 9 Quotes

“I don’t like fuss and feathers.”

Related Characters: Theodore "Laurie" Laurence (speaker), Margaret "Meg" March
Related Symbols: Birds
Page Number: 98
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote of Laurie's is a rebuttal to Meg's central character flaw, her vanity. Meg is always envious of the nice things that others have, and she is protective of her own appearance to a fault. In this scene, she has fallen prey to this impulse, allowing her wealthy friends to dress her in a way that strokes her vanity but is contrary to her values. When Laurie sees her, he recognizes this and tells her so. What Laurie loves about the March girls is their character: their kindness, generosity, and intelligence. Furthermore, Laurie (who comes from a wealthy family) appreciates that the girls are not preoccupied with the shallow concerns of the wealthy (like fashion), but are instead deeply interested in spiritual progress and friendship. Laurie loves that they are down-to-earth, and to see Meg dressed up like a rich woman disappoints him. This quote is not intended to be condescending or judgmental on Laurie's part, but rather it is a well-intentioned criticism from a good friend, and Meg takes it as such. (Although as readers we should note that Laurie, as a man, feels entitled to offer his opinion on how he "likes" women to be.) Because of Laurie, Meg realizes that she has betrayed her values and she is embarrassed.

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 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

Meg looked very like a rose herself, for all that was best and sweetest in heart and soul seemed to bloom into her face that day, making it fair and tender, with a charm more beautiful than beauty.

Related Characters: Margaret "Meg" March
Related Symbols: Flowers
Page Number: 255
Explanation and Analysis:

At Meg's wedding, she is dressed simply and adorned with flowers. In this passage, Alcott compares Meg's beauty to a rose in that it is simple and natural, and Alcott suggests that this beauty is rooted less in her appearance than in the pure happiness and virtuous intentions with which Meg is entering her marriage. To be this happy with her marriage is a triumph for Meg, who has previously been tempted by wealth and vanity. Her lovely and simple appearance contrasts with, for instance, the night that her rich friends dressed her garishly for the dance, and the comparison shows the tremendous progress Meg has made in overcoming her vanity. In fact, Alcott seems to suggest that it is only in overcoming vanity and finding things more precious and important to value that Meg has become this beautiful. This is an auspicious beginning to Meg's married life, and the whole scene of their wedding suggests the virtues of simplicity, nature, and genuine emotion.

Neither silk, lace, nor orange flowers would she have. “I don’t want a fashionable wedding, but only those about me whom I love, and to them I wish to look and be my familiar self.”

Related Characters: Margaret "Meg" March (speaker)
Related Symbols: Flowers
Page Number: 255
Explanation and Analysis:

As a further credit to Meg and her simple wedding, Alcott makes it clear that the simplicity of the wedding was Meg's choice, and not just a reflection of the means available to her and John. Meg (who was once taken in by vanity and envy of her wealthy friends' beautiful clothes) understands now that for her wedding day she should just be herself. After all, the only people whom she wants to impress are those who know her and love her best, and those are the very people who would be least taken in by fancy things, as Meg's family only cares about her character. This passage is an indication that Meg has made meaningful progress in her quest for a more virtuous life, and it shows the confidence that she has in herself and her marriage, since she is willing to rely on genuine sentiment to make the wedding beautiful, rather than striving to make it fashionable. 

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 35 Quotes

“I can’t love anyone else, and I’ll never forget you, Jo, never! Never!” with a stamp to emphasize his passionate words.
“What shall I do with him?” sighed Jo, finding that emotions were more unmanageable than she expected. “You haven’t heard what I wanted to tell you. Sit down and listen, for indeed I want to do right and make you happy,” she said, hoping to soothe him with a little reason, which proved that she knew nothing about love.

Related Characters: Josephine "Jo" March (speaker), Theodore "Laurie" Laurence (speaker)
Page Number: 371
Explanation and Analysis:

In this scene, Laurie has finally proposed to Jo, and she says no. It's difficult for Jo to break Laurie's heart because she loves him as a friend, but she knows she is not in love with him and wants to do the right thing by not giving him hope. While Laurie and Jo are both good people who genuinely love one another, Alcott suggests that they would not complement each other as husband and wife because of their similarities, particularly their brash temperaments. Jo needs to surround herself with moderate people like Beth who check her worst impulses, and she seems to realize this while she is turning Laurie down. Jo has always spoken scathingly of romantic love, but in this chapter we get the sense that her attitude might be slowly changing. She doesn't protest much when Laurie accuses her of loving Professor Bhaer, which, for Jo, seems suspicious. However, we do know that she can't be in love with him yet because her handling of Laurie's emotions, as this quote states, proves that she doesn't quite know how to empathize with someone in love. This is something Jo needs to learn, but we get the sense that maybe she is about to.