SUBJECTS — U.S./1860 – 1865 & Massachusetts;Literature/U.S.;
SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING — Female Role Model; Families in Crisis; Parenting; Sisters; Coming of Age Talent;
MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS — Responsibility; Caring.
1933 Version: Age: 6+; No MPAA Rating; Drama; 107 minutes, B & W; Available from Amazon.com.
1994 Version: Age: 6+; MPAA Rating — PG; Drama; 118 minutes; Color; Available from Amazon.com.
MOVIE WORKSHEETS & STUDENT HANDOUTS
TWM offers the following worksheets to keep students’ minds on the movie and direct them to the lessons that can be learned from the film.
Teachers can modify the movie worksheets to fit the needs of each class. See also TWM’s Historical Fiction in Film Cross-Curricular Homework Project.
These movies are heartwarming cinematic versions of Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel Little Women. TeachWithMovies.org strongly recommends that children read the novel before they see the movie.
SELECTED AWARDS & CAST
Selected Awards: 1933 Academy Awards: Best Adapted Screenplay; 1934 Venice Film Festival Awards: Best Actress (Hepburn); 1933 Academy Award Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director (Cukor).
Featured Actors: Katharine Hepburn, Joan Bennett, Paul Lukas, Edna May Oliver, Frances Dee, Spring Byington, Jean Parker, Douglass Montgomery.
Director: George Cukor.
Selected Awards:1994 Chicago Film Critics Awards: Most Promising Actress (Dunst): 1994 Academy Award Nominations: Best Actress (Ryder), Best Costume Design, Best Original Score.
Featured Actors: Winona Ryder, Gabriel Byrne, Trini Alvarado, Samantha Mathis, Kirsten Dunst, Claire Danes, Christian Bale, Eric Stolz, John Neville, Mary Wickes, Susan Sarandon.
Director: Gillian Armstrong.
BENEFITS OF THE MOVIE
“Little Women” shows the very mild effects of the Civil War on the Union home front, the coming of age of four sisters, the ravages of scarlet fever in the days before antibiotics, and the difficulties of a female writer in the nineteenth century.
Jo is a role model for a courageous young woman determined to develop her talent. The mother is a role model for a competent and caring woman who takes over when her husband is called away to war and who nurtures everyone around her. “Little Women” can also be used as a platform to discuss the American Transcendentalists. Good readers ages 10 and up should be encouraged to read the novel before seeing the film.
The book is still great reading and if your child is interested in the movie, he or she will love the book. Ask and help your child to answer the Quick Discussion Question and talk about the fact that back in the 1860s, it was very difficult for a woman to have a career.
Scarlet fever is a highly infectious disease caused by a strain of the streptococcus bacterium. It gains entrance to the body through the nose or mouth by exposure to droplets from the coughing or sneezing of infected individuals. It can also be spread through direct contact or from using infected utensils. Scarlet fever usually strikes children between the ages of two and ten.
Before the advent of antibiotics, scarlet fever was often fatal. It was viewed with alarm by public health officials. Families in which one member had scarlet fever would, as shown in the movie, immediately send uninfected children away. People with scarlet fever were often quarantined so that the disease would not spread. In modern times, quarantine and removal of susceptible individuals is no longer necessary. A person with scarlet fever is given antibiotics and family members are watched or tested to make sure they don’t catch the disease.
People who survive scarlet fever which has not been promptly treated with antibiotics can develop rheumatic fever. Damage from rheumatic fever includes swelling in the heart and scarring of the heart valves. In serious cases, such as Beth’s, the heart valves malfunction and eventually, over several years, the patient weakens and dies.
Some nonpathogenic strains of streptococcus bacteria are used to ferment cheese or buttermilk.
While battle wounds have always been serious, they were particularly threatening in wars before modern methods of treatment and sanitation. During the Civil War, medical care was still crude, doctors did not know how infection spread and antibiotics would not be known for another 80 years. As a result, a high proportion of wounds became infected and proved fatal. This is why the family felt so threatened when the father was wounded.
“Transcendentalism” is a philosophy which holds that there is a higher reality that transcends anything that can be experienced by the senses or comprehended by human reason. Plato, the Greek philosopher, taught that there was absolute goodness which defied human description and that the essence of reality was beyond human comprehension. In the 18th century Emmanuel Kant, a German philosopher, contended that men couldn’t prove or disprove the existence of God because God transcended human experience. Jo’s German friend, the immigrant philosophy professor, was familiar with Kant. He thought that he could find common ground with Jo when she told him that she knew about transcendentalism.
In the United States, the Transcendental Movement, which began in Boston in the early 1800s, was both a literary and a philosophical movement. It was quite different from German Transcendentalism. Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau are the best-known founders of this movement. Louisa May Alcott’s father, Bronson Alcott, was a well-known educator and also a founder of the American Transcendentalist Movement.
The American Transcendentalists focused on the rejection of New England’s Puritan religious attitudes (see Hawaii) and the strict ideologies of the established religions. They found their inspiration in nature and intuition. For an American Transcendentalist, divinity permeated everything: objects, animals, and forces of nature. Transcendentalists extolled creativity and felt that through mysticism and union with nature anyone could establish a relationship with the “Over-Soul.” The current beliefs of many Americans owe much to the American Transcendentalists.
Louisa May Alcott (1832 – 1888) was an author of popular semi-autobiographical books about children. As a child, she was tutored by Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. In addition to Little Women her books include Little Men and Jo’s Boys. All are considered classics.
2. Why did the mother seek to draw Beth’s fever down to her feet?
3. Which of your beliefs are consistent with classical transcendentalism? Which are consistent with American Transcendentalism?
4. Name three general themes of this movie and tell us what the film as to say about each of them.
5. This book is semi-autobiographical. Tell us what that means and compare facts that you know about the life of Louisa May Alcott with occurrences in the film.
6. Describe attributes of the members of the family that are particularly strong in New England culture.
FEMALE ROLE MODEL – PARENTING – FAMILIES IN CRISIS
1. Who was the female role model in this film and how did she merit that classification?
2. What mechanisms did this family employ to deal with the crises that it faced?
SISTERS AND COMING OF AGE
3. What do you think about Laurie marrying Amy, the youngest sister? Did Laurie really love Amy?
4. Describe the relationship between each of the sisters.
5. Describe the conflict that must be resolved for each of the sisters as she comes of age.
6. Jo sacrificed a lot to develop her talent. Was it worth it?
MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS (CHARACTER COUNTS)
Discussion Questions Relating to Ethical Issues will facilitate the use of this film to teach ethical principles and critical viewing. Additional questions are set out below.
(Do what you are supposed to do; Persevere: keep on trying!; Always do your best; Use self-control; Be self-disciplined; Think before you act — consider the consequences; Be accountable for your choices)
1. Describe two actions exemplifying this Pillar of Character that are shown in the film.
(Be kind; Be compassionate and show you care; Express gratitude; Forgive others; Help people in need)
2. Describe two actions exemplifying this Pillar of Character that are shown in the film.
ASSIGNMENTS, PROJECTS & ACTIVITIES
BRIDGES TO READING
All of Alcott’s classics are excellent reading for older children: Little Women, Little Men, and Jo’s Boys. Books recommended for middle school and junior high readers include: Louisa May Alcott: Her Girlhood Diary edited & compiled by Cary Ryan; The Mills Girls: Lucy Larcom, Harriet Hanson Robinson, Sarah G. Bagley by Bernice Selden.
LINKS TO THE INTERNET
This Learning Guide was last updated on April 8, 2010.