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 conversation, Jo seems to make peace with the situation, although she complains that she would prefer to see Meg marry Laurie.