During the summer, the King family, for whom Meg is the governess, and Aunt March go on vacation, leaving Meg and Jo free from their duties. Relieved, Meg and Jo decide to do nothing at all with their newfound freedom. The younger girls, Amy and Beth, also take a break from their studies. After the girls neglect their chores for almost a week, Marmee and Hannah take a day off as well. That day, the girls fail miserably at running the household smoothly. They soon discover that Marmee has taught them a lesson about the importance of everyone doing at least a little work.
One July day, Meg receives one glove in the postbox, though she has lost them both and wonders where its mate is. With the glove comes a German song translated by Mr. Brooke, Laurie’s tutor. Laurie has also sent an invitation to a picnic to be held the next day. The following day, the March girls attend the picnic along with various other guests: Sallie Gardiner; Ned Moffat, Annie Moffat’s older brother; Mr. Brooke; Laurie’s British friends, Fred and Kate Vaughn; and their siblings, Frank and Grace Vaughn. During the picnic, Fred cheats in a game of cricket. Jo notices and is annoyed, but manages to control her temper. When Kate discovers that Meg works as a lowly governess, Kate is first rude and then patronizing. Mr. Brooke defends Meg, which leads to a long conversation between him and Meg. Meanwhile, Grace and Amy chat about ponies and Europe, and Beth has a conversation with Frank, who has a hurt leg. As the party breaks up, even the condescending Kate says that American girls are nice.
I think I shall write books, and get rich and famous; that would suit me, so that is my favorite dream.
Laurie swings idly on his hammock and spies the March girls walking out to a hill. There, the sisters sit working—knitting, sewing, drawing, and reading. Feeling left out, Laurie asks if he may join them. They admit him under the condition that he contribute something useful, as is consistent with the work ethic of the girls’ Busy Bee Society. Laurie’s contribution is his reading of a book to the sisters. While they work, all five friends discuss their dreams. Laurie wants to become a famous musician, Jo a famous author, and Amy a famous artist. Meg wants to be rich so that she does not have to work, and Beth wants everyone to be happy and together. Upset that Laurie cannot follow his dream, Jo tells him to run away from his grandfather, who does not want him to be a musician. Sensible Meg tells Laurie to ignore Jo’s advice and to be good to both his grandfather and Mr. Brooke. Laurie decides to follow Meg’s advice.
Jo finishes the manuscripts for two stories and brings them to a newspaperman in town without telling anyone. She is very anxious. She meets Laurie as she comes out of the news office. After he pleads with her to tell him what is going on, she confides her secret. Laurie then tells Jo his secret—that Mr. Brooke has kept Meg’s glove and carries it with him wherever he goes. This secret disgusts Jo, because she hates the idea of someone loving Meg and taking her away. Laurie, in an attempt to cheer Jo, persuades her to race him down a hill. In a wild, messy state, they encounter Meg, who has just visited the Gardiners. Meg reprimands Jo, though she secretly feels tempted to join their romp. For about a week, Jo behaves strangely. Then, one day, she reads a story aloud from a paper and announces at the end that the story was hers. She has not gotten paid, but she says that she will for future stories. She feels wonderfully independent.
November arrives, and everyone is glum. Marmee receives a telegram saying that Mr. March is ill and that she must go to Washington, D.C. to be with him. Marmee sends Laurie to ask Aunt March for money and sends Beth to ask Mr. Laurence for wine. In the spirit of the moment, Jo runs out to find a way to contribute. Later, Mr. Laurence offers Mr. Brooke as a travel companion for Marmee, and she gratefully accepts Mr. Brooke’s company. Jo returns home, having earned twenty-five dollars by selling her hair. Pretty Amy is horrified that Jo has lost her “one beauty.” Jo, however, is not sad until late at night, when she cries a little for her lost hair.
In Chapter 11, Alcott stresses the importance of work and suggests that idleness does not lead to happiness. Alcott has held up domestic work—such as cleaning the house, teaching young children, and nursing the sick—not as a particularly challenging or rewarding endeavor for women, but rather as an unfortunate duty. However, here she shows us that idleness is an inadequate alternative.