Little Women Summary

Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Little Women

The March family lives in a small house next door to the Laurence mansion, where young Theodore Laurence, known as Laurie, and his aged grandfather have only each other for company. Old Mr. Laurence is wealthy, and he indulges every wish of his grandson, but often Laurie is lonely. When the lamps are lit and the shades are up in the March house, he can see the four March sisters, with their mother in the center, seated around a cheerful fire. He learns to know them by name before he meets them, and, in his imagination, he almost feels himself a member of the family.

The oldest is plump Meg, who has to earn her living as the governess of a group of unruly youngsters in the neighborhood. Next is Jo, tall, awkward, and tomboyish, who likes to write and who spends all her spare time devising plays and entertainments for her sisters. Then there is gentle Beth, the homebody, content to sit knitting by the fire or to help her mother take care of the house. The youngest is curly-haired Amy, a schoolgirl who dreams of someday becoming a famous artist like Michelangelo or Leonardo da Vinci. The sisters’ father is away, serving as an army chaplain during the Civil War.

At Christmastime, the girls are confronted with the problem of what to do with the dollar that Marmee, as they call their mother, has said they might spend. At first, each thinks only of her own pleasure, but all end by buying a gift for Marmee instead. On Christmas morning, they insist on sharing their breakfast with the Hummels, a poor family in the neighborhood, and for this unselfishness they are rewarded when Mr. Laurence sends over a surprise Christmas feast consisting of ice cream and bonbons along with four bouquets of flowers for the table.

Many happy days follow, with Laurie becoming a part of the March family circle after he meets Jo at a fashionable New Year’s Eve dance. In November, however, a telegram brings a message that the girls’ father is critically ill. Mrs. March does not know what to do. She feels that she should go to her husband at once, but she has barely five dollars in her purse. She is hesitant about going to her husband’s wealthy, irascible relative Aunt March for help. Jo solves the problem by selling her long, beautiful chestnut hair, which has been her only vanity, for twenty-five dollars. She makes the sacrifice willingly, but that night, after the others have gone to bed, Meg hears Jo weeping softly. Gently, Meg asks if Jo is crying over her father’s illness, and Jo sobs that it is not her father she is crying for now, but for her hair.

During Marmee’s absence, dark days fall upon the little women. Beth, who has never been strong, contracts scarlet fever, and for a time it looks as if Jo is going to lose her dearest sister. They send for Marmee, but by the time she arrives, the crisis has passed and her little daughter is better. By the next Christmas, Beth is her old contented self again. Mr. March surprises them all when he returns home from the front well and happy. The little family is together once more.

Then John Brooke, Laurie’s tutor, falls in love with Meg. This fact is disclosed when Mr. Brooke surreptitiously steals one of Meg’s gloves and keeps it in his pocket as a memento. When Laurie discovers the glove and informs Jo, he is greatly surprised at her reaction; she is infuriated at the idea that the family circle might be disturbed. She is quite reconciled three years later, however, when Meg becomes Mrs. Brooke.

In the meantime, Jo herself has grown up. She begins to take her writing seriously and even sells a few stories, which helps with the family budget. Her greatest disappointment comes when Aunt Carrol, a relative of the Marches, decides she needs a companion on a trip to Europe and asks the more ladylike Amy, rather than Jo, to accompany her. Then Jo, with Marmee’s permission, decides to go to New York City. She takes a job in New York as governess for a Mrs. Kirke, who runs a large boardinghouse. There she meets Professor Bhaer, a lovable and eccentric German tutor, who proves to be a good friend and companion.

When Jo returns home, Laurie, who has always loved her, asks her to marry him. Jo, who imagines that she will always remain unmarried, devoting herself exclusively to her writing, tries to convince Laurie that they are not made for each other. He persists, pointing out that his grandfather and her family both expect them to marry. When she finally makes him realize that she will not be persuaded, he stomps off, and shortly afterward he leaves for Europe with his grandfather. In Europe, Laurie spends a great deal of time with Amy, and the two become close friends, so that Laurie is able to transfer to Jo’s younger sister a great deal of the feeling he previously had for Jo.

Jo remains at home caring for Beth, who has never fully recovered from her earlier illness. In the spring, Beth dies, practically in Jo’s arms, and after the loss of her gentle sister Jo is lonely indeed. She tries to comfort herself with her writing and with Meg’s two babies, Daisy and Demi, but not until the return of Amy, now married to Laurie, does she begin to feel like her old self again. When Professor Bhaer stops to visit on his way to a university appointment in the Midwest, Jo is delighted. One day, as they share an umbrella during a downpour, he asks her to marry him, and Jo accepts. Within a year, old Aunt March dies and leaves her home, Plumfield, to Jo. Jo decides to open a boys’ school there, where she and her professor can devote their lives to instructing the young.

So the little women have reached maturity, and on their mother’s sixtieth birthday, they all have a great celebration at Plumfield. Around the table, at which there is but one empty chair, sit Marmee, her daughters and their husbands, and her grandchildren. When Laurie proposes a toast to his mother-in-law, she replies by stretching out her arms to them all and saying that she can wish nothing better for them than this present happiness for the rest of their lives.

