Study Guide

A Little Princess Themes

  • Isolation

    Even when she's rich Sara is already a weird kid and pretty thoughtful for her age. After she loses her wealth... well, it turns out that she has a lot more time to sit around and ponder things than she did before. (When she's not running errands and sweeping out fireplaces, that is.) Poor Sara is separated from all the other students and not allowed to attend classes or play with them. The only people she talks to each day are her few friends (who have to sneak up at night to see her), Emily her doll, and a rat that she happens to befriend. It's quite a lonely life, being a pauper in Miss Minchin's care, and it's only made more lonesome by the fact that Sara is mourning the death of her deeply beloved father. But A Little Princess asks us: is being all by yourself always bad?

    Questions About Isolation

    1. What helps Sara to pass the time when she's up in that little room of hers? Does she always feel isolated?
    2. What role do characters like Becky and Ermengarde serve in the story? How do they help Sara feel companionship? What kind of comfort do they provide?
    3. When is Sara at her loneliest? What does being lonely look like, for Sara?
    4. Is Miss Minchin a lonely character? Can we blame her behavior on the fact that she's lonely?

    Chew on This

    Sara is lonely even before she is exiled from her station at the boarding school, so she's actually able to survive using the same coping mechanisms she did before.

    All of the little girls at the boarding school are lonely, because their parents have abandoned them. Sara is one example, but we also see this in characters like Lottie and Ermengarde.

  • Friendship

    How exactly does Sara bear it all in A Little Princess? Well, there's that whole inner grace thing. But it also helps that she has a pretty tight crew that sticks with her through thick and thin. Yeah, Lottie, Becky, and Ermengarde are a ragtag bunch of misfits, but they're also the only girls at the school who don't judge Sara or turn their snotty little backs on her (ahem, Lavinia) when it seems as though she's lost everything. And no matter how nice your doll is, real human friends are irreplaceable.

    Questions About Friendship

    1. Do friends have to be "real" people? What counts a friendship in A Little Princess? Would you be happy with the kinds of friends Sara has?
    2. Why does Sara choose Ermengarde as her friend? What does she gain from their friendship? 
    3. Why is Sara's kindness so startling to a character like Becky? What does Sara gain from that friendship? And how about from her friendship with Lottie?
    4. What role does Emily serve in the story?

    Chew on This

    No matter how good her imagination is, Sara would not survive her circumstances without all her friends, both real and imagined.

    Sara's initial kindness wins over more people than her material goods.

  • Jealousy

    Ah yes, the green-eyed monster in all of us. Sure, Sara has a lot going for her at the beginning of A Little Princess, but most people are happy for her—except, of course, for a select few. Two people who are so jealous of her that they just can't stand it (cue some foot-stomping and high-pitched screaming) are Miss Minchin herself and Lavinia. Miss Minchin hates that Sara can speak French and that she's so rich and smart. (Very mature of her, we know.) And Lavinia was top dog at the school until Sara got there, so she obviously hates Sara. And guess what happens to these two ladies? (Hint: they don't get diamond mines.)

    Questions About Jealousy

    1. How does jealousy motivate someone like Lavinia? Why is she jealous of a little girl, when she's already a teenager?
    2. Speaking of little girls, why is Miss Minchin—a grown woman—so jealous of a little girl, anyway? What's her deal? 
    3. Why doesn't Sara feel envious of the other students when she's treated poorly and forced to live in poverty? 
    4. What does Sara have that no one else has, even when she's poor? Does anyone seem to be jealous of that?

    Chew on This

    Jealous and pettiness stunt the emotional lives of Lavinia and Miss Minchin.

    By not comparing her circumstances to her peers and feeling sorry for herself, Sara stays sane and hopeful despite her miserable circumstances.

  • Suffering

    Please choose from the following list the phrase that best represents "fun": Endless chores, sleeping in a dingy attic with rats, being hungry, losing all of your clothes and toys.

    Answer: Trick questions! None of it! In A Little Princess,poor Sara is thrust into a situation that is decidedly not at all fun when she loses all her money, her sole living relative, and is forced to work for her keep at the boarding school that she once attended as a star pupil. Rough times, eh? Yep. But she handles the suffering like a true Brit: stiff upper lip, good spirit, and, of course, she triumphs in the end.

    Questions About Suffering

    1. Does Sara ever find her situation unbearable? Why or why not? What seems to be her lowest point?
    2. What do you think is worse on Sara—her emotional or physical suffering? 
    3. How does her situation compare to someone like Becky's? Would you say that Sara suffer more, less, or about the same as Becky?
    4. Does Miss Minchin deliberately make things worse for Sara? Is she actively trying to make Sara suffer?

    Chew on This

    Sara manages to adjust to going from a life of luxury to a hard-knock life by staying true to her own opinions and personality.

    Structurally, the book shows the reader that when things are at their very worst, they can only get better—echoing something that Sara herself believes.

  • Courage

    We've got to hand it to Sara Crewe—not only does she have impeccably good manners, but she's quite the brave little thing when faced with adversity that would make most girls scream. In A Little Princess, Sara manages to keep her head up and her spirits (somewhat) high while dealing with the news that her father has died, her inheritance is nowhere to be found, and that she is to work as a maid (a.k.a. all but a slave) at her school. And did we mention that she also has to share her new room with a family of rats?

    Questions About Courage

    1. Why doesn't Sara just give up when faced with all the bad things happening to her? 
    2. Is Sara's courage really the courage of a British soldier? What different kinds of courage does the book show?
    3. What is the worst part of Sara's situation, and how does she overcome it? 
    4. Is Ermengarde a brave character? Is Lottie?

