Symbols are objects, characters, figures, or colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.


In Little Women, umbrellas symbolize the protection a man offers a woman. Before Meg and John Brooke get married, Jo gets angry at Mr. Brooke’s umbrella. It seems Jo is angry that Mr. Brooke is going to take care of her sister. At the end of the novel, Professor Bhaer extends his umbrella over Jo, and her acceptance of its coverage symbolizes that she is ready to accept not only his love and protection, but also the idea that men are supposed to offer women love and protection.

Read more about relationships between men and women in Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest.


Little Women is filled with images of burning that simultaneously represent writing, genius, and anger. At a party, Jo wears a dress with a burn mark on the back, which symbolizes her resistance to having to play a conventional female role. In anger, Amy burns Jo’s manuscript after Jo will not let her come to a play. Whenever Jo writes, her family describes her inspiration as genius burning. At the end of the novel, Jo burns her sensationalist stories after Professor Bhaer criticizes that style of writing. This fire seems to destroy her earlier self as well, as it marks the end of the fiery Jo of the novel’s beginning.


Little Women values the hard work and disciplined virtue of the March sisters higher than the talents and appearances of good society. The novel reinforces this consistently in its comparisons between the March family and the fashionable world they occasionally interact with. One of these comparisons is between the natural beauty of flowers, which is praised as the result of deliberate care, and the artificial beauty of expensive clothes and pampering. Flowers, rather than finery, enhance the characters’ beauty and their views of each other.

Each of the March girls has a patch of garden they are allowed to use to grow whatever they choose. Although they each cultivate different kinds of gardens, the novel commends them all for the work they put into caring for their allotted spaces. It is their dedication and care that makes the flowers more valuable than the blooms themselves. Beth is especially associated with flowers as she continues to cultivate her garden as well as indoor flowers throughout the book. She is described as the most caring sister, and this plays out in her attention to nature as well. Her floral association shows the story’s approval of her priorities and inclinations.

Laurie also holds a strong association with flowers in the novel, as he is frequently giving them as gifts to the March women. He never forgets to send Marmee a small bouquet through their post, he brings flowers for Meg and Amy at balls, and he tries to harvest roses for Amy in France. By bestowing these gifts, Laurie shows his approval and appreciation of the March family. He finds the same cultivated beauty in the family that it takes to produce the flowers.