Little Women Summary (Masterpieces of American Literature)

Little Women was, and remains, Alcott’s best-known and most widely read work. It was her first novel for young girls and was so popular that her audience demanded sequels, a request that Alcott fulfilled, although most readers believe that Little Women is the most compelling of Alcott’s novels about the March family.

As the novel opens, the four girls—the oldest, Meg (sixteen), tomboyish Jo (fifteen), sweet Beth (thirteen), and the youngest, Amy (twelve)—are sitting around the hearth contemplating a Christmas without presents, for their father is away serving as chaplain for a unit of men fighting in the Civil War, and the family has very limited funds.

From this opening dialogue, a reader gets insights into the basic personality types of the various characters. Meg feels most strongly the family’s limited resources. It is she who struggles hardest with envy of the wealthier girls in town. Jo is the most spirited of the lot, physically the most active and psychologically the most independent; she nevertheless is most comfortable when she is safely ensconced within the family circle of Marmee (the girls’ nickname for their mother) and the four girls. Beth is the sweetest and most generous of the girls, the one who complains least and tries hardest to ease the difficulties of the others. She is the character whom some readers think is really too good to be true. As might be expected, she dies an early death, as if she is too good for this world. The youngest, Amy, has rather grand visions of herself but these are tempered as she tests her artistic skills abroad and eventually marries the boy next door.

Several themes emerge in the book as the girls develop into adults. One is the difficulty that women of the period had in finding suitable work. Marriage was the most obvious hope for economic stability, but for the woman who did not choose marriage, options were extremely limited and the pay not sufficient. The girls try a number of ways to earn money—as companion, governess, and writer, for example—but nothing that they can do succeeds very well. Another theme is the importance of maintaining the family circle. Even marriage is not greeted unhesitatingly, because it threatens to remove one sister from the family. Disruptions to the family circle are inevitable as children grow up, but in Little Women they are always greeted with only begrudging kindness.

Materialism is decried, as are the frivolities of the dances and entertainments in which girls with only a little more money than the Marches indulge. The virtues of patience, submission, and devotion are lauded instead. Finally, no discussion of the novel is complete without mention of the spirited individualism of Jo. She is the most independent of the four girls, although she probably shocks everyone by turning down a very attractive marriage proposal from the wealthy young man next door. Her later acceptance of the older Professor Bhaer (in part 2) has been a source of some criticism for Alcott, because it seems a fictional denial of the feminism that grew ever stronger in Alcott’s own life.

Perhaps the most important feature of Little Women is its depiction of domestic harmony in convincingly realistic detail. In the trivial daily activities and the modest goals and setbacks of family members, Alcott depicts a supportive family environment that anyone committed to the ideal of the family can approve. Further, although Little Women eschews the single-minded goals of revenge or passion that characterize the gripping gothic tales, each of the four sisters’ separate stories nevertheless determinedly marches along, with the various threads intertwining in a delightfully twisting, sometimes knotted, sometimes surprising, yarn of family life. For its adept juggling of subplots, the conversational dialogue of characters, the realism of setting and situation, and the idealism of personal morality and family harmony, Little Women will continue to be read for pleasure, for escape, and for education.

Little Women Overview

Little Women is a well-told story that features suspense, humor, and engaging characters, as well as lessons about the importance of...

(The entire section is 152 words.)

Little Women Summary

Part One Summary

Part One, Chapters 1-12
The March girls—Meg, 17, Jo, 16, Beth, 14, and Amy, 12—bemoan the fact that Christmas will...

(The entire section is 882 words.)

Part Two Summary

Part Two, Chapters 24-35
Three years have passed, and Meg prepares for her wedding. The war is over, and Mr. March is...

(The entire section is 496 words.)

Little Women Chapter Summaries

Chapter 1 Summary

Little Women begins on Christmas Eve as four sisters sit together, feeling sorry that they are not going to have any presents this year. Not only are they poor but their father is away from home working as a chaplain in the Civil War. As they talk, each girl says what she would like to have for Christmas. Meg, the eldest, wants pretty clothes. Jo, a bookworm, wants a copy of a romantic novel. Beth, the sweet one, at first says she wants nothing except Father’s safe return. Later, however, she admits she would also like some sheet music. Amy, the youngest, says she wants a set of drawing pencils. After some discussion, the girls decide they will all spend their own money—one dollar apiece—on these small gifts...

(The entire section is 657 words.)

Chapter 2 Summary

When the March girls wake up on Christmas morning, they each find a copy of a book—most likely a copy of the Bible or Pilgrim’s Progress. Meg makes a little speech about how, from now on, she will read a few pages in her book every morning when she wakes up. The younger girls feel impressed by this example and resolve to do the same.

After reading, the girls go downstairs to Hannah, the family’s friend and servant, who says that Marmee is out with a child who “come a-beggin’.” The older girls prepare Marmee’s gifts but Amy disappears. When she returns, she shows them that she has swapped out a small bottle of cologne that cost just a few cents for a large one that cost her entire dollar. “I’m...