    Chew on This

    Sara learns how to be brave from her father, who is a soldier, and takes that lesson with her when things start to change in ways that she could not have predicted.

    Though Sara is the story's protagonist, Ermengarde also shows courage when she decides to stick by her friend through thick and thin.

  • Perseverance

    "Never give up" isn't a motto you find on inspirational posters. It's the guiding principle of A Little Princess. Sara lives by these words as she endures one misery after another on her descent into poverty and fall from the esteem of Miss Minchin & Co. Even though her life is admittedly pretty terrible, Sara doesn't wallow in her sadness. She keeps her spirits up by making up stories and fantasies for herself, and keeps hoping that one day things will be better. She even does her chores without complaining. And that's more than we can say for ourselves.

    Questions About Perseverance

    1. What's the deal with Miss Minchin? Why won't she give up on harassing poor Sara? 
    2. Why doesn't Sara just snap and throw a fit, already? Does she have any hope that her situation will get better some day?
    3. Why does Mr. Carrisford keep looking for Sara when he doesn't even know her name? 
    4. What would have happened if Sara wasn't so determined to keep going?

    Chew on This

    Sara's unusual self-discipline helps her keep going even when things seem utterly hopeless.

    Mr. Carrisford keeps looking for Sara even though he's ill and possibly at death's door because of his overwhelming guilt and loyalty to his friend.

  • Appearances

    When we first meet Sara, her clothes are quite fancy and sumptuous. There is a whole lot of emphasis on outward appearance, clothes and all the finery that comes with "good breeding" in A Little Princess. But despite what Miss Minchin and Lavinia think, they can't just strip away Sara's clothes and expect her to be a beggar or a scullery maid at heart. In fact, even when she's dressed in all rags, the children of a rich family recognize that she must not be a common beggar because of the way she speaks. So—appearances might count, but they sure aren't everything.

    Questions About Appearances

    1. How do people perceive Sara differently by the way she's dressed? Why do we get so many descriptions of clothes?
    2. Does Lavinia just hate Sara because of her nice clothes? Or is it more? 
    3. Why doesn't Mr. Carrisford consider that Sara might be at the school next door?

    Chew on This

    Though her appearance may change drastically in the book, Sara remains the same princess-like girl in spirit.

    Even though Sara looks like a beggar girl, her actions make it obvious to people like the Large Family children and the bakery woman that she's more than that.

  • Society and Class

    Oh boy, is class a loaded issue in A Little Princess or what? Sara's class in society is in flux throughout the book—and when it changes, it's quite interesting to see how other characters react to her. Some, like Lavinia and Miss Minchin, treat her completely differently when she is rich and has standing in society vs. when she is poor and "nameless." Others, like Ermengarde and Lottie, couldn't care less. They see Sara as a human being no matter what her class is and they want to be her friend. Any guesses as to which group is the more reasonable and compassionate?

    Questions About Society and Class

    1. Why does class matter so much to the characters in the book?
    2. How are people like Sara and Becky considered "different" at the beginning of the book? Are they still different at the end, or can we see them as more similar?
    3. What happens when Sara falls in station in society? How do other people react? 
    4. How much does Miss Minchin care about class rather than money? Or are money and class the same to her?

    Chew on This

    The more narrow-minded characters in the book, like Lavinia, only judge people by their social station, and therefore they never grow as people.

    Sara doesn't limit her friends to members of her own class—she befriends both Becky and the Lascar next door. This offers her more opportunities for relationships than other people have.

  • Poverty

    Like class and society, the issue of wealth weighs heavily (hah! Pun-tastic) on the characters of A Little Princess. Sara finds herself going from a rich heiress with plenty of fine clothes and exquisite dolls to a penniless little girl dressed in rags. But she never loses her identity. Even in poverty, she's still the same Sara who is curious about the world and loves to make up stories in her head. She keeps her fine manners, curious spirit, and brave soul. But we're still glad she gets her fortune back at the end.

    Questions About Poverty

    1. How does Sara's newfound poverty affect her? Are there any differences between the way she acts when she's poor and when she's rich?
    2. How does poverty change the way that people look at Sara?
    3. Are Sara's imagination and sense of whimsy changed by the fact that she's poor?

    Chew on This

    When Sara's father dies, she has to deal with both her newfound monetary poverty as well as the poverty of being without family and love.

    Characters like Miss Minchin look at others through how much money they have, but they don't take into account the wealth of personality and skills that people have.

  • Transformation

    At the beginning of A Little Princess, Sara really does look like a little princess. She has all the toys and clothes she could want (we're thinking Suri Cruise's wardrobe), she's paraded around as the "star pupil," and she has her own playroom at the boarding school—not to mention her very own maid. But when fate befalls her, she undergoes a rather unpleasant transformation into a penniless little girl. Luckily, this bit of really bad luck also begins the interesting part of the story, as we watch Sara transform and grow.

    Questions About Transformation

    1. How does Sara change throughout the book?
    2. Is Sara's change purely based off of whether or not she has money, or does it go deeper? 
    3. Does Miss Minchin change at all throughout the book? 
    4. How does Mr. Carrisford undergo a transformation at the end?

    Chew on This

    Through her experience with poverty, Sara actually becomes more princess-like in the way that she thinks and behaves.

    At the end, Mr. Carrisford undergoes a physical transformation to health, but he also undergoes a transformation in Sara's mind—she no longer sees him as her father's evil friend.