Writing a 'Little Women' Book Report
A book report about a novel, such as Louisa May Alcott's Little Women, should consist of a description and analysis of the novel's literary components, including plot, characters, and theme. A college book report shouldn't be a retelling of the story, but a critical analysis.
Critical Reading of Little Women
A thorough, critical reading of the novel is vital. You need to carefully analyze and evaluate Little Women to determine what Alcott means to communicate through her use of theme, symbols, character development, etc. It's important to take notes when reading. It's also a good idea to ask yourself questions. For example:
- What is the setting?
- What is the timeframe?
- What is the plot?
- Who are the characters? What are their traits and attributes?
- What are the major themes, symbols, and conflicts?
Asking and answering your own, pertinent questions will not only help you to understand and interpret the novel, but doing so will also provide you with ample "talking points" throughout your book report.
After you read the novel, try mind mapping to help you structure your information. Pictured here is a mind map that you can use for a character analysis. In the book located at the top of the map, write the name of the character you'll be describing. For example, one of the characters in Little Women is Jo. Use the flowing lines extending from either side of the book to write about Jo's characteristics. Do this for all of the characters you'll discuss in your book report.
In your introduction, include the basics about the book, such as author, title, and date of publication. Provide some background information about the author, as well. (Although it's generally not an acceptable source for academic research and many professors don't allow students to cite it, you can find detailed information about Louisa May Alcott and Little Women at Wikipedia.) Providing information about the author gives the reader an opportunity to learn about the author's writing style and possibly see a connection between the authors own background and the setting, plot, and/or characters in the story. Here's an example of a "background" paragraph about Louisa May Alcott:
Louisa May Alcott (1832-1888) was an American novelist, short story and fairy tale writer, poet, essayist, editor, and dramatist. She has often been praised for creating realistic characters who sometimes speak ungrammatically and behave badly. Although she defied the prevailing rules for children's literature in the nineteenth century by creating these flawed though likeable characters, readers could identify more with them than with the angelic, adult-like children common in the literature of the period.
In the thesis statement, you should present your position on what you think that the novel is about. Following is an example thesis statement for a book report about Little Women:
"Louis May Alcott's sentimental and moralistic autobiographical novel, Little Women, is a coming of age story that portrays nineteenth-century family life."
Example Paragraph 1: Plot Summary
The plot summary paragraph(s) should contain an overview of the story. You don't have to go into detail and recite all of the novel's action. A plot summary for Little Women can read as follows:
Little Women is told from the point-of-view of an omniscient narrator, and focuses on the March girls—motherly Meg, tomboyish Jo, gentle Beth, and artistic Amy—who live with their mother (whom they call "Marmee") in a small house in Concord, Massachusetts. The book's second part, called "Good Wives," was published a year after the first. Little Women centers on the efforts of each of the four March sisters to overcome her particular "burden" or weakness. At the end of the first half of Little Women, each of the girls has improved, though none has attained perfection. In the second section, the girls' characters develop further as they grow old enough to work, travel, and marry.
Example Paragraph 2: Characters
In the paragraph(s) about the characters, you can use the information that you obtained from mind mapping. In addition, you can add quotes from the book that provide additional description. When you provide quotations from the book, be sure to document them by listing the page number. For example, you could write a description of the character, Jo, like this:
Spirited, tomboyish Jo March—the second oldest sister—is based on Alcott herself and is considered, not surprisingly, her most successful character. Jo likes to write and devise plays for the sisters to perform; later, she helps support the family by selling her stories to newspapers. She is adventurous and spirited, and according to the novel's narrator, Jo is "fast brushing the innocent bloom from her nature" (349).
Example Paragraph 3: Theme, Symbolism, and Conflict
In the remaining paragraphs, you can focus on your choice of the themes, symbols, and/or conflicts in the novel, using examples and quotations to make direct connections. Some of the themes/ideas in Little Women about which you can write are motherhood, home, love, marriage, and ambition. An example of what you can write about motherhood is:
The girls' beloved mother, Marmee, is the emotional mainstay of the March family. She represents the Victorian ideal of motherhood in her strength, wisdom, and unbending love. Selflessly devoted to her family, Marmee serves not only as a source of knowledge for her daughters, but also their sympathetic confessor and confidante. She inspires them to better women.
Two of the symbols in the novel are:
- Lions — Two lion statutes are at the front of the Laurence mansion and symbolize the socio-economic status differences between the Marches and Laurences.
- Umbrella — In the novel, there's a reference to holding the umbrella. The umbrella symbolizes protection and care in the form of love, food, and shelter that a man provides for her family.
When you write about conflicts in the novel, you should carefully explain how they're (or aren't) resolved. Two sets of conflicts/resolutions in Little Women are:
- Personal Conflict — Jo and Laurie were conflicted over their love for each other. Laurie loved Jo, but Jo didn't have the same feelings. The resolution occurred when Laurie married Amy and Jo married Mr. Bhaer.
- Woman vs. Nature — Beth's conflict was with her illness, scarlet fever. Although she partially recovered, the resolution was that she eventually died.
In your conclusion, briefly summarize your main points about the book's characters, plot, themes, etc. You can also provide personal statements, such as what impact the book had on you and why. State what you feel that the author may have omitted from the book or anything that the author intentionally or unintentionally left unresolved. Avoid making overly general, useless statements like "I enjoyed this book because it's interesting." Professors detest such lack of personality and originality.
If you're using MLA format for your in-text citations and list of sources, your bibliography entry for the primary source should look like this:
Alcott, Louisa May, Little Women. New York: Penguin, 1989. (Original publication 18681869)
Helpful Video on How to Write . . . Powerfully