(The entire section is 446 words.)

Chapter 3 Summary

A few days later, Meg runs excitedly into the attic, where Jo is reading a novel and eating apples. Meg announces that the two of them have been invited to a New Year’s Eve dance and that Marmee does not mind if they go. “What shall we wear?” she asks. The practical Jo is perplexed by this pointless question; she points out that they each only have one nice dress.

In spite of this, the girls spend hours preparing for the party. Jo attempts to curl Meg’s hair with hot irons. Unfortunately, she ends up burning a curl off of Meg’s head. Amy comes to the rescue, disguising the burned hair as if it were purposely styled that way. Afterward, she and Beth work to make the tomboyish Jo look as nice and neat...

(The entire section is 452 words.)

Chapter 4 Summary

The morning after the party, the girls go back to work and school. They all feel out of sorts, and Jo and Meg bicker as they walk to their jobs. Meg complains because, at the wealthy house where she tutors, she daily sees the children’s elder sisters display the pretty possessions she longs to have. Jo, meanwhile, is forced to spend her time running back and forth to satisfy the unfriendly Aunt March when she would much prefer to lounge around and read books.

Beth and Amy have a hard time, too. Beth desperately wants a nice piano and pretty music; however, unlike the others, she does not complain. She is a shy little girl who cannot stand to go to school, so she studies at home and looks after the house. She works...

(The entire section is 465 words.)

Chapter 5 Summary

One cold winter’s day, Jo spots Laurie at his bedroom window. She throws a snowball at him, and he tells her that he is stuck inside with a cold. He is obviously feeling gloomy, so Jo gets permission from Marmee to go cheer him up. Very soon she marches into his bedroom with a sweet dessert called blancmange, a few of Beth’s kittens, and a head full of stories. As she entertains him with anecdotes about cranky old Aunt March, she tidies up his room and makes him feel more cheerful.

Jo has long wanted to see the Laurence mansion, so Laurie gives her a tour. When he gets called away to see the doctor, he asks her to wait in his grandfather’s library. Jo admires the books and then studies a painting of old Mr....

(The entire section is 472 words.)

Chapter 6 Summary

The friendship between Laurie and the girls grows “like grass in spring.” Old Mr. Laurence was previously very strict and forced Laurie to study a great deal. But the new friendship makes Laurie extremely happy, and the old man realizes that his grandson needs a social life as well as an academic one. He tells Laurie’s teacher, Mr. Brooke, to let the boy have a little vacation.

One by one, each of the March girls visits the Laurence mansion and sees the beautiful things there—all except Beth. She is so shy that she has trouble leaving home under any circumstances but especially to enter the home of a curmudgeonly old man like Mr. Laurence. Mr. Laurence does not know about Beth’s timidity. The one time she...

(The entire section is 535 words.)

Chapter 7 Summary

One day Amy confesses to Meg that she is in debt. At her school, all of the girls love pickled limes. Amy’s friends have all bought limes for her in the past, but she has never had a chance to buy any for them. Meg gives Amy twenty-five cents to repay her debt.

The next day, Amy buys twenty-five limes and brings them to school. When the girls find out, they all try to get on her good side. Amy is pleased by the attention, and she looks forward to sharing her treat during recess. However, she is not planning to share with everyone. One girl, Jenny Snow, recently ridiculed Amy cruelly. Amy says that Jenny will not get any of the limes.

Jenny is furious and tells the teacher, Mr. Davis, that Amy has limes in...

(The entire section is 419 words.)

Chapter 8 Summary

One day Amy throws a tantrum when she finds out that Meg and Jo are going to the theater with Laurie. Amy wants to see the show and demands to come along. Meg wants to let her but Jo says she cannot. Jo shouts at Amy and leaves in a huff.

When the older girls return, Amy looks oddly triumphant. Jo knows that her sister can be quite vengeful and nervously waits to find out what she has done. After dinner, Jo goes to work on a little book of stories she has been writing for several years—but she cannot find it. She thinks Amy hid it, but in fact the situation is far worse: Amy burned it.

Jo smacks Amy and swears never to forgive her. Eventually Marmee finds out, and she explains to Amy how terrible it was to...

(The entire section is 465 words.)

Chapter 9 Summary

Meg has been invited to take a two-week vacation with Annie Moffat, a wealthy friend. The younger girls lend Meg their best jewelry and ribbons, and Marmee gives her some silk stockings and a beautiful sash. Although she is glad Meg will have a chance to enjoy herself for a change, Marmee conceals a private worry: Will Meg return from her rich vacation feeling more unhappy than ever in her modest life?

On the trip, Meg quickly realizes that her clothing is far too drab and simple for the company she is keeping. She tries to put the matter out of her mind and enjoy herself, but somehow she is reminded of her poverty at every turn. One evening at a party, she overhears Mrs. Moffat musing that the Marches would be lucky...

(The entire section is 638 words.)

