Below you will find four outstanding thesis statements / paper topics for “Little Women" that can be used as essay starters. All four incorporate at least one of the themes found in “Little Women" and are broad enough so that it will be easy to find textual support, yet narrow enough to provide a focused clear thesis statement. These thesis statements offer a short summary of “Little Women" in terms of different elements that could be important in an essay. You are, of course, free to add your own analysis and understanding of the plot or themes to them. Using the essay topics below in conjunction with the list of important quotes, you should have no trouble connecting with the text and writing an excellent essay.
Topic #1: The Clashes and Reconciliations of Amy and Jo
Of the four sisters, it is Amy and Jo who most often take issue with one another. Meg usually plays the role of a second mother to the sisters. Beth is such a gentle soul that she rarely has issues with anyone else. Jo is headstrong and opinionated. As the youngest, Amy has a sense of entitlement within the family unit. They are more fiery, these second and fourth daughters. They are spiteful and downright mean to each other. Jo is very upset when Aunt March chooses Amy to go abroad with her. Laurie’s affections transfer to Amy after Jo rejects him. Analyze the relationship between Jo and Amy. Why do they have so many struggles with each other? Is theirs the strongest relationship because it is the one that has been tested the most?
Topic #2: Marmee—The Ideal Mother
Marmee is the beloved matriarch of Alcott’s work. Each of her girls aspires to reach the level of goodness that Marmee appears to have attained. She offers solid advice, but rarely pushes or loses her temper. Even in their struggles, she gives selflessly and encourages her daughters to do the same. She teaches them to find joy in the most menial tasks. She leads by examples of kindness and philanthropy. She reveals to Jo that their temperaments really are not all that different. The main distinction between the two is that Marmee has made a lot of effort over the years to rein in her temper, even asking Mr. March for help. Examine Marmee’s character. Which literary archetype does she most resemble and why?
Topic #3: The Many Facets of Wealth
Wealth is something that is often measured in currency. Sometimes when people don’t have much money, they often envy those who have it in abundance. This book presents alternatives to the traditionally accepted definition of wealth. It even goes so far as to exhibit characters that have plenty of money but little happiness. Define the forms of wealth expressed in Little Women. Compare and contrast these proposals of the true meaning of wealth. How does one measure one’s own wealth?
Topic #4: Laurie Loves Jo, and Jo Loves Fritz
Of the four sisters, it is outrageous Jo whom Laurie loves. He offers her a lifetime of leisure to pursue her whims, and she turns him down. Her ideals of love are not a match for Laurie, who has rarely sought to be more than what he believes he is. They have been great friends, but for Jo it does not go any further. Then she meets Fritz. He is older, poorer, and an intellect, like herself. He is someone who can teach Jo and feed her love of learning. She sees him as more of an equal than Laurie. She holds Fritz in high esteem that slowly becomes a deep love. Consider the choices that Jo makes in her love life. Is it wise to turn away the wealthy suitor and then accept the poor one? Or does love conquer all? Is it more important for Jo to have a deeper love? Would she not have been perfectly content with Laurie? Or would his laziness eventually draw the life from her?
Little Women Quotes
This list of important quotations from “Little Women" will help you work with the essay topics and thesis statements on our paper topics on “Little Women" by allowing you to support your claims. All of the important quotes from “Little Women” listed here correspond, at least in some way, to possible paper topics and by themselves can give you great ideas for an essay by offering quotes about other themes, symbols, imagery, and motifs than those already mentioned.
“‘Jo does use such slang words!’ observed Amy, with a reproving look at the long figure stretched on the rug. Jo immediately sat up, put her hands in her pockets, and began to whistle." (Ch. 1)
Jo takes pleasure in pushing the societal norms. In a time when women’s roles are more clearly defined than today, Jo likes to stray to the men’s side in her habits. She prefers to play a man’s character when she and her sister act out literary pieces. Amy, on the other hand, aspires to be a great lady one day and often affects airs. Jo’s disregard for the rules is a constant bother to Amy.
“‘Merry Christmas, little daughters! I’m glad you began at once, and hope you will keep on. But I want to say one word before we sit down. Not far away from here lies a poor woman with a little newborn baby. Six children are huddled into one bed to keep from freezing, for they have no fire. There is nothing to eat over there, and the oldest boy came to tell me they were suffering hunger and cold. My girls, will you give them your breakfast as a Christmas present?’" (Ch. 2)
This is one of many examples throughout the book in which Marmee encourages her daughters to give. In this case, the family has a few rare treats for their Christmas breakfast. Upon Marmee’s request, they put aside their own longings for the delicious feast before them and take it to the family in need. It is only after they have delivered breakfast and spent some time with the other family that they return to have their own breakfast with spirits lifted even more.
“Laurie’s bashfulness soon wore off, for Jo’s gentlemanly demeanor amused and set him at his ease, and Jo was her merry self again, because her dress was forgotten and nobody lifted their eyebrows at her. She liked the “Laurence boy" better than ever, and took several good looks at him so that she might describe him to the girls, for they had no brothers, very few male cousins, and boys were almost unknown creatures to them." (Ch. 3)
Jo and Meg attend a holiday party. Jo seeks refuge in a side room because her dress is burned where she stood too close to a fire. It is in this room that she runs into Laurie, who shies from joining in the festivities for his own reasons. The encounter is an interesting one because Jo often takes on characteristics that are more appropriate for males. The sisters have little contact with the opposite sex until they allow Laurie to later join their exclusive group. It is Jo who brings him and persuades her sisters to accept him as one of their own.
