Chapter 42 Summary
At home, Jo sinks into a depression after Beth’s death. She tries to keep her promise to care for her parents, but she finds herself resenting it. She cannot help feeling that she needs someone to care for her and that nobody can. Her life seems empty, hard, and unpleasant. Sometimes at night she wakes up thinking that Beth is still alive, only to collapse into sobs when she realizes her mistake. On these nights, Marmee hears her and comes to comfort her.
During this period, Jo’s relationship with Father grows and changes. She goes often to his study to talk about her grief. He shares his feelings openly with her, and she does the same, even discussing her resentment toward God and her dissatisfaction with the current state of her life. These discussions help Jo and Father develop a friendship as adults. They are not exactly happy discussions, but both value them.
Although Jo’s despair persists for some time, she soon begins to feel small, occasional bursts of happiness and hope. She continues doing her share of the work in her home, as she knows is expected. She never liked housework before, but now she takes some comfort in the knowledge that she is useful to others. She takes over many of the sweet little tasks Beth used to do, and she is surprised when her family notices and feels grateful. Jo spends time with her niece and nephew, watching them grow. She also spends a great deal of time with Meg, admiring the way her sister is growing into an accomplished and peaceful woman. Meg seems convinced that Jo is ready for marriage. Jo insists that she will never marry—but she cannot deny that she is lonely.
One day, Marmee suggests that Jo try writing stories again. Jo insists that she could never write anything in her current state of grief. However, Marmee continues to encourage her, and eventually Jo sits down to give it a try. She writes and publishes a sweet, simple little story. To her surprise and pleasure, it earns her more respectful attention in literary circles than she has ever before received.
When Jo hears about Amy’s engagement to Laurie, she is happy for them. It surprises her to read her sister’s words on the subject. Amy has always been quite worldly, but love seems to have softened her character. Jo is not sorry that her chance with Laurie is gone forever, but she is somewhat envious that Amy, once again, has achieved a happiness that Jo has not.
In this state of mind, Jo stumbles on the old German exercise books she used with Professor Bhaer. When she left New York, he promised to visit her sometime, but he has not done so. She wishes that he would come.