Little Women

Little Women

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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.
Love Theme Icon

In Little Women, the March girls learn about the importance of love, both familial and romantic. The book can be seen as a record of the March girls’ progression from an innocent, idealized vision of love to a more complex, worldly understanding of it by the end of the novel. The girls’ idealized notions of romantic love are embodied in Jo’s picaresque plays, in which swooning damsels find true love in spite of their hardships. (These plays can be seen as a reflection of the way romantic love was viewed in the 19th century – they represent an ideal that even Jo aspires to, even if she chafes against conventional femininity.) Laurie, the rich boy next door, offers Jo her first lessons in love, and helps her come to better understand what she’s looking for in a successful marriage. By the end of Part 2, all of the March girls (with the exception of Beth) have found their way to true love. Working in tandem with this notion of romantic love is the notion of familial love – motherly love in particular. Mrs. March’s love for her daughters is consistently upheld as an ideal that the March girls long to achieve both in their romantic lives and in themselves when they go on to become mothers.

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Love Quotes in Little Women

Below you will find the important quotes in Little Women related to the theme of Love.
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. 


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Part 1, Chapter 14 Quotes

Jo’s breath gave out here, and wrapping her head in the paper, she bedewed her little story with a few natural tears, for to be independent and earn the praise of those she loved were the dearest wishes of her heart, and this seemed to be the first step toward that happy end.

Related Characters: Josephine "Jo" March (speaker)
Page Number: 162
Explanation and Analysis:

Jo is the character in Little Women who most boldly defies gender norms. Jo dresses like a tomboy, brushes aside romantic love, and harbors ambitions of becoming a writer. In this chapter, Jo is taking important steps to making this dream a reality. Alcott is, in some senses, very traditional; her values are explicitly Christian, and she frames her novel around The Pilgrim's Progress. However, in this chapter, Alcott demonstrates that her conception of Christian values is not at odds with feminism. Jo's family supports her ambitions and encourages them instead of trying to sway her towards more traditionally feminine pursuits. This trust and encouragement is rewarded, since Jo's success does not distort her values. Jo is pleased by her success in a way that is not egotistical; her family's opinion still means the most to her, and she feels empowered that her writing can help her gain financial independence, not fame. This quote shows the benefits of women stepping outside of their traditional spheres and pursuing the work that is personally meaningful to them.

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.

“I’m not ambitious for a splendid fortune, or fashionable position, or a great name for my girls. If rank and money come with love and virtue, also, I should accept them gratefully, and enjoy your good fortune, but I know, by experience, how much genuine happiness can be had in a plain little house, where the daily bread is earned, and some privations give sweetness to the few pleasures.”

Related Characters: Margaret "Marmee" March (speaker)
Page Number: 209
Explanation and Analysis:

When Jo asks Marmee whether she would rather her daughters marry rich men than humble men like Mr. Brooke, Marmee gives an answer that reflects the values and morals of the book overall. Marmee extolls the virtues of simple and genuine pleasures, reminding Jo that joy is not meted out along class lines, but rather it comes to those who are virtuous and who seek and give genuine love. Marmee says nothing sweeping and dogmatic about the rich; she is careful not to suggest that a life of modest means implies virtue in itself, reminding Jo that she would be happy for any of her daughters if they married rich, as long as it were for the right reasons. Marmee does suggest, however, that any considerations of money should be off the table when planning for the future because love and virtue are the most important things in life and they cannot be bought.

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. 

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 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.

Part 2, Chapter 46 Quotes

“Oh yes!” said Jo, and he was quite satisfied, for she folded both hands over his arm, and looked up at him with an expression that plainly showed how happy she would be to walk through life beside him, even though she had no better shelter than the old umbrella, if he carried it.

Related Characters: Josephine "Jo" March , Professor Friedrich "Fritz" Bhaer
Related Symbols: Umbrellas
Page Number: 482
Explanation and Analysis:

In this scene, Jo has finally allowed herself to be open to romantic love. She realizes that Professor Bhaer is someone she genuinely loves and with whom she is compatible, and she wants someone to go through life with just as her mother has with Mr. March. After hunting down the professor and confessing that she is heartbroken that he is planning to take a job far away, Jo makes Professor Bhaer realize that his feelings for her are requited and he proposes. This is another example of the March girls striving to find husbands who are kind and virtuous and who complement their personalities, rather than trying to marry for status or wealth. Professor Bhaer has only a shabby umbrella with him, but Jo recognizes that the care with which he holds that umbrella over her head is all she needs in a marriage. It's also significant that the March girls have had so much agency in choosing their husbands. Jo and Amy both turn down proposals from wealthy men in order to be with better and poorer men, which is not a freedom that every Victorian family would have permitted their daughters. 

“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. 

Part 2, Chapter 47 Quotes

Touched to the heart, Mrs. March could only stretch out her arms, as if to gather children and grandchildren to herself, and say, with face and voice full of motherly love, gratitude, and humility…
“Oh, my girls, however long you may live, I never can wish you a greater happiness than this!”

Related Characters: Margaret "Marmee" March (speaker), Josephine "Jo" March , Margaret "Meg" March, Amy Curtis March
Page Number: 499
Explanation and Analysis:

In this closing passage to the novel, the March women have successfully devoted themselves to Christian values and hard work, and have thus established the full and happy lives that Mrs. March always imagined for them. Throughout the book, each of the women has struggled to overcome their personal flaws, maintain moral values, and support one another as they grew up. Now, this has all come to fruition with each of the girls having made happy and thriving families of their own. It's significant that each of the women has learned, with much difficulty, to never prioritize money in their lives. While none of them but Amy has much money, their joy is something that can't be bought, and Mrs. March couldn't "wish [them] a greater happiness than this." Alcott is driving home the point here that love is the greatest gift of all, and we should never let superficial concerns cloud our ability to give and receive genuine love, whether that is familial or romantic. This passage also emphasizes the importance of family. Despite everything that has happened to the Marches, their family is still the central force in their lives and it brings them great joy.