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.