“‘I should not have chosen that way of mending a fault,’ replied her mother, ‘but I’m not sure that it won’t do you more good than a milder method. You are getting to be rather conceited, my dear, and it is quite time you set about correcting it. You have a good many little gifts and virtues, but there is no need of parading them, for conceit spoils the finest genius. There is not much danger that real talent or goodness will be overlooked long. Even if it is, the consciousness of possessing and using it well should satisfy one, and the great charm of all power is modesty.’" (Ch. 7)
Marmee speaks these words of advice to Amy, who has been punished at school for disobeying the rules. She expects sympathy and lenience from her teacher and her mother. She is disappointed to receive neither. As Marmee points out, Amy’s conceit is becoming a problem. She thought that the teacher would not punish her because she was a favorite. She counts on this favoritism to allow her to get away with her disobedience.
“Her innocent friendship with Laurie was spoilt by the silly speeches she had overheard; her faith in her mother was a little shaken by the worldly plans attributed to her by Mrs. Moffat, who judged others by herself, and the sensible resolution to be contented with the simple wardrobe which suited a poor man’s daughter was weakened by the unnecessary pity of girls who thought a shabby dress one of the greatest calamities under heaven." (Ch. 9)
Meg is sadly shaken out of her idealism upon overhearing a conversation while spending time amongst the more elite of society. It reveals a manner of thinking that is unfamiliar to her, and she dislikes it. The words of people that she looks on as important alter her perceptions of what is right and good. It takes Laurie, someone who is familiar with both Meg’s world and society, to shake her out of her new mindset and place her feet back on solid ground.
“‘Yes, I wanted you to see how the comfort of all depends on each doing her share faithfully. While Hannah and I did your work, you got on pretty well, though I don’t think you were very happy or amiable, so I thought, as a little lesson, I would show you what happens when everyone thinks only of herself. Don’t you feel that it is pleasanter to help one another, to have daily duties which make leisure sweet when it comes, and to bear and forbear, that home may be comfortable and lovely to us all?’" (Ch. 12)
A valuable lesson is learned here. Marmee allows the girls a week away from their chores, during which time they are allowed to spend their days as they please, without responsibility of any sort. At the end of the week, the girls realize that having responsibilities is actually a good thing. They decide to begin doing their chores again and to take joy in being able to contribute to the family’s wellbeing.
“‘Yes, it is. She doesn’t know us, she doesn’t even talk about the flocks of green doves, as she calls the vine leaves on the wall. She doesn’t look like my Beth, and there’s nobody to help us bear it. Mother and Father both gone, and God seems so far away I can’t find Him.’" (Ch. 18)
Faced with Beth’s illness and the absence of the people that she has always looked to for guidance, Jo is overcome with despair. Her gentle and kind nature has made Beth everyone’s favorite March. To see her delicate body and mind in such a state of deterioration is devastating. Additionally, Marmee is off with Mr. March, who is himself healing. Faith is not one of Jo’s best characteristics—she has a tendency to be too impatient and headstrong. She does not know where to turn. Luckily, Laurie comes to help.
“He helped her in many ways, proving himself a true friend, and Jo was happy, for while her pen lay idle she was learning other lessons besides German, and laying a foundation for the sensation story of her own life." (Ch. 34)
The relationship that develops between Jo and Mr. Bhaer is one of mutual respect and genuine affection for one another. The longings are beneath the surface, but it takes a long time for those to be spoken. It is sweet to observe the budding relationship and anticipate that the two will be together in the end, though one may hold onto the hope that Laurie will still have a chance to claim Jo as his.
“‘I don’t. I never wanted to make you care for me so, and I went away to keep you from it if I could.’" (Ch. 35)
Laurie has finally confessed his feelings for Jo, feelings of which Jo and Marmee were already aware. Jo goes to be a governess and write, hoping to give Laurie a chance to find someone else. Interestingly enough, it is Jo who finds and falls for someone else. She knows that she and Laurie are wrong for one another. Besides, she does not feel that way about him, try as she might. She loves Mr. Bhaer and has yet to realize it.
“I think everything was said and settled then, for, as they stood together quite silent for a moment, with the dark head bent down protectingly over the light one, Amy felt that no one could comfort and sustain her so well as Laurie, and Laurie decided that Amy was the only woman in the world who could fill Jo’s place and make him happy. He did not tell her so, but she was not disappointed, for both felt the truth, were satisfied, and gladly left the rest to silence." (Ch. 41)
After being rejected by Jo, Laurie finds that his heart opens to Amy. And Amy, perhaps, has loved Laurie all along. From the beginning of his appearance in the book, Laurie was destined to become a part of the March family by marrying one of the daughters. Throughout, it is Jo to whom Laurie gravitates. Instead, he marries Amy, the one sister who was frequently at odds with Jo.