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Little Women

Little Women

by Louisa May Alcott

Analysis: Booker's Seven Basic Plots Analysis: Rags to Riches

Christopher Booker is a scholar who wrote that every story falls into one of seven basic plot structures: Overcoming the Monster, Rags to Riches, the Quest, Voyage and Return, Comedy, Tragedy, and Rebirth. Shmoop explores which of these structures fits this story like Cinderella’s slipper.

Plot Type :

Initial Wretchedness at Home and the Call

Tomboyish Jo March tries to be happy at home with her mother and sisters, working hard to help support the family and keep house. Yet she feels drawn to travel, excitement, literature, and culture in the wider world.

OK, so we admit that this stage isn't a perfect fit for this novel, because the March family home is far from wretched. But despite the domestic paradise created by Marmee for her girls, Jo isn't completely happy there. She wants to do something fantastic with her life, but she can't figure out what. She's always wanted to travel in Europe, to be a famous author or playwright, or maybe an actress.

Out into the World, Initial Success

Jo accepts a post as governess to two children in a boarding house in New York.

It's not the European Grand Tour that she's always dreamed of, but living in New York is a chance for Jo to move in different circles. She hears lots of interesting philosophical and intellectual conversation, she becomes a regular author for a sensational periodical, and she meets the knowledgeable, virtuous Professor Bhaer. She's getting experience of the public sphere, and it makes a strange contrast with her previous domestic existence.

The Central Crisis

Jo is forced to return home to care for her dying sister Beth. Now she must choose between staying at home to care for her parents and returning to New York to pursue public success.

This conflict isn't really a choice for Jo. Obviously, she's going to take Beth's place as the daughter who stays at home, filling her parents' lives with affection and kindness. The real crisis takes place within her – how can she reconcile herself to a life lived entirely in the private sphere? Will she be able to find an outlet for her ambitions and her dreams, or does she have to subordinate the creative and lively parts of her personality to her sense of filial duty?

Independence and the Final Ordeal

Jo's nature is refined as she becomes more adult – a woman, not a girl. But does she still have a chance to win Mr. Bhaer's heart?

The first part of this stage is a good fit for this novel. The narrator spends a lot of words explaining the way that Beth's death and her new role in the home changes Jo, making her sweeter and more serious, and even drawing her closer to God. However, Jo doesn't really have a "Final Ordeal" in which she faces down the villain. After all, the only villain in the novel is Jo herself; she's always been her own worst enemy, and what she's had to conquer is her own wayward nature. Deep, huh? Instead of a last battle with the villain, Jo has a comical series of misunderstandings that threaten to keep her separated from the man she now knows she loves.

Final Union, Completion, and Fulfillment

Jo marries Mr. Bhaer, inherits Plumfield from Aunt March, and opens a boarding school for boys.

Because Jo was willing to renounce wealth, personal fulfillment, and marriage in favor of a quiet life at home with her parents, the novel rewards her with all those things anyway.

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