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 future remains exactly like the present. On this sentiment, the first part of Little Women ends.