Little Women Plot Summary
The story begins at Christmas time. The March girls, Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy, are unhappy because they have agreed to give up their Christmas presents. They have done this because it is war time, and, since their father is in the war, they have no means of support and very little money. The girls have a little money and decide to all buy their mother presents instead of buying things for themselves.
On Christmas, the girls give their large breakfast to some needy neighbors, the Hummels. This act of kindness is noticed by their wealthy neighbor, James Laurence, who sends them a large dinner. On Christmas afternoon, the girls put on a play, written by Jo and put together with various props found around the house, for an audience of girls.
Jo and Meg are invited to a party at the Gardiners' house. They dress up in their best and attend. Jo, hiding in an alcove, meets Laurie, James Laurence's grandson. They talk and become friends. Meg sprains her ankle and Laurie brings the girls home in his carriage.
After the holidays, the girls go back to their various duties. Meg is a governess. Jo is a companion for Aunt March. Beth studies and home and helps with the housekeeping. Amy goes to school.
Jo decides one day that Laurie is kept inside his house more than a boy should be. She throws a snowball at his window and gets his attention; he invites her over. She meets his grandfather, who realizes that Laurie is lonely.
The Marches and the Laurences become good friends. Beth begins going to the Laurences' to play the piano there. She makes Mr. Laurence a pair of slippers to thank him and he gives her a little piano of her own as a gift.
At school, Amy brings some pickled limes to trade with other girls and is caught by the teacher. He hits her hands and has her stand in front of the class. She goes home at recess and her mother agrees that she doesn't need to go back, but says that she disobeyed the rules by having the limes in class.
One Saturday, Meg and Jo go to a play. Amy is very upset that she is not invited. Jo is rude to her about it, so, when they have gone, Amy burns the book that Jo has been writing. Jo discovers this the next day and is very upset. She won't forgive Amy. Jo and Laurie go ice skating and Amy wants to go with them, so she follows them. Jo refuses to pay attention to her and skates away. Amy skates onto the ice and hits a thin patch. She falls through. Jo panics, and Laurie helps pull Amy out of the water; they get her home. Jo forgives Amy for burning her manuscript.
Meg is invited to stay with the Moffats for two weeks. She spends the time shopping, calling, and riding with the other guests. The Moffats have a party, and because Meg's dress is plain the girls offer her one of their dresses, then dress her up fashionably. At the party, Laurie sees her and disapproves of her appearance. She tells him not to tell her family. When she gets home, she confesses to her mother about the party and admits that it wasn't right for her, even though it was nice to be complimented on the way she looked.
At this point, readers discover that the girls have secret society called the Pickwick Club, which puts out a paper each week. When Laurie gives them the gift of a mailbox set up between their yards to send letters and gifts to each other, Jo convinces her sisters to allow him into the club.
It is now summer, and the girls have a little vacation from their everyday duties. They decide to try an experiment: they will also take a vacation from housework. After a week has passed they cannot take it any more, and they decide it is no fun to play all the time.
Laurie has some English friends visiting him. He invites the girls to Camp Laurence, a picnic with food, croquet and games.
One day when Laurie is bored he sees the March sisters going into the woods. He follows them and finds that they are having a meeting of the Busy Bee society, a club in which they each have to keep busy while they sit outdoors. Laurie joins them, and they talk about what they each want to do some day. They decide to meet in ten years to see if they got their wishes.
Jo submits some stories to a local newspaper They are published. She tells Laurie about this; in return he tells Jo that his tutor, Mr. Brooke, has kept one of Meg's gloves because he has a crush on her.
In the fall, a telegram comes that tells the family their father is sick in a Washington hospital. Their mother goes to him, escorted by Mr. Brooke. The girls take care of the house while their mother is gone, but they start to get lazy. Because no one else is willing, Beth takes the needed food to the Hummels. Their baby has scarlet fever and dies in her arms while she is there. She comes home sick, having caught the fever from the baby. Because Amy has not yet had scarlet fever, she is sent to Aunt March's while Beth is sick. Beth has a high fever. The family at first doesn't contact their mother about it, but Beth gets so bad that the doctor advises them to do so. Just before she returns, the fever breaks.
While their mother has been in Washington, Mr. Brooke has told her and the girls' father about his feelings for Meg, but they agree she is too young to marry. Laurie sends Meg a few fake love letters from Mr. Brooke, and Meg is upset by them. Their mother make Laurie apologize.
