It’s bad enough to be a girl anyway when I like boys’ games, and work, and manners. I can’t get over my disappointment in not being a boy, and it’s worse than ever now, for I’m dying to go and fight with papa, and I can only stay at home and knit like a poky old woman.

Jo is a lively, adventurous girl who would far rather be active than demure. Her family regularly calls her “boyish” and, though they appreciate Jo’s energy and pluck, often advise her to act more ladylike. The novel does not give a monolithic example of what it means to live a good life as a woman, however, and Jo gets to grow out of her immaturity without entirely losing her more traditionally masculine qualities. Jo’s main conflict throughout the novel is learning how to redirect her energy into productive pursuits rather than impulsive or harmful decisions. Alcott uses Jo to articulate the tension of trying to fit into a certain expectation of womanhood when it does not align with a person’s natural inclinations.

It’s my dreadful temper! I try to cure it; I think I have, and then it breaks out worse than ever.

One of the clearest didactic elements of Little Women is the personal vices each March sister works to overcome. Jo’s vice is her temper, which flares up quickly and leads her to regret her explosive reactions. Marmee teaches Jo some practical ways of taming her temper, and the novel shows scenes throughout Jo’s life where she uses those strategies successfully. Jo is, in all ways, a woman of action, and her temper is a result of that active spirit. Her fiery spirit also leads her to write successfully, care for Beth as she needs it, and eventually create and run a school.

When the first soreness was over, she could laugh at her poor little book, yet believe in it still, and feel herself the wiser and stronger for the buffeting she had received.

Like many of the characters in the novel, Jo’s best trait and her worst trait are really two sides of the same tendency. Jo is stubborn, but with her stubbornness comes persistence and resilience. Although she does not always have practical, realistic, or expected dreams for herself, she does not become jaded when life looks different than her imagination. Instead, she quietly learns from her mistakes and keeps pressing toward her lofty goals. Jo’s unflagging belief in herself and her family challenges them to meet the possibilities she imagines for them. Jo’s schemes do not always go according to plan, but they do eventually bear some kind of fruit.