Little Women

by: Louisa May Alcott

Chapters 39–47

Summary Chapters 39–47

Summary — Chapter 45: Daisy and Demi

Demi is interested in mechanics and philosophy, although he is only three. His grandfather adores him. Daisy adores Demi too, and allows herself to be dominated by him. She loves to help Hannah make food and keep house. Both children love to play with Jo, whom they call Aunt Dodo. She plays with them less when Bhaer is around, but they like him anyway, because he gives them chocolate drops. One day, Demi tells Jo and Bhaer that he has kissed a little girl. He asks Bhaer innocently whether big boys like big girls. Bhaer is a bit embarrassed but says that he thinks they do, an answer that delights Jo.

Summary — Chapter 46: Under the Umbrella

After much visiting, Bhaer stays away for three days. Jo heads out one day to run some errands, hoping to run into him. Just as rain begins to fall, she bumps into him, and he then covers her with his umbrella as they do some shopping together. He tells her that he has finished his business in town. He adds that has gotten a job teaching in the West, where he can make some money. She is distressed that he will go so far away, and begins to cry. Because she has displayed her feelings for him, Bhaer feels comfortable telling her that he loves her. She responds that she loves him too, and they decide to get married.

Summary — Chapter 47: Harvest Time

Oh, my girls, however long you may live, I never can wish you a greater happiness than this!

(See Important Quotations Explained)

Jo and Bhaer spend a year apart, pining for each other. Aunt March then dies unexpectedly, leaving her house, Plumfield, to Jo. Jo decides to turn it into a school for rich and poor boys alike. The family decides that it is a good idea. After several years, the school is up and running successfully. Mr. Laurence helps by paying some tuition for poor boys. In October, they have an apple-picking festival. The Marches, Brookes, Laurences, and Bhaers all arrive for a day of fun. They also all celebrate Marmee’s sixtieth birthday. All of the sisters revel in their good fortune and count their blessings, congratulating Marmee on such a successful life. Jo says that she still hopes to write another novel but that she is very happy. Amy frets that her daughter, Beth, is ill, but plans to enjoy her for as long as she has her. Everyone expresses gratitude for the wonderful life they all share.

Analysis — Chapters 39–47

All of the characters who earlier wish for genius and success—Amy, Jo, and Laurie—now realize that they merely possess talent, not the genius for which they earlier hope. These realizations are the result of growing up and learning to accept small defeats. When old Mr. Laurence asks Jo to be his “girl” in place of Beth, Jo agrees, demonstrating that she has tempered some of her wildness with the gentle femininity she loved in Beth. Even Jo’s writing style changes; she no longer writes tales of adventure and intrigue but, instead, writes in a simpler style that sounds similar to that of Little Women itself. Though one can argue that this change in writing style reflects a loss of independence for Jo, one can also argue that it demonstrates an ability to adapt her creativity to the world around her.

Alcott presents a new model of marriage with the pairing of Amy and Laurie. Amy serves as a mentor for Laurie, instead of the other way around. Scholar Elizabeth Lennox Keyser suggests that the two have the most egalitarian marriage of the novel, citing the fact that they row together as symbolic of their cooperation. Though this marriage holds promise, Alcott seems to layer it with a bit of regret suggesting that Laurie becomes his old playful self not in Amy’s presence but only in Jo’s.

In contrast to the stormy, childish encounter between Laurie and Jo when he proposes to her, Bhaer’s proposal to Jo is touching and more grown-up. Jo goes out to seek Bhaer, demonstrating that she has some agency in the affair; when he proposes, the rain and mud prevent him from going down on his knee or giving her his hand, so they stand literally on an equal footing. Jo, furthermore, looks nothing like a romantic feminine heroine; she is bedraggled with rain and mud, but it makes no difference. This marriage, which begins with equality and primacy of the heart rather than primacy of appearances, is promising.