Between Classic Literature and Korean Drama: The Reference of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women in Little Women (2022) K-Drama


Korean drama is a television show that is very popular in various countries around the world. Its popularity has increased dramatically since Squid Game was broadcast via the Netflix streaming platform in 2021. In a survey conducted in 2021 by Statista, the results showed that 49% of respondents from 18 countries confirmed that Korean dramas are top-rated in their country. One factor driving Korean dramas’ popularity is the exciting and intense plot, the acting of extraordinary actors, and the variety of genres provided. One genre that is quite popular with Korean drama lovers is mystery.

Netflix has aired a mystery genre Korean drama starring Kim Goeun, Nam Jihyun, Kim Jihoo, and Uhm Jiwon, entitled Little Women (2022). This show tells the story of three sisters who grew up impoverished and faced the elites in South Korea who wanted to destroy their lives. This drama series is very popular, as seen by its final episode rating, which reached 11.1%. The drama’s title, directed by Kim Heewon, should be familiar to readers of classical literature. Over the years, Little Women (1868) has been known as a classic literary work by American female author Louisa May Alcott.

The success of the Korean drama Little Women (2022) must be connected to the popularity of the original work. Little Women (1868), written by Louisa May Alcott, is one of the world’s most famous classic literary works. Due to its popularity, this novel has been adapted into a film six times. Two of the most famous adaptations are Gillian Armstrong’s (1994), which hooked Winona Ryder as Jo March and Christian Bale as Laurie. Another film is Greta Gerwig’s (2019), which features Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, and Eliza Scanlen as the March sisters. The two Little Women (1868) film adaptations received high enthusiasm from the audience. It further proves that many people indeed love this novel.

Although it has the same title as the two film adaptations of Little Women (1868), Kim Heewon’s drama series tends to tell a different plot. Instead of being adapted, the Korean drama is said to have only been inspired by the novel by Louisa May Alcott. It can be seen by the different characters’ names and the plot, which differs from the original story. Nonetheless, the Korean drama Little Women (2022) displays various references that remind its audience of Louisa May Alcott’s novel. This article will discuss the references to the novel Little Women (1868) that appears in the Korean drama Little Women (2022), especially in terms of its characterization.

Readers of the novel Little Women (1868) may be familiar that the main characters are four sisters named Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy. Meanwhile, the main characters in the drama series Little Women (2022) only have three girls: Oh Injoo, Oh Inkyeong, and Oh Inhye. Although the main characters in the original story and Korean drama are different, the March and the Oh share similarities in economic background. On the one hand, The March family lived in the United States in the 1800s. The United States was at war then, leaving many families impoverished. On the other hand, the Oh is a family that lives in modern South Korean society. The poverty they experience is no longer caused by war but due to capitalism and structural poverty.

Each of the sisters in March and Oh’s families has their own way of dealing with poverty. The first children in these two families are Meg and Injoo. In the story of Little Women (1868), Meg is portrayed as a charming girl who is mature but often yearns for luxury and wealth. It is because Meg was the only child in the March family who still had the chance to experience the glory of her parents. Injoo also experienced the same thing as Meg. As the first child, Injoo is also obsessed with the wealth that his parents once owned. This reason drives Injoo to do reckless things like marrying a rich man, which only ends up making her a young widow and falling into a money laundering case.


Even though they both crave wealth, Meg tends to be more able to accept the poverty she faces because of the moral values planted by her mother. As fans of Little Women (1868) know, Meg married Mr. Brooke, who came from an ordinary family. Meanwhile, Injoo’s mother is irresponsible and willing to leave her children for her own pleasure. It is what makes Injoo finally do evil things, as in the drama Little Women (2022). The moral support the mother gives is one of the factors behind the different characters of Meg and Injoo.

In the drama series Little Women (2022), the second child in the Oh family is Inkyeong. Inkyeong is a young girl who has ambitions to become a reporter. In contrast to her older sister, Inkyeong adheres to her principles and strongly opposes any unlawful act. In this drama, Inkyeong’s struggle to achieve her dream is not easy, considering the broadcasting industry in South Korea is depicted as a realm dominated by the upper class. Even if a reporter didn’t come from a wealthy family, they had to have connections with high-class people. Inkyeong’s tenacity and stubbornness are inspired by the character of the second child in Little Women (1868), namely Jo March.


While Inkyeong is determined to become a reporter, Jo’s ambition is to become a writer. Reporter and writer are two jobs that are expected to be able to convey the truth to the public so that these characters are mutually connected. Jo’s dreams were undoubtedly not commonplace for women in the 19th century, bearing in mind that at that time, the domain of writing was still dominated by men. Even many female writers hide their identities behind anonymity or disguise their names to male names. Just like Inkyeong, Jo also adheres to kindness values. In Little Women, Jo refuses to be betrothed to a rich man by Aunt March because she has the ideals to achieve her own success. Therefore, Jo and Aunt March’s relationship is not very good in the book. In contrast, Inkyeong is the Great Aunt’s favorite niece, who has cared for Inkyeong since she was little. Both Jo March and Oh Inkyeong share a stubborn and persistent personality amidst situations that make it difficult for the two to achieve their goals.