Chapter 10 Summary

As spring progresses, the girls spend their time gardening, collecting flowers, and playing games. They are fans of Charles Dickens, and they establish a club they call the Pickwick Club after Dickens’s The Pickwick Papers. Each girl plays the role of one character from this book. Because Meg is oldest, she plays Samuel Pickwick and acts as club president.

Every week, the members of the Pickwick Club (or P.C.) write silly stories and letters. Jo assembles these writings into a newspaper, which Meg reads aloud at the Sunday meetings. The girls act silly in their roles and enjoy the experience greatly.

At one meeting, Jo seems...

(The entire section is 425 words.)

Chapter 11 Summary

Summer begins, and Aunt March goes away on vacation, as do Meg’s little students. Joyfully, Meg and Jo exclaim that they want to spend the next three months relaxing. This idea excites Beth and Amy, who say they want a break from schoolwork as well. Marmee gives all four girls permission to lead lives of leisure for a week, but she predicts that they will not like it:

I think by Sunday night you will find that all play and no work is as bad as all work and no play.

The girls dismiss this as impossible and embark on their week of enjoyment. Meg sleeps late, shops, and makes pretty things for herself. Jo reads and plays outdoors. Beth makes music and plays with dolls. Amy...

(The entire section is 448 words.)

Chapter 12 Summary

Over time, it becomes Beth’s job to collect and deliver the mail that passes through Laurie’s little post office. One day the mail includes a single glove, an enormous hat, and several letters. The glove is for Meg, who grumbles a bit when she gets it. She left both her gloves at the Laurence place the other day, and she does not understand why only one was returned. The ridiculous hat is for Jo, who once mentioned offhand to Laurie that she wanted a bigger one. She puts it on immediately, delighted that he took her seriously.

Among the letters is a translation of a German poem from Mr. Brooke for Meg and an approving note from Marmee for Jo. The former does not cause much notice, but the latter gives Jo a quiet...

(The entire section is 445 words.)

Chapter 13 Summary

Laurie is brilliant and talented, but he has a tendency to be lazy and moody. One afternoon he sits brooding on his front porch, and he sees the March girls emerge from their house carrying bundles. As he watches them walk away, he wishes they had invited him along. A few minutes later, he decides to follow them. He finds them in the woods, each working on a different project.

When the girls see Laurie, Jo explains that they are playing a girl’s game and did not know if he would like it. They call themselves the Busy Bee Society, and they all sit around working on useful tasks in keeping with their Pilgrim’s Progress goals. They say Laurie is welcome to join them as long as he keeps busy as the rest of them do....

(The entire section is 433 words.)

Chapter 14 Summary

One day Jo sits in the attic, concentrating hard on something she is writing. Eventually she rolls up some papers, ties them with pretty ribbons, and sneaks downstairs. She takes care to not let anyone see her; she even exits the house by climbing out a window. She goes to town and finds a certain building, but she does not go inside. Instead, she paces back and forth outside the door. It takes her quite some time to work up the courage to enter.

Unbeknownst to Jo, she has been spotted. Laurie has just finished a fencing lesson across the street, and now he stands in a doorway, watching her antics and laughing. He waits for her to come back out, and he is surprised when she seems sorry to see him. They begin the walk...

(The entire section is 465 words.)

Chapter 15 Summary

Summer fades and a dreary fall arrives. On one particularly foul day, the girls sit together complaining that they hate November. They try to cheer themselves up, but soon they receive bad news. Hannah enters with a telegram from Washington that says Father is gravely ill. Marmee reads it and collapses into her chair, saying, “Oh, I shall go at once, but it may be too late. Oh, children, children, help me to bear it!”

Everyone rushes to help Marmee get ready. Laurie and the girls help her pack and run errands. Aunt March lends money—but she also sends a note criticizing Marmee for letting Father join the army in the first place. Mr. Laurence gives Marmee some wine to use as medicine and offers to protect the...

(The entire section is 467 words.)

Chapter 16 Summary

The next morning, the girls get up early to say good-bye to Marmee. They do not want to worry her, so they try not to show how sad they are to see her go. Before she leaves, she urges them to be good in her absence and do all the work they would normally do. She speaks to each girl in turn and explains how she must help and support her sisters. The girls promise to do as she asks, and they stand by bravely to watch Marmee leave with Mr. Brooke.

When Marmee is out of sight, the girls start to cry. Hannah lets them grieve for a while, but then she urges them to keep busy. Meg and Jo go off to work, and Beth and Amy begin their normal housework and schoolwork. The house feels lonely and empty, but the girls are determined...

(The entire section is 419 words.)

Chapter 17 Summary

When Marmee has been gone a week, the girls begin to lose their resolve to be good. Perfect behavior is hard work, and they feel that they deserve a break. This feeling increases when they learn that Father’s condition is improving.

Jo gets lazy about covering her newly cropped head on chilly days, and she catches a bad cold. Aunt March tells her to stay home for a few days, and Jo does so—spending her time lounging and reading. Amy lets her housework lapse and does artwork instead. Meg keeps going to work every day, but at home she spends most of her time reading and rereading the letters she receives from Marmee, Father, and Mr. Brooke.

