by Louisa May Alcott
Coming-of-Age, Romance, Children's Literature
More than anything else, Little Women is a coming-of-age story – specifically for Jo March, but more generally for all of the March sisters and even their friend Laurie. How can we tell? Well, it's simple: we begin with children and teenagers who have dreams for the future, and then we watch them mature into adults who have to adapt their plans to their circumstances. In that sense, Little Women reminds us of other great nineteenth-century novels in which children grow into adults, like Jane Eyre and Great Expectations. In Little Women, however, things seem to be just a little bit softer, easier, and cozier; we're never as worried about what will happen to Jo as we are about what could happen to Jane or Pip, who are more alone and more exposed to the trials of the world around them. Jo's coming-of-age is difficult, but it's made easier by the supportive nature of her close-knit family. We're actually a bit jealous of that; the March family is almost a little too perfect!
You can also think of Little Women as a romance; after all, it's the love triangle between Jo, Laurie, and Professor Bhaer that seems to capture everyone's attention. Just Google the words "Jo Laurie fan fiction" and you'll see what we mean. People write stories in which Jo falls for Laurie, and they make "Jo + Laurie" YouTube montages with their favorite love songs playing over them. The romance in the novel is a lot of fun, and you can get caught up in it. But Little Women is more than just romantic drama. It unites the romance plot with Jo's attempt to find herself and find a way to express her talents in the world around her.
Little Women is often considered children's literature, although it's a pretty high reading level. Louisa May Alcott wrote it with the intention of creating a girls' book, and she succeeded spectacularly – the book has had a long afterlife as a children's classic. It has also inspired later writers, and we think we see a debt to Little Women in books like Anne of Green Gables and Little House on the Prairie. That's not to say that L. M. Montgomery and Laura Ingalls Wilder didn't have unique visions of their own; they certainly did. But Louisa May Alcott paved the way for audiences to receive the kind of stories that Montgomery, Wilder, and others had to tell.