The third child of the March family is Beth, while Inhye is the third child of the Oh family. These two characters are the only sisters whose characterizations are not related. Instead, Inhye shares similarities with Amy, the youngest of the March family. There are visible similarities in the portrayal of these two characters. First, Amy and Inhye both had a strong desire to become painters. In Little Women (1868), Amy visited Europe with Aunt March to practice her painting skills. In contrast, Inhye is a student at an art school who receives a scholarship because of her painting skills. These two characters are also the most realistic daughters of the sisters. Amy and Inhye strongly desire to escape the poverty that has become part of their lives. Amy doesn’t mind if she has to marry a man she does not love as long as the man respects her and is wealthy. In the 19th century, marriage was an alternative for women to change their economic and social status. Even in the film Little Women (2019), Amy March delivers a monologue as follows:


“Well. I’m not a poet, I’m just a woman. And as a woman, I have no way to make money, not enough to earn a living and support my family. Even if I had my own money, which I don’t, it would belong to my husband the minute we were married. If we had children, they would belong to him, not me. They would be his property. So don’t sit there and tell me that marriage isn’t an economic proposition because it is. It may not be for you, but most certainly, it is for me.”


Unlike Amy, who uses marriage as her destiny changer, Inhye has a more brilliant mentality. As a teenager living in a modern era when women have been freed to work and keep their own income, Inhye uses her talents and connections to the rich to free her family from poverty. With Park Hyorin, the daughter of politician Park Jaesang, Inhye plans to escape abroad to dodge the feuds and cunning of the adults around her. Inhye sells her paintings with Hyorin’s additional accounts to obtain funds abroad. At the end of the show, Inhye manages to go far and get the 70 million KRW embezzled money that Injoo and Park Jaesang’s family are fighting over and distributing to her sisters so they can all live better lives.

The fourth daughter of the March is Amy, while Inseon is the name of the fourth child of the Oh. However, since Amy is the reference for Inhye’s characterization; therefore, Beth shares similarities with Oh Inseon. Inseon was the fourth child of the Oh family, who died as a baby. Both of them had a sad ending because they died due to poverty. Beth is revealed to have scarlet fever after a visit to the Hummel family, whose baby was also infected. Nowadays, scarlet fever can be deadly, but getting a cure is easier. However, in the 19th century, the disease seemed fatal. Access to qualified healthcare was a wartime luxury for low-income families like the March. For that reason, Beth ended up being treated at home with an illness that continuously damaged her health. The same thing happened to Inseon. As a result of limited budgets for medicine, the little boy had to die because of his illness. This reason also made the Great Aunt decide to take care of Inkyeong because she was worried that the nephew would end up tragically like Inseon.


In this article, the Great Aunt is the last character whose similarities to other characters in Little Women (2022) will be discussed. It can be assumed that the characterization of the Great Aunt refers to Aunt March, the aunt of the March sisters, who is rich and arrogant. In Little Women (1868), Aunt March is a widowed middle-aged woman because her husband dies. Aunt March is represented as a wealthy figure with much inheritance to pass on to the March sisters. However, Aunt March liked Amy the most of the four sisters, so she gave the girl the best legacy. Aunt March is known to have a rocky relationship with the headstrong and wayward Jo. However, who would have thought that Aunt March cared so much about her rebellious nephew at the end of her life? Her concern was shown by giving the Plumfield house to Jo and Mr. Bhaer as an inheritance.

The characterization of the Great Aunt in the drama Little Women (2022) is also similar to Aunt March. She is a widow whose husband passed away but has a lot of wealth. If Aunt March favored the youngest or Amy, Great Aunt took a slightly different path. It was mentioned before that Inkyeong was the Great Aunt’s favorite niece. Therefore, Inkyeong inherited the Great Aunt’s house and company. In addition, the Great Aunt endowed a luxury apartment to Oh Injoo, who has long dreamed of having her indulgence residence. Meanwhile, Great Aunt’s relationship with Inhye feels less explored in this drama.

Examining the intertextuality of two texts is always an exciting topic of discussion, including analyzing the references to the book Little Women (1868) by Louisa May Alcott used in the Korean drama Little Women (2022) by Kim Heewon. In this drama, many intertextualities make the audience remember the famous story of the same title. However, what stands out the most is the characterization of the Oh sisters’ characters, which are made with similarities to the March sisters. Another similarity between these two texts is that women are used as the main characters, from the protagonist to the antagonist. The author believes that Kim Heewon has not only made a new story based on Little Women (1868) but has also raised the issue of structural poverty in the context of South Korea through the plot of Little Women (2022).



Writer: Redita Diah Firanti

Editor: Marsha Almira