Beth alone does her duties faithfully. When her sisters neglect...

(The entire section is 423 words.)

Chapter 18 Summary

Hannah and the doctor both realize quickly that Beth is gravely ill, but they try to protect the girls from this frightening fact. Even so, the girls want badly to write to Marmee and tell her what is happening. Hannah, however, declares that they should not worry Mrs. March when she is busy caring for her husband far away.

As Beth’s condition deteriorates, the girls receive word that Father’s illness is worsening as well. Jo sits by Beth all day, every day. Meg tries to keep the household running smoothly, but she often stops and cries. She thinks about how often she has wished for wealth, and she is amazed that she never realized how rich she was in loving family. Amy feels lost and lonely in her grumpy aunt’s...

(The entire section is 411 words.)

Chapter 19 Summary

During Beth’s illness, Amy stays with Aunt March. It is a hard time for her. She is worried about her father and her sister, and she is also forced to live with a cranky old lady who has no understanding of children. Aunt March actually likes Amy very much but does not know how to show it. She feels that Marmee and Father give their girls too much freedom, so she puts Amy on a strict schedule of chores.

When Amy is not washing dishes, polishing silver, or dusting furniture, Aunt March keeps her busy reading aloud or studying. Each day, Amy gets a single free hour for play. This is a very happy hour for Amy. Laurie visits daily to take her on rides and give her a bit of friendly attention.

Aunt March’s...

(The entire section is 429 words.)

Chapter 20 Summary

Jo and Meg are overjoyed to see Marmee. Beth is too, when she wakes up, although she is too ill to speak. She soon goes back to sleep, and Marmee sits by the bed holding her hand. Hannah makes a wonderful breakfast, and the older girls and Marmee eat together in Beth’s room. Then, relieved at their mother’s safe return and Beth’s improvement, Jo and Meg go to their own room to sleep.

Laurie goes straight to Amy to tell her the good news that Beth is improving and Marmee is home. Amy wants her mother badly, but she knows that, under the circumstances, it would be selfish of her to demand to see her immediately. Aunt March notices Amy’s good behavior and gives her a beautiful turquoise ring as a reward.

...

(The entire section is 475 words.)

Chapter 21 Summary

At Marmee’s request, Jo says nothing to anyone, including Meg, about Mr. Brooke’s feelings. Laurie knows, however, and he uses his knowledge to play a prank. Several days later, Meg suddenly has a fit and accuses Jo of writing a fake letter from Mr. Brooke.

When Meg calms down, she explains that she received a sappy love letter from Mr. Brooke a few days ago. Thinking it was real, she wrote to him and said that she was too young to receive such gestures and that he should talk to Father before speaking of his love to her again. In reply, she received a note from Mr. Brooke saying that he did not send the first letter and knew nothing about it. Now Meg feels totally humiliated, and she is sure Jo and Laurie worked...

(The entire section is 551 words.)

Chapter 22 Summary

As Christmas approaches, the March family grows increasingly cheerful. When they awake on Christmas morning, the girls look outside and see a beautiful girl made of snow. She wears a holly wreath and holds many presents, including a poem, piano music, an afghan, and fruit. Jo and Laurie made this sculpture as a surprise for Beth, whose improving health is a cause for celebration.

After Beth receives her presents from the snow maiden, the other girls receive the modest gifts they said they wanted a year ago. Afterward, they all reflect in amazement on their current happiness in contrast to their gloom last year. Beth says this Christmas is almost perfect. Only Father’s safe return home could make it any better.

...

(The entire section is 553 words.)

Chapter 23 Summary

The day after Christmas, the girls stay close to Father and try to make him happy and comfortable. The mood is festive, although Jo is upset that Father’s return brought Mr. Brooke as well. She implores Meg not to go off and get married. Meg claims that if anyone asks her about marriage, she will simply send him away.

Just then, Mr. Brooke stops by for a visit. Jo leaves, and he tells Meg that he would like to marry her someday, if she will have him. He does not think she needs to agree just yet, but he asks if she would consider trying to like him. Forgetting her plan, Meg stammers that she does not know. Mr. Brooke enjoys the look of sweet uncertainty in her face, and he clearly feels confident that he will win her...

(The entire section is 471 words.)

Chapter 24 Summary

Part two of Little Women begins three years later, on the day before Meg’s wedding. The years have brought just a few changes to the March family. Father is home permanently now. He spends his time preaching in his parish and studying his books. He is a source of comfort and answers for anyone who needs them.

Shortly after his engagement to Meg, John Brooke spent one year serving in the war. Since his return, he has established himself in a career as a bookkeeper. Meg has worked at learning the skills of a good housewife. She knows her first home will be modest, and she occasionally feels a pang when she sees the beautiful possessions of girls who are marrying richer men. However, she knows John is the right...

(The entire section is 478 words.)

