Little Women Chapter 32 Summary
by Louisa May Alcott

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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.