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Little Women

Little Women


by Louisa May Alcott

Analysis: Narrator Point of View

Who is the narrator, can she or he read minds, and, more importantly, can we trust her or him?

Third Person (Omniscient)

The narrator of Little Women is an omniscient, disembodied voice that knows everyone's thoughts and feelings and explores the characters from within and without. We get a good example of this in the first chapter, in which the narrator gives the reader a description of each of the March sisters – her appearance and her personality – as the girls sit by the fire knitting:

Margaret, the eldest of the four, was sixteen, and very pretty, being plump and fair, with large eyes, plenty of soft brown hair, a sweet mouth, and white hands, of which she was rather vain. Fifteen-year-old Jo was very tall, thin, and brown, and reminded one of a colt, for she never seemed to know what to do with her long limbs, which were very much in her way. [. . .] Elizabeth, or Beth, as everyone called her, was a rosy, smooth-haired, bright-eyed girl of thirteen, with a shy manner, a timid voice, and a peaceful expression which was seldom disturbed. [. . .] Amy, though the youngest, was a most important person, in her own opinion at least. (1.35)

Most of the time, the narrator focuses on our protagonist, Jo March. For example, when Jo wakes up on Christmas morning, the narrator describes her actions and feelings:

Then she remembered her mother's promise and, slipping her hand under her pillow, drew out a little crimson-covered book. She knew it very well, for it was that beautiful old story of the best life ever lived, and Jo felt that it was a true guidebook for any pilgrim going on a long journey. (2.1)

But when it's necessary for the story, the narrator can delve into the mind of any character, from Marmee to John Brooke. In these cases, the narrator tends to drop into the perspective of that character in order to tell the reader things that no other character knows – at least not yet. For example, here's a passage told from Marmee's perspective:

Hoping to impress the lesson more deeply, Mrs. March, who had a good deal of humor, resolved to finish off the trial in an appropriate manner, so she gave Hannah a holiday and let the girls enjoy the full effect of the play system. (11.19)

And here's one from John Brooke's perspective:

Congratulating himself that a handsome repast had been ordered that morning, feeling sure that it would be ready to the minute, and indulging in pleasant anticipations of the charming effect it would produce, when his pretty wife came running out to meet him, he escorted his friend to his mansion, with the irrepressible satisfaction of a young host and husband. (28.8)

Most of the time, this omniscient narrator uses the third person. Occasionally, however, the narrator uses first-person pronouns I and We. For example, before the description of the four sisters, the narrator says, "We will take this moment to give...a little sketch of the four sisters" (1.34), and when Marmee returns home from Washington to take care of Beth while she is sick, the narrator writes, "I don't think I have any words in which to tell the meeting of the mother and daughters" (20.1). Don't let this strange use of the first person confuse you; the narrator's not a character in the story, but an omniscient storytelling voice that knows all.

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