Chapter 25 Summary

Meg’s wedding is simple and sweet. She decided not to buy an expensive, fashionable gown because she wanted to look like herself. She sewed her own wedding dress, and she looks youthful and beautiful in it.

Meg’s sisters are her bridesmaids, and they each wear their best gray dress for the occasion. They have changed a bit in the past three years. Jo looks older and softer. Her angles have smoothed out, and she moves with confidence. Beth is still pretty but she is quieter than ever. Her eyes betray the fact that she lives with a great deal of pain, although she rarely complains about it. Amy’s beauty has flourished. She finds her nose too flat and her mouth too wide, but these small imperfections give her face...

(The entire section is 455 words.)

Chapter 26 Summary

At sixteen, Amy wants to be a famous artist just as much as she did at thirteen. She knows she is talented, but she does not know if she has any genius. In her attempts to find out, she has worked diligently at many forms of art. She has tried sculpting, painting, and drawing as well as a variety of other kinds of artwork. At one point, she worked at burning pictures into wood—a pursuit that left her family fearing she would set the house on fire. Some time later, an attempt at making plaster molds left her with her foot stuck in a cast. That misadventure became a highlight of family jokes for years.

Furthermore, Amy is determined to be a kind and accomplished gentlewoman. She is pretty and likeable, and so she is...

(The entire section is 425 words.)

Chapter 27 Summary

Like Amy, Jo is still ambitious about her goals. Every now and then, she disappears into her attic and works feverishly at her novel—sometimes for weeks on end. One day just after she finishes such a period of hard work, she goes to a lecture about the pyramids with a neighbor, Mrs. Crocker. While there, Jo sees a boy reading a paper full of silly, action-packed stories. The boy lets Jo read a bit, and he says the author makes a lot of money from them. Intrigued, Jo decides to write a story and submit it to the paper’s upcoming contest, which offers a $100 prize.

Jo writes a sensational story full of murder and romance, and she mails it to the paper. For six weeks, she tells nobody what she has done—until a letter...

(The entire section is 430 words.)

Chapter 28 Summary

Meg wants to be the best housewife a woman can be but sometimes her ambition gets the best of her. In the summer, she decides she wants to make currant jelly. Unfortunately, this turns out to be far more difficult than she expects. She works at it all day but her pots of fruit refuse to set up into a proper jelly.

Since their wedding, Meg has often told John that he can invite a friend home to tea any time without first letting her know. John is proud of his wife for feeling that she can serve an extra person at a moment’s notice. As it happens, he takes advantage of her offer for the first time on the day she fails at jelly making. When he and his friend arrive, they do not find the clean home, cheerful wife, and...

(The entire section is 524 words.)

Chapter 29 Summary

One day Amy prods Jo to help her make several visits to neighbors who have recently visited them. People expect such social calls to be returned, and Amy feels that it is important to uphold appearances. Jo, on the other hand, finds social niceties annoying. She resists going and only agrees after Amy begs and flatters. The girls dress up in their best clothes—Amy happily and Jo grumpily—and step out into the world.

Before the girls visit the first house, Amy tells Jo to act calm and quiet. Jo responds by sitting in utter silence, refusing to speak unless people ask her a question—and even then she responds only with a stiff “yes” or “no.” Afterward, Amy scolds her sister and commands her to be...

(The entire section is 450 words.)

Chapter 30 Summary

Mrs. Chester’s fair is a major event. Because Amy is so well-liked and artistic, she is placed in charge of the art table, which is the most important part of the event. Many girls have contributed their artwork to be sold, and Amy has worked hard to create a beautiful display. Unfortunately, the fashionable and frivolous May Chester is angry with Amy, and she convinces her mother to help her get revenge. The day before the fair, Mrs. Chester declares that May will take over the art table. Amy is sent to take charge of the flower table, which is much less important.

Amy is humiliated by this turn of affairs but decides to do everything Mrs. Chester asks her to do. As she sees it, the Chesters are more likely to...

(The entire section is 408 words.)

Chapter 31 Summary

Amy soon sails away to Europe, thrilled at her good fortune. She sends many long letters from the exotic places she visits. She writes first from England, describing the ocean journey and the first events of her trip. She says that the boat voyage went smoothly and that she did not get very seasick.

The majority of the first letter describes Amy’s experiences in London. She visits tourist sites such as Hyde Park and Westminster Abbey. She also reunites with Fred and Frank Vaughn, twins who attended a picnic with Laurie and the March family many years ago. She and her cousin, Flo, spend a great deal of time with these two boys.

Amy’s second letter is sent from Paris, France. She describes museums, parks,...

(The entire section is 442 words.)

Chapter 32 Summary

At home in the March house, Marmee is worried about Beth, who seems unhappy. Marmee has tried to get Beth to discuss her feelings, but Beth refuses. Unsure what to make of this, Marmee consults Jo for ideas.

Jo points out that everyone treats Beth like a child because she is shy and sickly. However, Beth is eighteen years old and a young woman. Jo guesses that her sister’s problem, whatever it is, has to do with the conflicts of adjusting to adulthood. Marmee agrees that this makes sense.

