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 one productive project for the summer.