Beth health improves, as does that of her father. Christmas arrives, and Mr. March comes home to the family. Soon after all of this, Mr. Brooke speaks to Meg about marriage; she says she isn't interested. Just at that moment, Aunt March comes in and forbids Meg to marry Mr. Brooke because he is poor. Because of this, Meg agrees to marry Mr. Brooke after all.
Time passes. Mr. March becomes a minister, and John (Mr. Brooke) goes to war briefly, then returns. Amy becomes Aunt March's new companion Jo begins to publish stories in the newspaper every week. John gets a bookkeeping job and a house; he and Meg are married in a simple ceremony at the Marchs' home.
Amy has been working on her drawing and has been improving. She invites her drawing class to her house, but none of them show up. She is very disappointed.
Jo wins a writing contest. She receives one hundred dollars and uses it to send her mother and Beth to the seaside for a vacation. Jo begins writing to help her family financially, and she publishes her first novel. Unfortunately, it is not very good.
Meg tries to be a good wife. She goes through several cooking disasters, including trying to make jam. She also struggles with money: she wants more things than she has or can afford, and at one point she buys a dress she cannot afford. She sells it and buys her husband a new coat instead to cover her mistake. Meg is pregnant, then gives birth to twins, Daisy and Demi.
Amy drags Jo out of the house to visit several friends. Jo is in a bad mood and behaves poorly, which upsets Amy. Their last visit is to Aunt March, who notes how pleasant Amy is, and how rough Jo is.
There is a fair. Amy is asked to sit at the art table, but because of the jealousy of one of the other girls she is later asked to sit at the floral table instead. She takes the things she made for the fair with her when she moves from the art table to the floral table, but she later decides to do the kind thing and replace her wares on the art table. Jo has Laurie and her friends buy all the flowers at Amy's table, then has them buy all the vases at the art table, as well.
Because of her sweetness, Amy is asked to go abroad with Aunt Carroll. She does. They tour Europe. While there, Amy runs into Laurie's English friends and becomes friends with them. At home, Mrs. March is worried about Beth, who doesn't seem as happy as usual. Jo tries to find out what is wrong. She decides that Beth is in love with Laurie, then realizes that Laurie loves her, not Beth. Once she understands Laurie's feelings for her, Jo decides to go to New York as a governess in order to be out of the way for a while. In New York, Jo meets Professor Bhaer, a kindly German man. She writes for a newspaper until she finds out that Bhaer disapproves of her sensation stories, at which point she stops writing.
Laurie graduates from college and Jo leaves New York to go back home. Laurie asks Jo to marry him, but Jo turns him down, explaining that she does not love him. Laurie is heartbroken and goes to Europe with his grandfather in order to recover.
Jo notices that Beth doesn't look very well. She takes her to the seaside for a vacation. She realizes that Beth is getting weaker and that she will not live long. Beth is relieved that Jo knows this because she had known it herself for a while.
In France, Laurie and Amy meet again. They begin spending time together. Amy notices there is a change in Laurie, but she can't figure out what it is. She discovers that Jo has turned down his offer of marriage. She tells him to take it like a man. He leaves her to go back to his grandfather, and he begins spending time on his music again.
Meg becomes so absorbed in her children that she doesn't spend enough time with her husband. Because he is lonely at home, Mr. Brooke begins spending evenings at a friend's house. Recognizing his need, Meg begins to include her husband more in taking care of the children and makes an effort to spend time with him.
The March family accepts that Beth is going to die, and they make things as comfortable as possible. She dies, and Jo falls into a depression. She doesn't know what to do, but her mother tells her to write. Jo writes a story from the heart, which is so good that her father publishes it for her. The story gets a great deal of attention, and Jo writes more like it.
When Laurie hears of Beth's death, he goes to Amy to comfort her. The two begin spending time together; they eventually fall in love. They marry in order for Amy to be allowed to go home with Laurie, and they surprise the family with this news when they arrive. Jo wonders if she will ever marry. Professor Bhaer unexpectedly makes a visit and stays for some time. The March family grows fond of him. They notice the change in Jo when the Professor is around. Soon the two are engaged. The Professor does not have money for marriage yet, however. He goes out west for a year to teach and earn money. Aunt March dies, leaving her house to Jo and thus making it possible for her and the Professor to marry. Jo starts a school for boys in the large house.
At the end of the book, there is an apple picking festival at Jo's house. The March family reflects on the dreams they had for themselves when they were young and decide that everything has turned out for the best.