Over the next several days, Jo watches Beth, looking for clues as to what could be bothering her. One day, Beth looks out the window and sees Laurie passing. “How strong and well and happy that dear boy looks,” she...

(The entire section is 422 words.)

Chapter 33 Summary

During her stay in New York, Jo writes often to her family. The first letter takes the form of a journal, recording her experiences every day for the first week.

When Jo arrives at her new home, she receives a kind welcome from her employer, Mrs. Kirke. As the days pass, Jo meets the children she is supposed to teach, two little girls named Kitty and Minnie, and discovers that most residents in the boarding house look down on her for being a governess. She dismisses these haughty people and focuses on befriending the few residents who seem nice.

One of Jo’s new friends is Miss Norton, a gentlewoman who invites Jo to accompany her to concerts and lectures. Jo knows that that this offer is an act of charity,...

(The entire section is 440 words.)

Chapter 34 Summary

Jo has always dreamed of becoming a rich and successful writer. Her desire for money is not for her own sake, but for the sake of her family, who would benefit greatly from her success. In order to fulfill this dream, she begins writing trashy thriller stories that earn relatively high paychecks.

The first time Jo writes such a story, she delivers it to the office of a newspaper called the Weekly Volcano. A week later, the editor offers her $25 for the piece, on the condition that she allow him to cut out all of the moral parts. Jo is a bit taken aback, but she agrees to his terms. Over the next few months, she writes several more trashy stories and collects whatever money she can get for them. She publishes...

(The entire section is 570 words.)

Chapter 35 Summary

During Jo’s absence, Laurie studies hard, hoping to impress her with his efforts. To his grandfather’s joy, he graduates college with honors. Jo returns home in time to attend his graduation party. Not long afterward, the two of them take a walk together, and he grows very quiet. Realizing that he is about to propose marriage, she begs him not to do it. She confesses that she went away to New York in the hopes that he would forget about her.

Laurie proposes anyway, and Jo is forced to say no. She feels terrible when she sees how disappointed he is, and she begs him to understand that she loves him as a friend and a brother. He suggests that she force herself to love him romantically, and she says, “I don’t...

(The entire section is 420 words.)

Chapter 36 Summary

Beth looks much weaker and sicker than she did before Jo left for New York. Jo notices this at once when she arrives home, and then she is distracted by her problems with Laurie. When he leaves, she turns her attention back to Beth. Jo confesses to Marmee about the trashy stories she published in New York. Jo still has all of the money she earned, so she decides to pay for a trip to the seaside for Beth’s health. Marmee refuses to go, preferring instead to stay near Meg’s babies, so Jo takes Beth herself.

Neither Beth nor Jo takes any part in the social life at the shore. Beth is too shy, and Jo is too busy caring for Beth. However, the other vacationers watch the two sisters with compassion, noting the differences...

(The entire section is 460 words.)

Chapter 37 Summary

Christmas Day arrives in Nice, France. There, on the promenade, Laurie paces back and forth. He is so handsome and well-dressed that people stare. He pays them no attention, perking up only when Amy March arrives in a small cart called a barouche. “Oh, Laurie, is it really you?” she says.

Laurie and Amy go to a viewpoint called Castle Hill, where Amy likes to feed the peacocks. On the way, they talk about new adventures and old times. Laurie explains that his grandfather has been staying in Paris, allowing Laurie to come and go as he pleases. The old man likes to stay in one place, but Laurie gets restless, so the two of them pursue their own desires and enjoy each other when Laurie feels like a dose of family....

(The entire section is 449 words.)

Chapter 38 Summary

When Meg’s twins are born, they take over most of her attention. For a long time, she forgets that her husband needs her, too. She spends nearly all of her time with her children, allowing them to interrupt any activity during the day or the night. She shows no interest in social life or in John’s work.

At first, John thinks this is a phase that will pass, but after several months he sees no sign that Meg is interested in spending time with him. He starts a habit of going to a friend’s house for dinner. His friend’s wife is young and, thus far, childless. She spends her time waiting on the men and showing them a good time.

For a while, Meg likes this new arrangement, but soon she finds herself...

(The entire section is 506 words.)

Chapter 39 Summary

Laurie originally plans to visit Amy for a week, but he ends up staying a month. During that time, he finds more and more to like about her. She is not only beautiful and gracious, but also selfless. She finds many little ways to help him, and he appreciates everything she does.

Amy, on the other hand, finds less and less to like about Laurie. Although he is generous with his money, he refuses to make any kind of effort for anyone else’s sake. Amy and Flo nickname him “Lazy Laurence,” and Amy finds herself missing the happy and loving boy she used to know.

During her travels in Europe, Amy has learned that she has no genius for art. She has talent and energy, but she will never be truly brilliant. On...

(The entire section is 424 words.)

Chapter 40 Summary

In spite of their great sadness at Beth’s illness, the members of the March family work together to make the end of her life as pleasant as possible. They give her the nicest room in the house and surround her with all of her favorite things: her piano, her cats, her pictures, and so on. Everyone spends as much time as possible by her side, waiting on her or just talking.

Even now that her health is failing, Beth keeps constantly busy. She often makes little gifts for the children that walk by her house on the way to school. She knits mittens for a child who has none, makes a scrapbook for a little artist, and so on. Soon the children of the neighborhood begin to regard Beth as a kind of fairy godmother who knows what...

(The entire section is 416 words.)

Chapter 41 Summary

Laurie spends several weeks in Paris with his grandfather. As he absorbs Amy's lecture, it affects him in exactly the way she intended. It makes him change his life. However, he is too proud to go back to Nice and see her again right away. Her words were true, but they hurt.

Soon Laurie gets restless and goes to Vienna, Austria. Following Amy’s direction to make something of himself, he attempts to become a composer. First, he tries writing a requiem for his love to Jo, but it is terrible. After that, he tries an opera, but he cannot seem to make Jo come alive as a character. Finally, he decides to compose a piece of music about a different character, a beautiful golden-haired girl he refuses to name even in his own...

(The entire section is 549 words.)

Chapter 42 Summary

At home, Jo sinks into a depression after Beth’s death. She tries to keep her promise to care for her parents, but she finds herself resenting it. She cannot help feeling that she needs someone to care for her and that nobody can. Her life seems empty, hard, and unpleasant. Sometimes at night she wakes up thinking that Beth is still alive, only to collapse into sobs when she realizes her mistake. On these nights, Marmee hears her and comes to comfort her.

During this period, Jo’s relationship with Father grows and changes. She goes often to his study to talk about her grief. He shares his feelings openly with her, and she does the same, even discussing her resentment toward God and her dissatisfaction with the...

(The entire section is 472 words.)

Chapter 43 Summary

On the day before Jo’s twenty-fifth birthday, she sits alone by the fire, thinking about how little she has accomplished so far in her life. She is sure that she is going to be an old maid, with no husband except her pen and no children except her stories. She tries to tell herself, as she always has, that she wants this freedom and independence—but somehow she cannot help feeling sad at the prospect.

Jo falls asleep on the couch and awakes to find Laurie standing over her. She greets him happily, and the two of them chatter excitedly. In the midst of this conversation, he refers to Amy as “my wife.” In this way, Jo learns that Laurie and Amy have already married. She calls this a “dreadful thing,” but she...

(The entire section is 541 words.)

Chapter 44 Summary

The next day, Amy spends so much time with Marmee at the March house that Laurie has to come looking for her and beg her to help him unpack. Marmee apologizes for taking so much of Amy’s time, but Laurie does not really mind. He is glad she has the chance to spend time with her family again.

Before Amy returns to the Laurence house, Jo asks what the two of them plan to do now that they are home. Laurie says that he does not want a life of leisure, even though he could afford one. Instead he will go into business and make his grandfather proud. The Marches approve of this answer. Laurie goes on to announce that Amy will head a grand, fashionable, influential household. Amy does not contradict him, but privately she...

(The entire section is 407 words.)

Chapter 45 Summary

Little Women is nearing its end, and the narrator pauses to say that the story would not be complete without a chapter devoted to Meg’s children, Daisy and Demi. Smart and capable, these two children bring joy to all the adults in their family. Although they are twins, they are very different from each other.

Daisy is sweet, girlish, and loving. From the time she is tiny, she tries hard to imitate the women in her life. She is free with her hugs and kisses, and she is capable of making even cantankerous old bachelors smile at her on the street. Once she was seen to spread her arms and say, “Me loves evvybody.” In this way, she is a bit like Beth. This makes the family cherish her all the more, and...

(The entire section is 443 words.)

Chapter 46 Summary

Mr. Bhaer visits the Marches nearly every day for two weeks. He always seems to be passing when Jo is on her way somewhere, so the two of them take many walks together. Jo is not sure this is proper, but she decides that she cannot be expected to change her habits just because Mr. Bhaer often wants to walk the same direction she does. Her family says nothing about the matter. They all see a romance developing, but they give it time to grow in its own way.

Jo is growing quite used to Mr. Bhaer’s frequent visits when, quite suddenly, they stop. For three days, she does not see him. She grows worried that she means nothing to him and that he simply left town without saying goodbye. She goes out shopping and takes a side...

(The entire section is 426 words.)

Chapter 47 Summary

Jo and Friedrich struggle to earn the money they need for marriage, but then Aunt March dies and leaves her house to Jo. The family expects Jo to sell the place, and they are surprised when she announces that she intends to live there. Laurie tells her that the mansion is far too big for a couple to manage alone, but Jo explains that she will have plenty of helpers. She and Friedrich are going to open a small boarding school for boys. She will care for them, and Friedrich will teach them. In that way, they will earn a living.

Jo and Friedrich marry and put their plan into action. A few wealthy families send their sons, and Mr. Laurence pays the tuition of a few poor boys who need a good place to grow up. Soon Aunt...

(The entire section is 448 words.)