Amy’s departure from America signals a departure from the everyday, humble life that she has led until now. She develops into a woman, learning to balance virtue and luxury. She adores being a part of wealthy society, but realizes that she does not want to lose the lessons she has learned from Marmee. If Alcott’s idealization of Beth suggests that humility is the highest virtue, her portrayal of Amy suggests something different. She does not fault Amy for her love of luxury; rather, Alcott shows that Amy can both remain a good person and live a life of material wealth. She does not condemn Amy or punish her with dire consequences for her desire to own nice things and have elegant experiences. The fair provides a microcosm of Amy’s ability to have it all: while participating in a high-class pursuit, she keeps the moral high ground. Amy may take her love of money too far, though; it remains to be seen whether Fred Vaughn is a morally acceptable candidate for marriage, given that Amy does not love him. Alcott suggests, however, that Amy is put in this slightly distasteful situation because she has a natural urge to help her own family out of its poverty. Alcott seems to insinuate that poverty makes morally ambiguous behavior acceptable if the motive behind such behavior is to alleviate that poverty.
Loving, charming, and rich, Laurie is highly marriageable and more and more obviously in love with Jo, who does not return his affection. Generations of readers have been tormented by Jo’s seemingly inexplicable refusal to love Laurie. One can argue that Alcott sets up what looks like the perfect match between Jo and Laurie, then allows Jo to spurn his affections in order to explore the idea that a woman must marry a suitable man in order to be happy.
In New York, Jo finds a new kind of friend in Professor Bhaer. He is not only her friend but also her teacher. This student-teacher relationship mimics the relationship between Marmee and Mr. March, as well as the relationship between Jo and Mr. March. Surprisingly, in Bhaer’s presence Jo becomes nearly conventional, conforming to a more accepted code of female behavior. She darns the professor’s socks, for example, in order to show him her affection; her willingness to engage in such a domestic and traditionally female chore reflects her newfound willingness to abide by nineteenth-century society’s expectations of how a woman should act. Additionally, whereas earlier she takes on male roles in her plays, she now dresses as a female character, Miss Malaprop, at the New Year’s Eve masquerade, revealing an ability and willingness to check her unconventional desires.