by Louisa May Alcott
Pilgrimage, Traveling, and Journeys
Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory
For a stay-at-home novel about private, domestic concerns, Little Women sure is full of traveling, journeys, and pilgrimages, both metaphorical and literal: Jo's trip to New York to experience the big city and get away from Laurie's romantic feelings for her, Amy's trip to Europe to see the great art of the Old World, Laurie's trip to Paris to forget about Jo, Mr. March's journey to and from the Civil War, Beth and Mrs. March's trip to the seaside, Mr. Bhaer's journey out west to work as a professor, and the "pilgrimage" that the sisters embark upon as they imitate John Bunyan's allegory The Pilgrim's Progress.
Pilgrimage is a religious and spiritual journey, and each of the sisters discovers that she has metaphorical "burdens" to carry and obstacles to traverse. At first these obstacles are directly related to the geographical images in Pilgrim's Progress: when Amy is beaten at school for having the forbidden pickled limes in her desk, for example, Alcott describes her as going through the "Valley of Humiliation." The sisters' more literal journeys also have deeper significance. For example, when Amy goes to Europe to develop her artistic talent, she ends up marrying the boy from next door. Alcott's message is clear: no matter where you go, you can't get away from yourself. Sometimes it takes a journey of a thousand miles just to figure out what you had on your doorstep all along.