Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy are the March sisters. Their father is off to war and they rely on their mother, Marmee, to see them through the hard times of the Civil War. In the first part of this book, the reader is introduced to the characters. Meg is the sensible one, Jo is the tomboy, Beth is the sweet one, and Amy is the artistic and feminine one. The girls are all generous and even give their own Christmas dinner to a poor family.
Meg has her first dance and brings Jo along. At the dance, we meet Laurie, the mysterious grandson of the Old Mr. Laurence living next-door. His real name is Theodore, but he prefers Laurie because he was teased in school by the girls. The girls all spend a lot of time at the Laurences home, all excepting Beth. Because she is afraid of Old Mr. Laurence, she stays away. Mr. Laurence asks if he could have Beth over to play for him.
When she does, it creates a lasting bond between them. Old Mr. Laurence loves her playing so much that he gives her a small piano that had belonged to his deceased granddaughter. The girls have a secret club called the Pickwick Club in which each of the girls undertakes a separate identity. Amy is punished at school for having pickled limes in the classroom and Marmee decides to school her at home. One night Laurie invites the older girls to come to see a play at his house and Amy wants to come along. Jo puts her off and leaves with an attitude. When Jo returns, her precious diary has been burned spitefully by Amy.
Jo holds a grudge but it is all resolved when Amy is almost lost in an accident on the ice. It is hard for Jo to handle that her sister has a boyfriend. When she and Laurie exchange secrets, it is revealed that Mr. Brooke, Laurie’s tutor, and friend, has been given one of Meg’s gloves. One thing the movie leaves out is a camping trip that the girls take with Laurie where they talk about their dream castles and Meg tells Laurie to go to college and respect his grandfather’s wishes.
One day a letter arrives telling the girls that their father has taken ill and Marmee desperately wants to be at his side but doesn’t have the means to do so financially. Jo knows that her father needs Marmee so she sells her hair to get the 25 dollars needed for her mother to take the trip. While she is gone, Beth visits a poor family and takes care of the sick baby. As she is there holding it, the baby dies of scarlet fever and Beth catches it. Meg and Jo care for her and send Amy to stay with Aunt March.
Amy loathes it there but talks a lot to the maid who tells her of all the things Aunt March will leave her when she passes on. Amy decides to write her own will in which she leaves something to each of her sisters. Marmee is called for because the doctor fears that Beth will die. When Marmee comes, Beth seems to improve. When their father comes home, Beth is even able to play the piano and sing with the family. Mr. Brooke asks Meg to receive his love and she refuses.
When Aunt March is consulted on the matter, Meg is told that if she were to marry Mr. Brooke, she would be cut off and stricken from the will. Meg decides to love Mr. Brooke to spite her Aunt. Laurie tells Jo that she will be the next to marry and Jo says that she never will. Meg finds married life a difficult juggling act as she brings twins into the world and has arguments with her understanding spouse. Aunt Carrol decides to take Amy to Europe with her to study art.
(In the movie Amy accompanies Aunt March) Jo is upset because she had longed so desperately to let out of the house, but is contented by the happiness of her sickly sister, Beth, at her staying. Amy writes the family of her meeting a friend of Laurie’s in Europe and hoping that he will propose so that she doesn’t make a “poor match” as Meg did. Jo decides to go to New York to get Laurie to forget about her, but as she says her good-byes, he makes it amply clear that it won’t be so easy for him to be without her.
While Jo is staying with Mrs. Kirke she meets a German professor, Freidrich Bhaer. She and Professor Bhaer form a friendship as he teaches her German. When Jo returns for the summer, she and Beth go to the beach and Beth reveals the feeling that she will soon die. Beth is put in a nice room so she can spend her last days with the things and people she loves. One day while on a walk with Jo, Laurie divulges to her his true feelings of love and asks her to marry him.
Jo refuses to say that she will never love him that way and that she will never marry him. Beth dies in her mother’s arms. Jo is devastated by the death of her favorite sister. One day Professor Bhaer comes by the house and tells Jo that he will be in town on business for a few days. In hopes of seeing him, Jo goes for long walks. On one such walk in the rain, she meets him under an umbrella where she consents to marry him. When Aunt March dies, her estate is left to Jo, who makes it into a home for wayward boys.
Meg – Meg is a sensible girl who is very matronly and maternal. She is like everyone’s mother, Always thinking of appearances. While she may yearn for material things, she certainly knows that she doesn’t need them.
Jo – Jo is headstrong and boyish. Almost the complete opposite of Meg. She doesn’t care for anything conventional or feminine. She keeps an unruly appearance and is very much a tomboy.
Beth – Beth is the only character that had hardly any faults. She was a peacemaker. She was gentle, loving, supportive and the sweetest character, though Jo is my favorite. She was so sweet that it stands to reason that she would be that one to die.
Amy – Amy is prim and proper and always lady-like. She doesn’t care much for love and romance like Jo, she cares more for the financially advantageous match. She is the tattle-tale of the group.
Laurie – Laurie has a temper but is nonetheless a good man. He is a big brother to the girls and he watches out for them. He loves a good laugh and is very fun-loving.
Marmee – Marmee is a feminist and it rubs off on her daughters. She is endearing.
The main conflict of the story is simply growing up. Inside each of the girls are a desire to grow up and a desire to keep things the same. They know that when they grow up things will inevitably change and that scares them. The struggle is within each of them.