The main character of Little Women, Jo is an outspoken tomboy with a passion for writing. Her character is based in large part on Louisa May Alcott herself. Jo refuses Laurie’s offer of marriage, despite the fact that everyone assumes they will end up together. In the end, Jo gives up her writing and marries Professor Bhaer, which can be seen either as a domestic triumph or as a professional loss, since Jo loses her headstrong independence.

Because she displays good and bad traits in equal measure, Jo is a very unusual character for nineteenth-century didactic fiction. Jo’s bad traits—her rebelliousness, anger, and outspoken ways—do not make her unappealing; rather, they suggest her humanity. Jo is a likely precursor to a whole slew of lovably flawed heroes and heroines of children’s books, among them Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer.