Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
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...
(The entire section is 1091 words.)
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Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
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...
(The entire section is 659 words.)
Little Women is a well-told story that features suspense, humor, and engaging characters, as well as lessons about the importance of honesty, hard work, true love, and family unity. Brilliant in its portrayal of nineteenth-century American family life, the novel depicts a secure, placid world in which the home serves as the center for children's religious and moral education.
In Alcott's novel, the family—as the most important of social units—gives its members strength to overcome life's obstacles and teaches them the value of selflessness. Mrs. March, in particular, exemplifies the courage and perseverance necessary to hold the family together through war and death. Although the novel ends happily, it in many ways marks a departure from simplistic, romantic nineteenthcentury fiction for young adults. Alcott's characters change in response to serious life-events; their positive but realistic attitudes inspire readers to identify their own strengths in the face of pain and adversity.
(The entire section is 152 words.)
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 be lacking because their poverty prevents them from having gifts and their father is away in the Civil War. Resolving to be better people, they decide to play Pilgrim's Progress, an ongoing make-believe in which they follow the allegorical travels of Christian in John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress. On Christmas day, the girls take their breakfast to the Hummels, a needy family nearby. Later, they discover that their wealthy neighbor Mr. Laurence has rewarded their kindness with flowers and treats.
Jo and Meg attend a dance at a neighbor's house, and while Meg dances, Jo hides behind a curtain. She finds Mr. Laurence's grandson, Theodore ("Laurie"), also hiding. They become quick friends, and when Meg twists her ankle, Laurie gives the girls a ride home.
With the holidays over, the girls resume their routines. Meg is a governess, Jo is the companion of feisty Aunt March (Mr. March's aunt), Beth studies at home, and Amy goes to school. Each girl has an artistic talent: Beth loves music, Jo writes stories and plays, Meg acts in Jo's plays, and Amy draws and sculpts clay.
The girls readily befriend Laurie and his grandfather and visit their luxurious house, enjoying the conservatory, the library, and the piano. The March girls even allow Laurie into their secret club. They set up a post...
(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 a minister. Aunt March has released Jo from her duty and instead employs Amy to be her companion, paying her with expensive art lessons. Beth is still a homebody, and her health is frail since her fever. Jo sells stories and enjoys life as a writer, feeling quite independent. She enters a contest and wins $100, and the family is very impressed with the sensational story. Papa commends his daughter, adding that he thinks she can do even better. When Jo finishes her novel, she submits it for publication but is advised that it requires major revisions. Torn between her commitment to the novel as it is and wanting to get it published, she decides to go ahead and "chop it up." Reviews are mixed, and Jo regrets her compromise, but she learns about the rigors and trials of being a novelist.
Resigned to the upcoming marriage, Aunt March's stance has softened, and she purchases beautiful linens for the couple's new home. Laurie tells Jo she will be the next to marry, but she responds that she has no interest in such things. On the day of the wedding, family and a few friends gather at the March home for a lovely, simple wedding.
Meg soon finds that married life is satisfying, if not a fairy tale. She has twins, a boy and a girl named Demi and Daisy.
Aunt Carrol plans a trip to Europe, and Aunt March...
(The entire section is 496 words.)
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 for themselves.
The four sisters are the children of Mr. and Mrs. March, a well-respected New England couple. They used to be wealthy but Mr. March lost his fortune years ago when he tried to help a friend in need. The family has been poor ever since, and the girls must all work to help the family. Meg earns money teaching the spoiled children of a wealthy household. Jo has a job with a cranky old relative, Aunt March, who “is never satisfied.” Beth keeps house for the family. Amy still goes to school. As they chat, the girls bicker about which of them has the hardest life.
In the midst of this argument, the narrator pauses to describe each girl in turn. Meg is sixteen, pretty and plump, and proud of her appearance. Jo is a tall, skinny fifteen-year-old with
the uncomfortable appearance of a girl who [is] rapidly shooting up into a woman and [does not] like it.
Beth is a rosy-cheeked, timid thirteen-year-old who appears unusually peaceful. Amy, who is twelve, has beautiful golden hair and blue eyes; she dresses neatly and works hard to make a good impression on everyone she meets.
The girls’ moods lift somewhat as they prepare for the arrival of their mother, whom they call Marmee. As they lay her slippers by the fire to warm, they see that the old things are almost worn out. The sisters agree that one of them needs to buy her a new pair of slippers, and each girl tries to claim the honor of giving up what she wants for her mother’s sake. They argue about this for some time, and eventually they arrive at the idea that none of them will buy gifts for themselves. Instead, each girl will buy something for Marmee.
(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 truly trying not to be selfish anymore,” she says.
Moments later, Marmee comes in and asks if the girls will give their delicious Christmas breakfast to a poor family that lives around the corner. After a brief hesitation, the girls agree. They carry their food away and watch a family of hungry children eat it. Afterward, they go home and eat a bit of bread and milk.
The girls give Marmee her presents: gloves from Meg, slippers from Jo, handkerchiefs from Beth, and the large bottle of cologne from Amy. Marmee gasps with pleasure at these small offerings, and the girls are satisfied with their little surprise.
That night, the girls put on an elaborate play for a dozen of their friends. Jo wrote the script; it is a romantic story about an evil villain and a charming hero who try to woo the same girl. Jo plays the main male roles and Meg plays the main female roles. Meanwhile, the little girls perform a few small parts each. A disaster occurs in the second act: the set collapses mid-scene. The audience finds this hilarious, and the girls soon recover from their accident and finish the play.
After the show, everyone goes downstairs to find a feast of ice cream and bonbons. They are amazed to see such luxurious treats, and Marmee explains that their neighbor, the wealthy Mr. Laurence, sent the little feast. He heard about the girls’ decision to give up their Christmas breakfast, and he was touched, so he decided to reward them. Jo says Mr. Laurence’s grandson probably suggested this plan. She thinks he is a nice boy but very shy. She wishes she could get to know him somehow.
Christmas ends happily, but the girls miss Father. As Beth says, “I’m afraid he...
(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 as possible, considering that her clothes are worn and stained.
The party goes quite well for Meg, but Jo feels “as out of place as a colt in a flower garden.” She has a burn on the back of her dress, so she stands with her back to the wall as much as she can. After lurking awkwardly for an hour or so, she decides to slip behind a curtain and watch the party from a place where she cannot be seen.
As it turns out, Jo is not the only partygoer who has this idea. The “Laurence boy” is hiding behind the curtain, too. She learns that his name is Theodore but he goes by Laurie. They strike up a conversation and Jo soon finds out that he is shy but friendly, just as she thought. When he finds out about the burn on her dress, he takes her to an empty room to dance where nobody can see.
Meg, whose shoes are too small for her growing feet, sprains her ankle dancing. When Jo tries to help her by bringing her a coffee, she spills it everywhere. Laurie helps then and graciously brings Meg everything she needs. The three of them spend the rest of the party sitting and enjoying themselves. When it is time to leave, Laurie drives them home in his carriage.
Back at home, the two younger girls leap out of bed and demand to hear about the party. The older girls each tell the stories of what they did and saw. During this conversation, Jo wraps Meg’s sprained foot, and Meg says she feels like “a fine young lady.” Jo says that the two of them probably have as much fun as “fine young ladies” do, even though she has to wear stained old clothes and Meg has to wear tight shoes that make her sprain her foot.
(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 hard to make everyone else happy, and she hopes quietly that her desire for music will someday be fulfilled. The narrator comments that the world contains many people like Beth, who spend all their time caring for others and rarely think of themselves. Such people are rarely noticed until their “sweet, shiny presence vanishes, leaving silence and shadow behind.”
Amy suffers because her nose is flat instead of pointed—a problem that matters little to anyone except her. She is well liked at school because she is smart and good at drawing. However, she is forced to wear a cousin’s ugly, cast-off clothes. This is a great embarrassment to her, especially when the richer girls tease her about it.
In the evening, each girl tells a story about her first day back at work or school. Jo tells how she read part of a popular novel, The Vicar of Wakefield, to Aunt March, who refused to admit that she liked it. Meg says the household where she works is in crisis because one of the elder brothers committed some grave sin. She says she is glad she does not have “wild brothers...to disgrace the family.” Amy speaks up next, saying that she envied a friend’s pretty ring all day but then felt differently when the girl got punished for bad behavior. Beth tells a story about a hungry woman who begged for food at the store.
After the stories are finished, Marmee finds morals in each of them. She explains that Meg’s story shows how wealth can fail to protect a family from shame; Jo’s shows how much better it is to be poor and happy than rich and sad; Beth’s shows how hard, honest work is easier than...
(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. Laurence, whom she and her sisters find intimidating. When she hears the door open, she assumes that Laurie has returned. Without taking her eyes from the picture, she says she will never be afraid of the old man now that she has studied his face so closely. She declares that he has “kind eyes” even if “his mouth is grim.”
When she turns around, she realizes that she has not been speaking to Laurie but to old Mr. Laurence himself. She is terribly embarrassed, but he just laughs. Jo overcomes her initial urge to run away and declares that she meant every word she said. He likes this, and his reaction gives her the courage to say that she thinks Laurie is lonely and needs friends. Mr. Laurence invites her to dinner. As he watches the change Jo makes in his grandson, he realizes that she is right. He resolves to let Laurie spend more time with other young people.
After dinner, Laurie shows Jo his grand piano, and Jo thinks about how much Beth would like to see it. Laurie plays piano well, but he mentions offhand that his grandfather does not like to hear him.
Afterward, Jo goes home and asks her mother why Mr. Laurence would not like to hear his grandson play the piano. Marmee explains that, as a young man, Laurie’s father ran away and married an Italian musician. Old Mr. Laurence did not approve of this, and both his son and his daughter-in-law died before he forgave them. Now the old man is afraid that Laurie will grow up to be like his parents.
To the March family, the Laurence mansion is like a paradise. They all want to go see it, especially Beth, who wonders if she is brave enough to go to the big, strange house and see the grand piano. She comments that the Laurence...
(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 gathers the courage to enter his home, he stares at her and shouts “Hey!” This scares her so much that she runs away and refuses to return.
After a while, Mr. Laurence realizes the mistake he has made, and he decides to fix it. Somebody tells him that Beth likes music, so he visits Marmee. In front of Beth, he tells Marmee all about his grand piano. He says that it does not get enough use and that the girls are welcome to come and play it whenever they like. He makes a point of adding that the girls may come and go without speaking to anyone, if they so prefer. Shy little Beth is overcome with happiness as she hears this.
Soon Beth develops the habit of going to the Laurence house to play the beautiful piano nearly every day. This pleases the Laurences greatly, but she does not know it. She has no idea that they make great efforts to make her feel comfortable. They make sure the servants stay away so she will not be frightened, and they leave out music and exercise books for her special use.
Mr. Laurence has given Beth the one thing she wished for most. A few weeks later, she tells Marmee that she wants to make him a gift to thank him. She sews a new pair of slippers; then with Laurie’s help, she sneaks them into the old man’s study. Time passes and she hears no reply. She begins to worry that Mr. Laurence does not like the present.
Then one day, when Beth returns home from an errand, she finds Marmee and her sisters waiting for her in great excitement. Mr. Laurence has sent her a little piano that used to belong to his granddaughter, who died very young. In a note, he explains that he loved his little granddaughter dearly and that Beth reminds him of her.
(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 her desk. It is against the rules to bring limes to school, and Mr. Davis has promised to make a harsh example of the next student to disobey him on this point. He makes Amy carry her limes to the window and throw them outside. Then he smacks her hand with a ruler and forces her to stand in front of the class until recess.
Amy is a sensitive girl whose parents do not believe in corporal punishment. She has never before been struck in anger by an adult, so this part of her punishment is very upsetting to her. However, standing in shame in front of her friends is even worse. As soon as she is released for recess, she runs home to complain to her family.
Marmee and the other girls hear Amy’s story and show her great sympathy. Marmee does not think Mr. Davis should have hit Amy, so she gives her permission to stay home and study with Beth for a while. However, Marmee also says that Amy should try to learn from the humiliating experience:
You are getting to be rather conceited, my dear, and it is quite time you set about correcting it. You have a good many little gifts and virtues, but there is no need of parading them.
She explains that talent earns far more respect when people do not ask to be praised for it and that virtue should be its own reward. Amy looks thoughtful, and she watches how her family treats Laurie, who is highly talented but also very modest. After he leaves, she agrees that it is good to develop one’s talents but refrain from showing off.
(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 destroy her sister’s work. This makes Amy feel guilty, and she apologizes. Jo refuses to forgive her. Even when Marmee intervenes and asks Jo to put the matter behind her, Jo says she will not.
The next day, Amy is beginning to feel wronged again. She has tried to make up, but her sister is giving her no help. When Jo and Laurie go off to ice skate together, she grabs her own skates and follows. Jo spots her sister but refuses to talk to her. Laurie checks the ice and says it is only safe at the edges of the river, not in the middle. Jo does not know if Amy has heard this warning, but she skates away without passing it on.
As it turns out, Amy did not hear. As soon as she gets her laces tied, she skates toward the smooth, thin ice at the middle of the river and falls through. Jo stares in horror, and Laurie rushes to the rescue. Eventually Jo shakes herself into action and helps rescue her sister.
Back at home, it soon becomes clear that Amy is frightened but otherwise unharmed. She falls asleep by the fire, and Jo tearfully tells Marmee what happened. She blames her terrible temper:
It seems as if I could do anything when I’m in a passion; I get so savage, I could hurt anyone and enjoy it. I’m afraid I shall do something dreadful someday, and spoil my life, and make everybody hate me.
To Jo’s surprise, Marmee says that she used to have exactly that same sort of temper and that she has worked hard to learn to control it. She asks Jo to remember this day forever and to use the memory to keep herself calm when she feels anger taking over. Jo feels inspired to learn to master her anger. Soon Amy wakes, and the...
(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 if one of the girls married Laurie and thus got access to the Laurence wealth. Meg listens with shock as Mrs. Moffat suggests that Marmee is actively plotting to make this happen. Moments later, Mrs. Moffat calls Meg’s best dress “dowdy” and says she hopes it gets torn so the proud little Meg will consent to borrow a better one for the biggest party of the trip.
Meg knows she should tell Mrs. Moffat the truth about Marmee, but doubts form in the back of her mind: Could Mrs. Moffat be right? Could Marmee be plotting to take advantage of Laurie’s money? These questions worry Meg so much that she has trouble sleeping.
When the night of the big party arrives, Meg lies and says that her best dress is ruined. She borrows a ball gown and lets the older girls paint her face with make-up. She wants to feel glamorous but instead feels strange. She tries to have a good time, but then she meets Laurie, who tells her she looks ridiculous. “I don’t like fuss and feathers,” he says. Moments later, Meg overhears an older man saying far worse:
They are making a fool of that little girl; I wanted you to see her, but they have spoiled her entirely; she’s nothing but a doll tonight.
Meg realizes she would have been happier in her own plain clothes. Still, she spends the rest of the party playing the role she has dressed up to perform: she flirts, dances, and even drinks champagne. Laurie does not like it, and he leaves the party angry.
When Meg returns home, she tells the little girls all about the good parts of her adventures. Then, when Amy and Beth go to bed, Meg tells Marmee that she wants to confess. Marmee listens as Meg...
(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 particularly cheerful. She listens to the reading of the paper and then proposes adding Laurie to the club’s membership roster. Meg and Amy both vote against this; they are horrified at the idea of acting ridiculous in front of a boy. Beth, to everyone’s surprise, votes for it. She says Laurie will not make fun of anyone, and his grandpa can join too if he wants. It is so out of character for Beth to argue that Meg and Amy change their minds and vote to let Laurie join.
As soon as the vote is finished, Jo triumphantly throws open the closet door. Inside, the girls see Laurie. He is laughing; he has been listening to the entire conversation. Amy, Meg, and Beth are horrified and call Jo a traitor for telling Laurie their secrets before the vote was counted.
Laurie climbs out of the closet and charms the girls into forgiving both him and Jo for the joke. Assuming a character that fits the style of the P.C., he pledges faithfulness “to this immortal club” and announces that he is celebrating his membership with the gift of a new post office. He explains that he has cleaned out an old birdhouse and placed it on the fence between the Laurence mansion and the March home. He gives the girls a key to the little house and explains that he wants to use it for passing notes and objects back and forth.
The girls are delighted by this idea, and soon they all agree that Laurie is an excellent addition to the P.C. He writes wonderful stories for the club paper, and Jo learns a bit from his writing style. His post office—quickly renamed to the P.O.—becomes a fixture of their friendship. For years afterward, they use it to exchange letters, stories, and even oddities such as...
(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 draws and plays games. Marmee and Hannah do most of the girls’ chores for them, so the house remains relatively comfortable. However, the days seem long to the girls, and they feel strangely out of sorts. They bicker and play tricks on each other, and soon they all get tired of their favorite activities.
None of the girls admits aloud that she is tired of playing all the time, but by Friday night they all miss their chores. Marmee decides to make the most of the teaching moment; on Saturday, she gives herself and Hannah the day off.
When the girls wake up on Saturday morning, they are surprised to find the house cold and dark. There is no breakfast on the table and no activity in the kitchen. Eventually Meg finds Marmee, who says she is tired and wants to spend the day reading by herself. The girls promise to fend for themselves and refrain from bothering her.
It turns out that running a smooth household is far more difficult than any of the girls had suspected. Meg tries to cook breakfast but ruins the meal. Jo thinks she can do better, so she offers to make dinner. She cooks all morning and manages to ruin every dish. Laurie comes over for the meal, as does a busybody neighbor named Miss Crocker. Fortunately, Jo is able to laugh with them about the disaster.
At the end of the day, the girls collapse on the porch, exhausted. At that point, Marmee arrives to explain that she wanted them to learn how bad life can be when everyone goes her own way and refuses to think of others’ needs. She explains that happy people spend time on both work and play and that they think of others as much as they think of themselves. The girls say they understand, and each resolves to take on...
(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 thrill. It says that Marmee is proud of Jo for working so hard to control her anger. Jo has indeed been spending a great deal of effort on this, and she is pleased that her mother has noticed.
The final piece of mail causes the most excitement of all: It is a letter for all of the girls from Laurie. He invites them to a picnic the following day. Some friends of his, the Vaughns, are visiting from England, and he wants everyone to get to know them. Marmee gives the girls permission, and they rush to get ready.
On the outing the next day, they all play croquet, eat delicious food, and take turns telling stories. There is a dicey moment when Fred Vaughn cheats at croquet and lies to Jo about it, but she masters her temper and refrains from making a scene. A few minutes later, she manages to win the game fairly for her team. After that, the rest of the outing goes smoothly. Amy befriends the youngest Vaughn girl, Grace. Beth surprises everyone by coming out of her shell to chat with Frank Vaughn, Fred’s twin brother, who cannot roughhouse like other boys because he has to walk with a crutch.
Miss Kate, the eldest of the Vaughns, is a beautiful young woman who seems quite surprised by American culture. Above all, she is astounded when she learns that Meg has a job. The Vaughns are wealthy and fashionable, so Meg feels a bit ashamed of her need to work for a living. However, Mr. Brooke—who is there as a chaperone—informs Miss Kate that Americans respect hard work. He promptly proves this point by sitting down and showing Meg a great deal of attention—so much so that Kate decides to take a walk and leave the two of them alone.
(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.
As the children work, they admire the beauty of their woods. After that, the conversation turns to a place that is supposed to be even more beautiful—the Celestial City, or heaven. Laurie seems uncertain about whether he will ever deserve to go to heaven, but the girls say he can make it there if he tries.
After that, the conversation turns to the future. The characters all share their greatest dreams, which they call “castles in the sky.” Laurie wants to travel and become a famous musician. Meg wants a rich home with beautiful possessions and servants to do all the work. Laurie presses her to talk about the husband she would have in that home, but Meg refuses to say anything about him. Jo rescues her sister by sharing her goal to become rich and famous, maybe as an author. Amy wants to become a famous artist in Rome. Only Beth has a modest goal: she wants to stay at home and take care of Father and Mother.
Laurie, who has not quite forgotten his bad mood, comments that he hopes he will work hard enough to accomplish something valuable in his life. He is afraid that his tendency to laziness will prevent him from doing anything useful. He longs to leave home right away and have a few adventures, but he does not want to hurt his grandfather. Meg gives him a stern lecture, advising him to stay home, be dutiful, and go to college. Laurie finds her words annoying at first, but she says she thinks of him as a brother and wants him to succeed. To Laurie, who admires the March family, this is a great compliment. He thinks about her advice and eventually decides to do as she asks.
(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 home together, and he promises to tell her a secret if she explains what she was doing in that building.
Jo is unable to resist the offer of a secret and admits that she has submitted two short stories to a newspaper. She does not yet know if they will be published, but the editor promised to read them and tell her soon. Laurie lets out a shout of celebration. He thinks she is sure to get published, and Jo is quietly pleased by his support.
Laurie tells his secret next. He knows what happened to Meg’s glove, the one she lost at the Laurence house a few weeks ago. At first Jo does not understand why this matters. Laurie explains that a gentleman has been carrying the glove in his pocket. In other words, someone is in love with Meg. Jo is horrified; she never wants Meg to grow up and get married. Laurie whispers the man’s name in Jo’s ear, but the reader is left to guess who it is.
Jo goes home, and for the next couple of weeks she behaves bizarrely. She acts alternately angry and loving toward Meg. She checks the mail several times every day, and she frequently whispers with Laurie in the garden. Beth, who is normally Jo’s confidante, pretends not to be jealous that Jo has a secret with someone other than herself.
One day, Jo comes home with a newspaper. Hiding her face behind the pages, she reads a story aloud. When her sisters say they like it, she admits that she is the author. This news thrills the whole family. Everyone takes turns rereading the story and attacking Jo with questions. Jo explains that this first publication is practice and that she agreed to do it for no pay. However, she hopes to make money from writing in the future. Perhaps someday she will...
(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 girls in her absence.
During this conversation, Mr. Laurence realizes that Marmee would feel more comfortable if she did not have to travel alone. He leaves, and shortly afterward Mr. Brooke stops by to tell Meg that he needs to do some business for Mr. Laurence in Washington. He offers to escort Mrs. March and watch over her on her journey. Meg is overcome with gratitude, and she finds herself feeling attracted to Mr. Brooke. This makes her uncomfortable, so she rushes out to tell Marmee the good news.
Late that afternoon, the family notices Jo is missing. When she returns, she gives Marmee $25 to help pay for the trip. This is an enormous sum for a girl to produce, so Marmee asks how she got it. Jo says, “I earned it, and I don’t think you’ll blame me, for I only sold what was my own.” She takes off her cap and shows the family that she has sold her hair.
Everyone is amazed at Jo’s sacrifice. She is not a vain girl, but she has always been proud of her beautiful hair. She insists that she does not mind giving it up for Father’s sake. As everyone crowds around her, she explains that she felt she had to do something to help. She saw some wigs for sale at the barbershop, and she asked the barber to buy her hair. He was reluctant at first but agreed when he heard the story about Father’s illness.
That night, everyone goes to bed early. Meg lies awake, alternately worrying about Father and thinking about Mr. Brooke’s handsome eyes. In the middle of the night she hears a sob and finds Jo crying. At first Meg thinks Jo is upset about Father, but Jo admits that she is grieving the loss of her hair. She insists that she would sell it again in a minute, but she is still...
(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 to make Marmee proud. They behave admirably, working hard, being kind to one another, and trying to do for themselves what Marmee usually does for them. In the evenings, they all write long letters to reassure her that they are all right. This period of perfect behavior lasts a week, and they soon receive word that Father’s health is improving.
The narrator includes several of the letters sent to Mrs. March during this period. Meg’s note says that her sisters are all trying hard to be good and that Hannah and Mr. Laurence are taking care of everyone. Jo’s letter is more playful. She describes the celebration that ensued when the family received the telegram about Father’s improving health. She also confesses that she recently had an argument with Laurie. Beth sends a simple note to say how much she loves her parents. Amy’s letter is full of misspellings and misused words. She tries to reassure Marmee as everyone else does, but she includes a few complaints about the trials of wearing ugly, cast-off clothes.
The girls are not the only people who write to Marmee in her absence. Hannah writes that the household is running “fust rate” and that the girls are models of good behavior. Laurie, like Jo, seems determined to make Mrs. March feel cheerful. His letter is a joke, written as if he were a military officer reporting to a superior that the troops are faring well. Even old Mr. Laurence writes a letter. He says that everyone is safe and that he is willing to do anything Mrs. March requires during her absence.
(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 their housework, she does it for them. When she grows sad and lonely, she sneaks away to cry by herself. But her work keeps her busy, so her low moments are relatively rare. Her mood is generally steady, and the other girls seek her out when they need comfort.
One day Beth asks her sisters to pay a visit to the Hummels, the poor family Marmee has been helping since the Christmas breakfast at the beginning of the book. Meg says she is too tired from her work. Jo says she cannot go outdoors because of her cold—even though she just went out with Laurie a few hours ago. Beth explains that she has checked on the Hummels every day since Marmee left and that she is very worried about them. The baby is sick, and she is beginning to feel sick too.
Meg and Jo promise to visit the Hummels later, but they both forget. Beth sees this; even though she does not feel well, she goes to visit them herself. A while later, she returns home in tears and runs upstairs. When Jo asks what is wrong, Beth explains that the Hummels’ baby died in her arms. The child had scarlet fever. Beth has never had scarlet fever, and she is afraid that she may be growing ill.
Jo is furious with herself and with Meg for not taking care of the Hummels as they should have done. Jo and Meg have both had scarlet fever, so they are immune. Now Beth is in danger because of their laziness. Hannah calls a doctor, and Jo resolves to nurse her sister faithfully through her illness. Amy, to her dismay, is sent to Aunt March’s house to keep her out of danger.
(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 huge house.
At first Beth is just weak and tired, but soon she grows so ill that she confuses the names of her sisters. Sometimes she loses consciousness altogether. Meg and Jo live in constant fear, and Meg keeps a telegram ready in case Hannah ever consents to contact Marmee. In private, Meg, Jo, and Laurie often debate whether to disobey Hannah, but in the end they decide to wait.
The doctor comes to see Beth twice every day. One afternoon, to the girls’ despair, he says that Mrs. March needs to come home as soon as she can. Jo gets up, grabs the waiting telegram, and runs away with it. When she returns home, she dissolves into tears. Laurie comforts her with wine and good news: he already sent a telegram yesterday, and Mrs. March is coming home tonight. Jo hugs him happily. Afterward, he goes home to rest because he has promised to drive to the train station in the middle of the night and bring Mrs. March home.
The doctor tells the girls and Hannah that Beth’s illness is at its crisis. He says that a change will come over her around midnight, either for better or for worse. Jo and Meg sit by Beth’s side and wait, wishing that Marmee were with them. A change does come, and Beth looks so peaceful that Jo wonders for a moment if she is dead. In fact, the opposite is true. Beth’s illness is passing, and she is beginning to heal. The girls are afraid to believe this until the doctor comes to confirm it. Just as the long night ends, Marmee returns home.
(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 kindly French maid, Esther, also works hard to make Amy’s stay comfortable. Esther is a devout Catholic, so she explains about her religion and makes a little prayer room for Amy to use when she worries about Beth and Father. Amy is a Protestant and decides not to use the rosary Esther gives her. However, she is grateful for the little prayer space and hopes it is okay for a Protestant to use it. Never before has she faced a serious crisis, and now, suddenly, she has to deal with two at once. She is troubled by grief and fear for both her father and her sister.
Thinking about illness and death makes Amy wonder what would happen if she got sick and died. After a great deal of serious consideration as well as some discussion with Esther, she writes out her last will and testament. In it, she assigns her best clothes, artwork, and toys to her family and friends. The next time Laurie comes to visit, she shows her will to him and asks him to sign it as a witness. He reads it and signs, taking care to hide his amusement at her many misspellings.
Laurie asks why Amy wanted to make a will. He wonders if someone told her that Beth, in the fog of fever, tried to give her most prized possessions to her sisters. Amy had not yet been told how serious Beth’s illness is; she grows even more scared when she hears this. Laurie apologizes for saying anything. He admits that Beth really is in danger of dying, but he insists that everyone is still hoping for the best. After he leaves, Amy goes to her little prayer room to pray and cry.
(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.
That afternoon, Marmee comes for a visit. Amy shows her the little prayer closet and explains how she uses it. She has been worried that it is too Catholic, but Marmee says it is good for anyone to have a quiet place for thought and prayer. She thanks Amy for being good during her time away from home. When she sees the turquoise ring, she says Amy should wait until she is older to wear such expensive jewelry. Amy begs to be allowed to wear the ring, explaining that she wants to use it to remind herself to be unselfish. Marmee consents, although she seems to have misgivings about the plan.
When Marmee returns home, Jo confides the secret she learned about Meg’s lost glove and the gentleman who carries it in his pocket. As it turns out, the gentleman in question is Mr. Brooke. Jo thinks Mr. Brooke is “dreadful” to keep the glove. Marmee does not seem to agree, nor is she surprised at the news. She says that Mr. Brooke, whom she now calls John, has behaved like a son toward her and Father. When they were in Washington together, John confessed his love for Meg and promised that he would save up money for running a household before proposing to her. Marmee and Father consented to this plan but warned John that they do not want Meg to marry before she turns twenty.
To Jo, this is the greatest of calamities. If Meg goes off and gets married, it will leave “a hole in the family.” She declares her wish to marry Meg herself, just to keep their happy household from changing. Marmee comforts Jo; she says Meg is only seventeen, so it will be a long time before anything happens. Besides, Marmee points out, the choice is Meg’s and not her family’s in the end. By the end of the...
(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 together to disgrace her. Marmee asks Jo to confess, but Jo says truthfully that she had nothing to do with the plan. She is so furious with Laurie that she has no trouble convincing her mother and sister of her innocence.
Jo studies the letters and realizes that the situation is not as bad as Meg thinks. She recognizes the handwriting, and she is sure that Laurie wrote both the letters—not just the first one. Mr. Brooke has no idea they exist.
To resolve this difficult situation, Marmee feels she has to tell Meg about Mr. Brooke’s true feelings. Afterward, she speaks to Laurie in private and makes him understand that his joke was more humiliating than funny. To preserve Meg’s honor, she demands that he tell nobody else about it. As soon as Laurie sees it from the girl’s perspective, he feels terrible. He apologizes and promises not to discuss the matter again.
Meg forgives Laurie, but Jo cannot bring herself to do so. A while later, she realizes that she should not be so mean, and she goes to the Laurence house to apologize. She finds Laurie pouting in his room, refusing to talk to anyone. He says his grandfather figured out that something was wrong and demanded to know what it was. When Laurie kept his promise and refused to speak, the old man grabbed him and shook him. Now Laurie feels humiliated, and he tells Jo he wants to run away. Jo is tempted to join him just for the sake of adventure, but she knows this would be wrong. Instead, she begs Laurie to forgive his grandfather. Laurie thinks it over and insists that his grandfather must apologize first.
Jo goes to see the old man in his study. She teases him a bit, and eventually she manages to convince him to...
(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.
A few hours later, Laurie rushes excitedly through the door. He says he has brought a final gift for the family. Before he finishes, Father walks in, assisted by Mr. Brooke. The girls all hug Father and exclaim their happiness. When Marmee finally says that he needs to rest, he collapses into a big chair with Beth on his lap.
Christmas dinner is delicious, and the Marches share it with the Laurences and Mr. Brooke. During the meal, the family discusses the past year: it has been difficult but rewarding. Afterward, Father tells the girls that he is proud to see they have become the little women he hoped they would be. He praises each of them in turn.
First, Father comments that Meg used to be very careful to keep her hands smooth and unblemished because she wanted to look like a wealthy girl. Now, he points out, her fingers are covered with burns and needle pricks because she has spent so much time cooking for Beth and sewing for him. He says it is clear that she is putting the needs of others ahead of her desire to be beautiful. To him, this makes her more beautiful than ever.
Next, Father turns to Jo and tells her that she is far gentler and more womanly than she was a year ago. He is sorry to see how thin and pale she is after her recent experience nursing Beth. However, he is proud to see her becoming a “strong, helpful, tenderhearted woman.”
True to her word to Marmee, Amy is trying hard to be unselfish. She is dying to hear what Father has to say about her, but she does not ask. Instead, she prompts him to talk about Beth next. However, Father is so emotional about Beth’s recent illness that he cannot say much. He just hugs her close and says he is glad she...
(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 heart in time.
This confidence nettles Meg a bit. Her friends have taught her that women should not give in to men too easily, so she tries to put him off a little. She insists that she does not like him and demands that he leave her alone. Confused, Mr. Brooke begs her not to make a game of the conversation.
Mr. Brooke is on the brink of leaving—and possibly giving up entirely—when Aunt March bursts in. She has come to see Father, but she stops and gapes at Meg and Mr. Brooke. He steps into the other room for propriety’s sake, and Aunt March tells Meg it would be folly to marry a penniless, unproven young man. She says that if Meg marries Brooke, they will never receive any of her money.
Aunt March’s speech awakens a latent rebellious spirit in Meg, and she defends Mr. Brooke, calling him “my John” as if they were already engaged. Aunt March leaves in a huff, and John returns from the next room to say that he could not help but hear what she said. Meg admits that she likes him and agrees to let him court her.
A while later, Jo comes downstairs expecting Mr. Brooke to be gone. Instead she finds Meg sitting on his lap. She runs upstairs to complain that Mr. Brooke is “acting dreadfully, and Meg likes it!” Marmee and Father run downstairs to chaperone. He convinces them to allow him and Meg to become engaged right away, with the expectation that they will wait to marry until she turns twenty. Marmee and Father agree.
Everyone is pleased with this situation except Jo. As they all sit down to spend the evening together, Marmee and some of the others talk about their hopes for the future. Jo does not add to this conversation, but privately she hopes...
(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 man for her, so she has little trouble pushing aside her small regrets.
After Beth’s illness, Jo never returned to Aunt March’s house. Instead, she remains at home writing stories and looking after her sister, who has never been quite as healthy since her bout of scarlet fever. In spite of this, Beth’s life is as happy and quiet as ever. Amy has grown into a beautiful and talented young woman and now works for Aunt March in Jo’s place.
Laurie is away at college. He is a lazy student who gets into a great deal of mischief, but his love for his grandfather and for the March family keeps him out of the worst kinds of trouble. He visits home often with his many friends. Beth finds these boys scary and Meg is too absorbed in her fiancé to notice them. However, the boys are friendly with Jo, and they take turns falling in love with beautiful Amy.
Meg’s little brown house is all ready for her new life with John. In preparation for her marriage tomorrow, she takes a final tour with Marmee and her sisters. Each of them has worked hard to help prepare her home, which now looks cozy and perfect. Meg says she is happy and ready for her new life. Although Jo still feels a bit grumpy that Meg is leaving, she has resigned herself somewhat to the idea that change will occur.
Laurie is home for the weekend, and he walks Jo back to the March house. On the way, Jo tells him he must behave better, work harder, and spend less money at college. He takes this lecture in good spirit. Jo fears that Amy will soon fall in love, but Laurie thinks Jo will be the next March sister to marry. When he says this, his red face suggests that he may know who wants to become her husband. Jo does not...
(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 character. She has a womanly grace that makes it hard to believe she is only sixteen.
The wedding goes off perfectly. Jo refuses to cry during the ceremony, if only because she knows Laurie will tease her. Father’s voice breaks several times. Meg makes her vows with a sweet certainty that moves everyone who hears her. Aunt March criticizes everything, but secretly she is as pleased as everyone else is.
After the vows are said, everyone eats fruit and cake. Laurie is surprised by the absence of wine. Meg explains that her father does not believe in alcohol except as medicine and her mother thinks it is poor form for young girls and women to serve wine to men in their home. Laurie is rather impressed by this austerity, and Meg asks him to promise not to drink wantonly with girls. He hesitates, knowing his friends will ridicule him if he does what she asks, but in the end he cannot fail to give Meg anything she asks for on her wedding day. He makes the promise, and it keeps him out of trouble for years to come.
After the wedding, everyone leaves feeling satisfied. Mrs. Moffat, the woman who predicted years ago that Meg would marry Laurie for his money, remarks to her husband that this was the nicest wedding she has seen all year. She is obsessed with fashion and society; she seems surprised that a humble little ceremony has impressed her so much.
When the guests are gone, Meg changes her clothes, and she and John walk to their new home. This is the extent of their honeymoon, but Meg is happy with it. She promises her family that she will visit often, and she insists that they have to love her as much as ever even though she is now married. They say goodbye and watch her go,...
(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 mostly successful at her attempts to pursue this goal. However, she sometimes tries too hard to compete with and impress the wealthy. Every now and then, this gets her into trouble.
Aunt March has been paying for expensive art classes for Amy, and all the other girls in the classes are rich. One day Amy asks Marmee if she can invite them to dinner and then take them out to draw a beautiful bridge near the house. Marmee suggests a very simple party but Amy wants a grand affair. She promises to pay for the food and do the work herself, so Marmee grants permission.
For days, Amy works hard to prepare for her party. The event is set for either Monday or Tuesday, depending on the weather. Monday’s weather is iffy, so Amy settles on Tuesday. In the meantime, some of her food spoils, and she has to scramble to put together a decent lunch for a large group. She borrows a large, fancy wagon of the Laurences and goes to get the girls at the train station—but only one girl shows up. Beth and Hannah clear away most of the food before the girl sees it, and Amy plays the hostess well. However, everyone knows she is disappointed.
At dinner, everyone is reluctant to bring up the topic of Amy’s party. Father, who had not been involved in the ordeal, makes an offhand comment about the fancy salads they are eating. This makes everyone else laugh—even Amy. Amy says she has learned not to try to be fancier than she really is. Then she begs everyone to avoid the topic for at least a month. Aside from some gentle teasing, they mostly do.
(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 arrives containing a $100 check. She has won the grand prize, and the editor of the paper has written a very kind letter about her skills. Jo loves the letter as much as the money. Her family is pleased, too, although Father is not altogether approving of the story. “You can do better than this, Jo. Aim at the highest, and never mind the money,” he says.
To Jo, who has worked for years to become a successful writer, the money is a wonderful affirmation of her skills. She uses it to send Mother and Beth to the seaside for a couple of months; this treat improves Beth’s health greatly. Jo writes and publishes several other stories in a similar vein, and her earnings pay for modest luxuries for the whole family. Jo loves seeing her work benefit the people she loves.
Through all of this, Jo continues working on her novel. When she has made it as good as she can, she sends it to a publisher, who shows interest but asks her to make several changes. Jo seeks advice from her family, and they provide several contradictory critiques. In the end, Jo tries to please all of them at once, and this makes her novel worse rather than better. However, it does get published, and she earns $300.
Jo knows that her work is not yet mature, and she publishes partly because she wants feedback from the critics. However, the reviews of her work are even more contradictory than her family’s advice. Some say her story is morally vacuous; others say it moralizes too much. Jo is disappointed by the criticism she receives, but in the end she comforts herself and resolves to write another novel someday when she is ready.
(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 waiting meal they expect. Instead they find a terrible mess with Meg in tears at the center of it.
When Meg finds out that John has brought a friend home, she gets angry and tells him he should never have done so. Upset and confused, John teases her about her failure at jelly making. She storms out, and John ends up feeding his friend cold food from the pantry. The friend does not mind, but John is angry at Meg for shouting at him and refusing to help him with his guest.
When Meg calms down, she still feels angry with John for teasing her—but she knows she behaved badly, too. Before she married, Marmee warned her that John has a different kind of anger than the March family has. The Marches get angry quickly, say things they do not mean, and forget their words afterward. According to Marmee, John is slower to get angry but also slower to forgive. Remembering this, Meg decides to apologize first. He immediately apologizes for making fun of her, and so their first quarrel ends quickly.
On another occasion, Meg spends too much money. She has always had a weakness for pretty things, and her wealthy friend Sally sometimes prods her to buy more than she can afford. Her little luxuries begin to add up, and before John finds out about them, she buys silk for a new dress at an exorbitant price of $50—far more than she should spend on a single piece of cloth.
When John finds out, Meg is ashamed—but she also admits that she dislikes being poor. The moment these words are out of her mouth, she is sorry she said them, but she cannot take them back. John begins working longer hours, leaving Meg at home alone in the evenings, and he cancels an order for a new winter coat he badly...
(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 friendlier.
At the second house, Jo imitates May Chester, a frivolous but fashionable young lady in their social circle. Jo charms everyone present and tells several stories about Amy’s cleverness, but her sister finds the stories highly embarrassing. They move on to the third house, where Amy tells Jo to do whatever she pleases. Jo spends the majority of her time playing with the little boys who live there, messing up her clothes and embarrassing Amy further.
Just before going home, the two girls call on Aunt March, who likes to see them dressed up in their best clothes. When they enter, Aunt March is sitting with another of their relatives, Aunt Carrol. The two aunts go abruptly quiet as the girls enter; it is clear that the March girls have been the subject of their discussion. The narrator hints that happy experiences will come to the girl who impresses the two aunts most.
In the conversation that follows, Amy mentions that she is planning to volunteer at a local fair. The Chesters are hosting the fair to raise money for charity, and it is considered an honor to be allowed to help. Jo says she does not plan to volunteer. She says the Chesters use girls for work and then expect them to be grateful for the opportunity. Amy says she does not mind working hard for a good cause, and she is in fact grateful to the Chesters for the chance to participate. Jo snarls at this, saying:
I don’t like favors, they oppress and make me feel like a slave. I’d rather do everything for myself and be perfectly independent.
At this, the aunts exchange glances. Aunt Carrol asks both girls if they speak French. Amy answers that she speaks well, but Jo...
(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 regret their rudeness if she gives them no reason to feel that it is justified. Amy’s art pieces are better than anyone else’s; after a little internal struggle, she allows them to remain on the art table, where their successful sale will bring honor to May. Meanwhile, Amy spends the first few hours of the fair sitting unnoticed at the flower table, which lacks the social prominence of the art table.
Partway through the event, Laurie and his friends arrive at the March house for a visit. When Laurie hears the story, he sends Amy the best flowers from the Laurence gardens. Afterward, he takes his friends to the fair, where they all crowd around Amy’s table, showing her a good time and buying all of her flowers. Amy, who wants to remain gracious, insists that they also visit the art table and buy up the goods May is selling.
Aunt March and Aunt Carrol attend the fair and hear about Amy’s behavior. Both seem pleased, and soon afterward Mrs. March receives a letter. Aunt Carrol is going abroad with her husband and daughter, and she would like Amy to join them. When Jo hears the news, she is devastated. All her life, she has dreamed of seeing Europe. At first Jo thinks her family is unfairly favoring her sister. However, the letter specifically states that Jo is not invited because “favors burden her” and she “hates French.” Jo curses herself for speaking rashly on her recent visit with her aunts. She pretends to be happy for Amy’s sake, but as soon as she can get away alone, she weeps.
(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, and hotel rooms. She mentions offhand that Fred Vaughn is in Paris, too. He is on his way to Switzerland, but he stopped in France because he enjoys the company of Amy and her aunt, uncle, and cousin. According to Amy, Fred's presence is a great help because he speaks far better French than she and Flo do.
A third letter arrives from Heidelberg, Germany, on the night before Amy and her companions set out to tour Switzerland. This time she describes few tourist activities before devoting the rest of the letter to Fred Vaughn, who has continued to follow Amy and her companions on their travels.
Amy believes that Fred is in love with her. She knows it is not proper for a girl to encourage such feelings, so she assures Marmee that she has neither done nor said anything too forward. However, she has begun to consider her options. She writes:
I’ve made up my mind and, if Fred asks me, I shall accept him, though I’m not madly in love.
Amy admits frankly that she wants to marry Fred for his wealth. She has always longed for a comfortable life and for the power to help her family through financial problems. She believes that this is reason enough to accept a marriage proposal and that she will grow to love Fred eventually.
All of this is speculation for now; Fred has not yet proposed. Amy thinks that he wanted to do so recently, but fate intervened. He received a message saying that his brother, Frank, was ill. Now Fred is back in England caring for his brother, so Amy does not have to make a final decision yet. Before she signs off from this letter, she invites her family to write to her with advice—but she also asks them to trust...
(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 murmurs, wiping a tear from her cheek. Jo concludes that Beth is in love.
Laurie, however, appears to be falling in love with Jo, who does not love him back. Jo begins to hope that Beth will draw Laurie’s attention. Laurie has always been sweet and gentle with Beth, and Beth is always thrilled to see him when he comes home. Jo convinces herself that her sister and her best friend may in fact begin a romance, if only they are given a chance.
Jo asks Marmee for permission to go away from home for a while. She explains that she would like to see the world a bit, even if she cannot go abroad as she always hoped. A friend of Marmee’s runs a boarding house in New York and needs a governess for her children, and Jo wants to take this job for the winter.
Marmee, always perceptive, asks if there is any special reason why Jo wants to leave home right now. Jo confesses her suspicions about Laurie’s feelings. She explains that she cannot love him and that she hopes that if she is out of the way, he will turn his attentions to Beth. Marmee approves of Jo's plan to leave town, judging it a good way for her daughter to see the world and spare her friend's feelings. However, Marmee does not seem to agree with Jo’s notion that Beth is in love.
Jo soon secures the job in New York and makes her travel plans. But before she leaves, Laurie takes her aside and says:
It won’t do a bit of good, Jo. My eye is on you, so mind what you do, or I’ll come and bring you home.
(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, but she is no longer inclined to spurn favors. She accepts Miss Norton's invitation and is glad for the opportunity.
The most important of Jo’s new friends is Professor Bhaer, a poor but highly educated German man. On her first day in her new home, she sees him help a little serving girl by carrying a heavy bundle of coal upstairs. This impresses Jo, who subscribes to her father’s belief that “trifles show character.” Professor Bhaer gives German lessons in the room next door to Jo’s schoolroom, and she makes a habit of spying on him. He is kind, patient, and gentle with all of the children he knows, who clearly love him dearly.
In a second letter written a few weeks later, Jo tells Beth more about Professor Bhaer. He has no woman in his life to darn his socks for him, so he has been doing it—very poorly—himself. Jo secretly takes over this job for him, but he catches her at it and demands that she accept German lessons as payment for the favor. She agrees, but the first lessons go badly because she does not understand the grammar. Professor Bhaer soon gives up on grammar and teaches her through German fairy tales. This suits her much better, and her German improves rapidly.
At the New Year, Jo sends a third letter. In it, she comments on how happy she was to receive a Christmas package full of homemade gifts from her family. She says that Professor Bhaer has given her his personal copy of the complete works of Shakespeare and that she gave him a number of small, pretty objects for his room. She ends her letter by saying that she is enjoying her new life in New York and that she is learning and growing as she hoped she would.
(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 her work anonymously and avoids telling her family about it.
Over time, Jo’s friendship with Professor Bhaer grows stronger. She studies him, hoping to learn what makes him such a good and likeable person. He is not rich or handsome—two traits that are common among well-liked people—but everyone loves and respects him. After a while, she realizes that people are attracted to his gentle and generous nature. He focuses his energy on others' needs rather than his own, and he is a happy person because of it.
Jo’s friendship with Miss Norton also grows, and with it comes a chance to meet some of New York’s many literary personalities. One evening at a party, she hovers in a corner listening to a group of philosophers tear down all of the religious and moral ideals Jo has held her whole life. She finds it fascinating to listen to them. However, Professor Bhaer also hears them, and he argues for good, old-fashioned religious beliefs. He does not make his points as well as the philosophers do, but his perspective is refreshing to Jo, who realizes that she agrees with him. Her respect for him increases.
One day during one of Jo’s German lessons, Professor Bhaer happens to see a page from a sensational newspaper similar to the Weekly Volcano. He says offhand that the contents of such stories are harmful and that girls like Jo should not read them. Hesitantly, Jo says that writing such stories allows “respectable people” to support themselves honestly. Professor Bhaer replies:
If the respectable people knew what harm they did, they would not feel that the living was honest.
Afterward, Jo returns to her room,...
(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 believe it’s the right sort of love, and I’d rather not try it.” When Laurie continues to argue, she explains that she thinks the two of them would make each other miserable. Their hot tempers would lead them to fight. Laurie’s outgoing nature would make Jo miserable. Jo’s literary efforts would make Laurie jealous. None of these arguments changes Laurie’s mind. He says that he would be a perfect husband, if only Jo would marry him. When she does not relent, he calls her cold and cruel. Jo, furious at herself for hurting him, cannot help but agree.
At the end of this conversation, Laurie shouts that he is going “to the devil!” He runs down to the river and departs in a small boat, venting his feelings on the effort of rowing. Jo watches him leave and then pays a visit to old Mr. Laurence to explain what has happened. Mr. Laurence is disappointed. He, too, wanted Laurie to marry Jo. However, he accepts Jo’s feelings and resolves to comfort his grandson.
In the evening, Laurie returns home and plays sad songs on the piano. After a while, his grandfather confesses that he knows what happened. He offers to take Laurie on a trip to Europe. Laurie has some misgivings, but the prospect of traveling gives him a bit of happiness in spite of his pain. Nevertheless, he acts moody and unhappy through the preparations for his departure.
Just before Laurie leaves town, he asks Jo quietly one last time if she can grow to love him. Once again, she refuses. As she does so, she feels that she is taking something valuable away from him—his boyhood.
(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 between the strong sister and the weak one, wondering if the two of them know what seems apparent: Beth is too weak to live much longer.
As the days pass and Beth’s health fails to improve, Jo begins to suspect that her sister is going to die. One day, while Beth rests with her head on Jo’s lap outdoors, Jo is overcome with sadness. Beth looks up, sees the look on her sister’s face, and says, “Jo, dear, I’m glad you know it.” She has known for a long time that she is dying, but she has been reluctant to burden her family with the knowledge.
As it turns out, Beth's sadness last autumn was the result of her growing sense that she was dying. Jo is shocked to learn that her sister lived with that feeling for so long without telling anyone. Jo confesses that she thought Beth's sadness was the result of an unrequited love for Laurie. This idea shocks Beth, who is clearly unable to imagine wanting the lover she always thought Jo wanted. Jo is glad that Beth has been spared the unhappiness of heartbreak.
Musingly, Beth says that she never really imagined growing up, getting married, and living an adult life the way her sisters always did. Now she wonders if she simply was not meant to grow old. She is getting used to the idea of dying, and she does not mind it. “The only hard part now is the leaving you all,” she says.
Beth begs Jo to tell Marmee and Father what is happening. She cannot do it herself, and she wants the family to know. Jo agrees but says that her parents may see the truth for thesmselves. Indeed, when the girls arrive home, their parents see immediately that Beth has not improved. After Jo takes Beth upstairs to bed, she goes to her parents and finds...
(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 Marches are not prone to gossip, so Amy knows nothing about Laurie’s heartbreak. Nevertheless, she senses that something is wrong. He seems strangely distant. He prefers sitting idly while Amy drives or draws. Overall, she has the impression that he is lazy and depressed—even though she sees occasional hints of his boyish charm.
Meanwhile, Laurie studies Amy and finds that she, too, is changed. However, on her end all of the changes are for the better. She is more elegant, refined, and self-sufficient than she ever used to be. He realizes that his little childhood friend has grown into a fine young woman.
That evening, Laurie accompanies Amy to a Christmas party at her hotel. As she gets ready to meet him, Amy works hard to make herself look as beautiful as possible. She adorns herself with fresh flowers and puts on inexpensive but pretty clothes. She tells herself that she is making so much effort because she wants Laurie to write home and tell her family that she looks pretty and happy.
Amy and Laurie are both young and beautiful, so heads turn as they enter the ballroom. Laurie does not ask Amy to dance until she prompts him to do so. When he shows only noncommittal interest, she grows angry and purposely entices other young men to sign up for dances with her. Until dinner, Laurie is forced to watch her dance without him. When Amy stops for a rest, his attitude has changed. He waits on her and asks—apparently perplexed—how she has managed to become so glamorous and graceful. She says that she has learned to make good use of small resources.
For the rest of the night, Laurie gives Amy his undivided attention. She enjoys this, but she does not really...
(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 feeling lonely without her husband’s company. When Marmee visits one day, Meg complains that John does not care about her anymore. Marmee disagrees and says that Meg has been pushing John away.
According to Marmee, married life needs balance. Caring for the children should not be Meg’s job alone, but John’s as well. Meg needs to take some time off from her children and show some interest in life outside her home. She needs to get exercise and take care of herself, which will in turn help her care for her husband and children.
Meg decides to accept Marmee’s advice. One evening soon after this conversation, she dresses up, prepares a nice supper, and puts the children to bed early. Daisy falls asleep quickly, but Demi begs to stay up and eat cakes with his parents. Meg says no and goes downstairs to meet John, who is pleasantly surprised to see her looking so pretty and cheerful. The two of them sit down to eat.
Moments after the meal begins, Demi comes downstairs and demands a cake. Meg takes him back to bed, gives him a lump of sugar, and tells him not to return. Demi soon comes back to the kitchen and grabs the cake he wants. At this point John intervenes. He carries Demi upstairs, puts him in bed, and sits by the bedside preventing the child from getting up again. Demi struggles, howling in anger, but eventually he accepts his father’s authority. He falls asleep clinging to John’s finger. John, exhausted from work and parenting, falls asleep as well. When Meg sees them sleeping in that position, she understands that her husband’s parenting style is as gentle as her own—even if it is a bit strict.
When John wakes up, Meg tells him that she has decided to hire...
(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 an excursion with Laurie one day, she confesses that she no longer has plans to become a great artist. As she sees it, there is no point trying to reach for an unattainable goal. Instead of becoming an artist, she will be a gentlewoman and a rich man’s wife.
Laurie admires the way Amy can face the truth about herself, even when it is unpleasant. Her comments about wealth lead him to ask her about Fred Vaughn. When Amy admits that she plans to marry Fred for his money, Laurie tells her that it is strange to hear such words from the mouth of a March. When he says this, Amy realizes that she is a little ashamed of her plans.
Amy wants to shake Laurie out of his apathy, so she tells him about his “Lazy Laurence” nickname. He just laughs, and Amy says she is not surprised. She says that selfish people always like talking about themselves. This makes Laurie sit up and take notice. He prides himself on his generosity, so it surprises him to be called selfish.
Amy refuses to take back what she has said. In her opinion, it is selfish for Laurie to make so little effort for other people. He has every gift a person could want: wealth, position, influence, intelligence, and good looks. And yet he accomplishes nothing, has no ambitions, and makes no effect on the world. “I despise you,” she says.
The following morning, Amy receives a note from Laurie, saying that he has returned to his grandfather in Paris. She is glad that he has gone because she does not want him to shirk his family responsibilities. However, she admits privately to herself that she will miss him.
(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 they want and gives it to them when they least expect it.
For months, this state of affairs is actually quite happy, and Beth often comments on the beauty of her life. Soon, however, she grows too weak to sew, read, or even talk. Pain takes over, and the family watches, unable to help. In the final weeks, her pain seems to subside a bit. When she is awake, she looks frail but ready.
Jo stays constantly by Beth’s side, refusing to leave even for an hour. She does not go to her bed to sleep, but dozes instead on the couch or on the floor. One night, Beth awakes and finds one of Jo’s poems on the nightstand. It is called “My Beth” and it describes how Beth is a model of goodness and courage for her sisters. Reading this poem reassures Beth, who has been worried that her life made too small a mark on the world. When Jo wakes up, she assures Beth that, to her family, her life has made an enormous mark indeed. This brings Beth a measure of peace. Beth knows the end is almost here, so she urges her sister to take care of their parents through their grief. Jo promises to try.
The narrator notes that, in books, death often happens with dramatic words and gestures. Beth’s death is not dramatic at all. As the spring grows warm and beautiful, her health fails completely, and she quietly dies. Her family grieves but feels comforted by their belief that she has gone to a better place. There her health cannot fail her, and she is at peace.
(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 mind. This final attempt turns out a bit better.
In Vienna, Laurie is steeped in the works of the great musicians. Like Amy, he soon realizes that he has talent but not genius. Also like Amy, he decides that he does not want to pursue a goal that he cannot reach. He gives up composing and considers his options for pursuing another kind of work.
During this period, to Laurie's great surprise, his love for Jo begins to fade. He has long assumed that his broken heart would torment him all his life, but it heals instead. For some time, he resists this, feeling that it is wrong to give up such an important emotion. He tries to convince himself that he still wants to marry Jo, but his feelings for her are becoming brotherly rather than romantic.
After a while, Laurie begins a written correspondence with Amy. They have both heard from her family that Beth is growing sicker, so he tells himself that he needs to comfort her. Amy responds by writing to him twice per week. She never lectures him anymore, but only jokes and tells stories and encourages him.
In Nice, where Amy is still staying, she sees Fred Vaughn again. He asks her to marry him as she expected, but she finds that she cannot accept. Amy does not tell this to Laurie directly in her letters, but she mentions that Fred has come to see her and gone away again. Laurie understands from this that she has refused Fred’s proposal.
When the weather grows hot, Amy goes with her aunt and uncle to Vevay, Switzerland. It is there that she receives the news that Beth has died. Laurie, who is staying in Germany, receives this news just a bit later. When he hears about it, he immediately packs his bags and sets out for...
(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 current state of her life. These discussions help Jo and Father develop a friendship as adults. They are not exactly happy discussions, but both value them.
Although Jo’s despair persists for some time, she soon begins to feel small, occasional bursts of happiness and hope. She continues doing her share of the work in her home, as she knows is expected. She never liked housework before, but now she takes some comfort in the knowledge that she is useful to others. She takes over many of the sweet little tasks Beth used to do, and she is surprised when her family notices and feels grateful. Jo spends time with her niece and nephew, watching them grow. She also spends a great deal of time with Meg, admiring the way her sister is growing into an accomplished and peaceful woman. Meg seems convinced that Jo is ready for marriage. Jo insists that she will never marry—but she cannot deny that she is lonely.
One day, Marmee suggests that Jo try writing stories again. Jo insists that she could never write anything in her current state of grief. However, Marmee continues to encourage her, and eventually Jo sits down to give it a try. She writes and publishes a sweet, simple little story. To her surprise and pleasure, it earns her more respectful attention in literary circles than she has ever before received.
When Jo hears about Amy’s engagement to Laurie, she is happy for them. It surprises her to read her sister’s words on the subject. Amy has always been quite worldly, but love seems to have softened her character. Jo is not sorry that her chance with Laurie is gone forever, but she is somewhat envious that Amy, once again, has achieved a happiness that Jo has not.
(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 does not really mean it. She immediately makes Laurie sit down and tell her all about it.
Laurie explains that, not long ago, he and his grandfather were all set to come home from Europe with Amy and Aunt Carrol’s family. Suddenly Aunt Carrol and her family decided to stay abroad for a few more months. Laurie and Amy did not want to be parted, and Amy felt desperate to see her family. However, she could not travel with her fiancé and his grandfather without arousing a scandal. Only marriage could make it socially acceptable for them to travel together, so they begged Aunt Carrol to let them marry right away. Amy had already received letters from her parents that stated their approval of the match, so Aunt Carrol allowed the couple to do as they wished.
After he finishes this story, Laurie says that he loves Jo as much as ever. However, he realizes now that it would have been a mistake to marry her. He loves her like a sister, and he loves Amy as his wife. “You and Amy changed places in my heart, that’s all,” he says. Jo says that she understands and believes this. She promises to remain his good friend, and she declares her expectation that she and Laurie will help and appreciate each other forever.
That evening, the family gathers to celebrate the couple’s return home. Jo’s grief about Beth’s death fades a little, but her loneliness seems to grow. When everyone goes upstairs after dinner, Jo hangs back, feeling left out because she alone is not married. As she lingers in the hall, she hears a knock at the door. Mr. Bhaer has come at last.
Jo shows Mr. Bhaer into her family’s parlor, and they welcome him. At first they do this for Jo’s sake, but before the...
(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 thinks that she will work at becoming “a good wife” before she tries to become “a queen of society.”
That evening, Laurie spots Mr. Bhaer approaching the March house again. “That man intends to marry our Jo!” says Laurie. Amy says that she hopes so, and Laurie murmurs that it would be better for Jo to find someone younger and richer. Amy says women should never marry for money—forgetting for a moment that she once claimed she would do exactly that. When Laurie teases her about this, she is embarrassed. She assures him that she would have married him even if he were poor, and he believes her. After all, she refused to marry Fred Vaughn, who is far wealthier than Laurie.
Tentatively, Amy asks whether Laurie feels jealous at the idea of a romance between Mr. Bhaer and Jo. Laurie assures her that he does not, and that he is only in love with Amy. His feelings for Jo have changed completely, and he will be able to “dance at Jo’s wedding with a heart as light as [his] heels.” At this, Amy feels reassured.
The young Laurences discuss how they will help Jo and Mr. Bhaer if they ever do marry. They both know that Jo is far too proud to accept their charity, but Laurie insists that he will find a way to benefit them. He loves giving charity to gentlemen like Mr. Bhaer who are able to provide for themselves but not lucky enough to do so without a struggle. The two of them resolve to spend their lives helping poor but honorable people.
(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 everyone works hard to protect her.
Demi is a little rascal who gets into a great deal of mischief and inspires an equal amount of joy. A curious child, he constantly demands to know how things work. He loves to ask questions of his learned grandfather, who tries to answer him accurately and completely.
Jo is the children's favorite aunt. They call her Aunt Dodo, and they love to play with her. Amy impresses them with her beauty, but she is still strange to them. Beth, to their little minds, is already a distant memory. When Mr. Bhaer comes, Jo begins to spend more time with him than with her little niece and nephew. The children are a bit put off by this, but they accept it because, like all children, they cannot resist making friends with the kind Mr. Bhaer.
One day, the perceptive little Demi happens to advance the relationship between his aunt and her admirer. Mr. Bhaer always asks after Mr. March when he comes to the house, and for some time, Father assumes that the visitor is really seeking male company and conversation. Then one day Demi says innocently that little boys and little girls like each other. Seeing how Mr. Bhaer looks at Jo, Demi wonders aloud whether the same is true of big boys and big girls. Father is startled by this question, but he catches the look on Mr. Bhaer’s face and realizes that a romance is in progress.
Demi does not understand the odd response to his simple question. Jo takes him aside, hugs him tightly, and gives him a gift of bread and jam. He has no idea what he did to deserve such a treat. He tries for a long time to understand it, but he fails. In the end, he writes it off as an unsolved mystery.
(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 trip to the business district. There she wanders around, quite out of place among the busy men, hoping to catch a glimpse of her friend.
When it begins to rain, Jo decides that this excursion is silly. She sets out to do her errands, and on the way she meets Mr. Bhaer. He suspects that she is looking for him, but she does not admit it. She has no umbrella, so he walks with her to lend her his.
Flustered now that she and Mr. Bhaer are together, Jo acts cheerful one moment and distant the next. Mr. Bhaer finds her behavior quite confusing. He tells her that he is going away to teach college out West, and she acts like she does not care. However, not long afterward, she begins to cry. When he asks why, she admits that she is sad he is going away.
Mr. Bhaer is thrilled to hear this. He has loved Jo since New York, but he could not believe that a pretty young girl would accept a poor, unattractive, forty-year-old man like him. During their friendship years ago, he assumed she loved Laurie. However, he recently read a poem that made him suspect she was lonely. At this point, he decided to visit her and find out if he had a chance.
Mr. Bhaer proposes on the spot, and Jo accepts. They are both muddy and laden with packages, but Jo does not care. Nor does she object when he says that he must go away and work for a year or two before they can marry. She says she will work and do her duty to her family, waiting to welcome him home when he is able to come.
(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 March’s estate is filled with little fellows who scuff her floors and abuse her furniture. The barn is full of pets, and all the space in the gardens is occupied.
Running the school is hard work, and Jo and Friedrich do not earn a fortune from it. However, they are happy and secure in the knowledge that their lives are useful. The boys love them dearly, and that makes them very happy. As the years pass, Jo gives birth to two boys of her own, Rob and Teddy, who grow up happily in the rough-and-tumble world of the school.
On Marmee’s sixtieth birthday, the whole family gathers in the apple orchard with all the boys of Jo's school. Marmee receives presents made by her five grandchildren: Daisy, Demy, Rob, Teddy, and Amy’s sickly little girl, Beth. After the gift opening, the boys from the school climb into the apple trees and sing a song for Mrs. March.
When the song is over, each of the living March girls reflects on her childhood dreams. Meg is not rich as she once longed to be, but now she feels that her modest life with John and the children is exactly right for her. Jo is not a famous author, but her adult life is far better than the lonely writer's life she once imagined. Amy is not a famous artist, but she is happily married and glad to have her little Beth—although she fears that the child may not live long.
Marmee listens to her daughters’ thoughts and clearly approves of what she hears. Her girls have grown into women who understand that the key to happiness is not achieving glory but serving others. As Little Women ends, she says, “Oh, my girls, however long you may live, I cannot wish you a greater happiness than this.”
(The entire section is 448 words.)