This Valentine’s Day, I explore the types of Love in Little Women, one of the most famous classic American novels.
I read Little Women for the first time in 4th grade. At the time, it was the longest book I’d ever read. And it still ranks as one of my favorites. I’ve read many more of Louisa May Alcott’s wholesome, sweet novels over the years. Her writing style never disappoints me.
Types of Love in Little Women
Going through my list of words for love, let’s start from the top:
Kama and Eros – Admittedly Louisa May Alcott doesn’t really address sexual desire in Little Women. Like I said before, she’s a wholesome 19th-century author. So we’ll skip this one.
Shringara and Pragma – Emotional intimacy and enduring love is best demonstrated between Meg and John Brooke later in their marriage, especially in the tragedy of Little Men. While Jo and Professor Bhaer obviously care for one another, I don’t recall a lot of scenes where they interact together.
Maitri & Karuna and Agape – It’s difficult for me to separate one from the other in the context of Little Women. Obviously, Marmee exemplifies “mother’s love” in the series. She teaches the family to offer charity to the less fortunate despite their own reduced circumstances. But the loving care Jo offers Beth while she is ill shows that a sister’s love may also rival a mother’s love. Jo eventually opens a school for orphan children.
Bhakti – The characters in Little Women are typically religiously devout, though the author glosses over it a bit. As a fellow writer, I must also call out Jo’s devotion to writing, to making something of herself through her words.
Atma-prema and Philautia– Jo’s journey through the story shows how she comes to accept herself—as she is, as a writer, as a sister, and as a daughter—even though she feels like an outsider within her own family. Even before Jo found real success, she always demonstrated a certain self-awareness about romance. She knew she and Laurie lacked compatibility for a healthy marriage and tried to stop him from confessing.
Ludus – the sisters play together and eventually include Laurie in their adventures. Jo’s feelings for Laurie (Teddy) fall here, in ludus, for the first part of the book.
Mania – I didn’t really see proper evidence of this in the novel itself, but there are hints of Laurie handling Jo’s rejection very poorly in the most recent movie. I don’t feel right about calling it mania, though—he was heartbroken after losing his first love.
Philia – The type of loyal, sacrificing friendship between Professor Bhaer and Jo makes for a powerful romance. He is willing to walk away to make her happy, but he’s also determined to help guide her toward better choices when he criticizes her writing. The ultimate friendship between Laurie and Jo falls here as they mature, too. Jo knows she can depend on Laurie—to help make things happen when they are out of her control. Laurie also takes a role as a protector of all the sisters at different points throughout the book. Notably, he watches out for Meg at the party and for Amy in France before they sort out their feelings for one another.
Storge – While this is last on the list, it’s certainly not the least important of the types of love in Little Women. The entire series demonstrates the love between family members and the families they create. Of course, the most heartbreaking example is Jo’s devotion to Beth.
I’ll leave you with my favorite quote and a powerful example of love from Little Women.
Jo has just learned of Amy’s engagement to Laurie. Her mother asks if she’s upset that the man who once proposed to her now married her sister. And Jo, who has been through so much heartbreak at this point, speaks a powerful truth. Jo answers her mother, “I am lonely, and perhaps if Teddy had tried again, I might have said ‘Yes’, not because I love him any more, but because I care more to be loved than when he went away.”
For it isn’t enough to feel love yourself … Jo understands the importance of being loved in return. She also recognizes that “… hearts could taken in so many [sorts of natural affections] …”
So there you have it: Jo March knows more about the types of love in Little Women than I could ever hope to explain to you.