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This chapter, the first in Part Two of the novel, opens after three years have passed. Meg is about to get married. The war has ended, and Mr. March has returned home. Mr. Brooke has gone to war too, and has returned with only a minor injury. In the meantime, Meg has learned more about keeping house, and Amy has taken over Jo’s job caring for Aunt March. Jo has continued to write stories for the newspaper, for which she is paid one dollar a column, while Laurie has passed the years at college. Many of Laurie’s college friends fall in love with Amy, who has blossomed into a lovely young woman. Sallie Gardiner has married Ned Moffat. As Meg’s wedding nears, the March women all work on Meg’s new little house. Laurie comes home with gifts for Meg, and Jo tells him that he spends too much money. To Jo’s dismay, Laurie tells Jo that, whether she likes it or not, she will be the next one to marry.
Meg’s wedding is casual and small. In their summer dresses, all of the March girls look beautiful and slightly different from how they appeared three years ago: Jo is a bit softened, Amy is gorgeous, and Beth is pale and fragile but good-spirited. The wedding goes smoothly. When Laurie asks what happened to the expensive wine that his grandfather sent, Meg tells him that they have put a little aside for medicinal use and have given the rest away. Meg then asks Laurie never to drink alcohol. He agrees to her request. After the celebration, Meg leaves, asking her family members to keep her in their hearts.
Amy spends much time working on her art. Though she is not a genius, she has passion. At the end of one of her art classes, she asks Marmee if she can invite her girlfriends over for a luncheon and an afternoon of sketching. She wants to make the party elaborate and lovely, and she offers to pay for all of it. Marmee consents, but only in order to teach Amy a lesson about trying to present herself as something she is not. The party ends up costing more than Amy plans. She must reschedule the picnic because it is rainy and set up everything again the next day. When she goes out to buy lobster, she runs into a friend of Laurie’s. He sees the lobster, which was considered low-class food at the time, and she is very embarrassed, although she manages to recover and charm him. Finally, the party begins, but only one person shows up. During the party, Amy is delightful and merry, but she is very disappointed at the way things have turned out. Her family is very kind and tactful.
Jo continues to write. Then, one night, she goes to a lecture on pyramids. While she is waiting for the lecture to begin, a boy shows her a newspaper. It has a sensationalist story that Jo finds silly. She sees that the newspaper is offering a one hundred dollar prize for the best sensationalist story. Excited, Jo writes a story, submits it, and wins. With the money, she sends Marmee and Beth to the seashore for several weeks to improve Beth’s health. Jo keeps writing. She makes more money, providing for herself and the family. Finally, she decides to finish her novel, which is a romance. The publisher tells her to cut it down, and, after long consideration, she does. When the novel is published, it earns her $300, as well as mixed reviews from critics.
Meg learns to tend house and be a good wife. She and Mr. Brooke must be careful with money because they are poor. One day, Meg tries to make jelly, which turns out to be a miserable failure. That night, John brings home unexpected company. Meg gets angry at his insensitivity, even though she has told him that he can bring home guests anytime he wants. They have their first fight, but soon make up. The next trial comes when Meg is frivolous and spends too much money shopping with Sallie Gardiner. She buys expensive fabric, which prohibits John from getting a new coat. Meg asks Sallie to buy the fabric from her, which Sallie does, and Meg purchases a coat for John. Soon Meg becomes pregnant and gives birth to twins, John Laurence and Margaret, who are called Demi and Daisy for short.
Alcott began Chapter 24 after hearing feedback about Part One from her readers, publishers, and family. In order to satisfy a large reading public, she tries to please her readers, but often it is evident that she does not condone their tastes. Chapter 24, “Gossip,” begins in a slightly flippant tone, mimicking the tone of Meg’s rich friends and indicating that Alcott may herself be critical of the way in which her novel continues.
Amy continues to desire a more luxurious life, and she spends time and money attempting to impress the rich girls from her art class with a fancy party. As usual, the failure of her party provides the opportunity for Amy to learn a lesson about pretending to be something she is not. Alcott stresses that women living in poverty should hold fast to their dignity. She considers living beyond one’s means extremely undignified, since the people one tries to impress by doing so can see through this facade and can recognize poverty and pretending for what they are. Dignity is only attainable, Alcott suggests, by accepting one’s financial situation gracefully and refusing to be embarrassed by it.
Read more about teaching as a motif.
Jo continues to develop into an independent woman. It is perhaps significant that when she goes to the lecture on the pyramids, she sits behind two women discussing women’s rights. Although Jo does not discuss women’s rights directly, she does believe that she can do anything she likes, even if that means foregoing the traditional woman’s role as housewife. Jo revels in her independence and in her ability to provide financially for herself and her family. The whole family also supports her in her pursuits. Alcott quietly emphasizes the responsibility Jo bears. Her father urges her to wait for her book to ripen before she publishes it, but the unsavory truth of the matter is that the family desperately needs money, and Mr. March is doing little to provide it. Jo decides to sacrifice artistic ideals in order to provide for her family, and Alcott supports her in this endeavor.
Read more about how an emphasis on domestic duties and family detracts from women’s abilities to attend to personal growth.
In contrast to Amy and Jo, Meg submits wholeheartedly to being a good wife and homemaker. But her lapses into desire for luxury remind her that, married or not, she is still growing up. Alcott portrays marriage realistically, not as the happily-ever-after end of the story, but as one step in a lifetime, a step that does not drastically change the personality of either husband or wife. This realistic portrayal of marriage is heightened by the fact that Meg’s wedding, though a happy event, breaks up the cozily cloistered feeling of Part One of the novel. The realities of life are setting in, and, perhaps sadly, the sisters have begun to scatter.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Little Women!