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Free Study Guide: Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

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LITTLE WOMEN: FREE PLOT SUMMARY / SYNOPSIS

Chapter 3: The Laurence Boy

Summary

Meg and Jo get their chance to meet the Laurence boy at a New Yearís Eve dance. The chapter begins with a great deal of discussion about costume although the girls only have one outfit each. Joís dress is burned in the back because she has a habit of standing too close to the fire place and her gloves are stained. She would go without gloves, but Meg wonít hear of it as she thinks it isnít proper to dance without gloves on. They solve the problems by deciding that Jo wonít dance at all but will simply stand with her back to people so her dress wonít show and that each of them will wear a good glove and carry a stained one. After a variety of minor mishaps, such as burning Megís hair with the curling tongs, the girls are ready to go. Jo, who often forgets herself and behaves like a tomboy agrees to watch Meg for signs. Meg will raise her eyebrows if Jo seems about to do anything foolish or improper.

Meg is whisked away to dance nearly as soon as they arrive, but when a red-headed boy looks as though he about to approach Jo, she slips into a curtained recess. There she finds the Laurence boy who is hiding out of shyness. They are soon chatting merrily as Laurie has all sorts of stories about of his travels and education. Eventually he asks Jo to dance, and she confesses that she canít because of the burned dress. Laurie solves the problem by offering to dance in a long hallway connected to the ballroom.

The evening is brought to an early end when Meg sprains her ankle; getting her home is a problem at first, but Laurie overhears Jo asking someone for a carriage and offers to have his grandfather take them home in his carriage.


Notes

We are introduced to Laurie who is shy only until he gets acquainted. Both Laurie and Jo make friends easily and are practical and funloving. Neither is above doing something a little crazy. Laurie is clearly from a wealthy home and has had many opportunities the March girls have not had, but he is lonely and in need of friends.


Chapter 4: Burdens

Summary

One of the girlsí favorite books is Pilgrimís Progress, a story which was introduced to them by their father. Through the years they have sometimes used the house as a setting for Pilgrimís journey and have acted out the story, beginning in the basement and ending in the upstairs. At the top of second floor staircase, they would release their "burdens" and let them go tumbling down the steps. Nor are the analogies to real life and modern burdens lost on them. In this chapter the particular burden that each girl has to bear is discussed.

The morning after the New Yearís Eve party begins with all the girls feeling cross. Even Mrs. March seems a little frustrated as she rushes to complete an important letter. Joís urging of everyone to "shoulder their burdens" and come home in better moods sets the scene for the author to provide a little insight into the girlsí motivations. Megís burden is that she remembers when the family was financially well off, and she misses having pretty things and nice clothes. She works as a governess for a number of children who, she feels, do not appreciate her or make it worth bothering to look pretty. However, at the Kingís home, she daily sees all the things that she is having to do without, and, we are told, it sometimes makes her a little bitter.

Joís burden is the childless Aunt March with whom she spends her days. The elderly woman had offered to adopt one of the girls when trouble came to the family, and was for some time offended at being turned down. However, Jo suited her, and was thus taken on as a companion. One of the attractions to Aunt Marchís house is the large library that had belonged to Uncle March. Aunt March, however, usually wants Jo to read books of historical and political essays that the teenage girl finds impossibly dull.

Bethís burden is one of such extreme shyness that she is unable to attend school. She amuses herself with domestic chores, home-study and caring for her collection of dolls. She seems to be very fragile and utterly selfless, but she does cry in private over her longing for music lessons. She plays the ancient tuneless instrument they have, but loves music and hopes that some day she will have a fine piano.

Amyís burden is primarily one of vanity, somewhat like Meg, but perhaps a little more self-centered. She thinks her nose is too flat, and has to wear her cousinís hand-me-down clothes which-to her artistic sensibilities-are tasteless and in all the wrong colors for her.

That evening each girl recounts her day, airing all of her complaints. Jo accidentally gave herself an opportunity to read a more interesting book to Aunt March when she laughed aloud over a funny section in "Vicar Wakefield." The Kings seemed to have been engaged in domestic quarreling when Meg arrived. Amy bemoans a carnelian ring that a girl in school was showing off. Bethís experience of the day is positive; she had gone to the fish market for her Hannah and had seen a poor woman who was offering to clean the store for food for her children. The store owner refused her, but Mr. Laurence was also there and he purchased a slab of fish for her.

Marmee finishes off the chapter and the day by giving the girls a little sermon about appreciating the blessings they have and by pointing out the lessons in each girlís adventure.

Notes

Most of the burdens the girls name seem trivial although that is typical of teenagers. Bethís observation of the kindness of Mr. Laurence introduces him into the story and foreshadows the kindness and generosity he will later bestow on the March family. It takes Marmee to help the girls realize that their problems are really not so terrible. This characterization of Mrs. March as a person who has been through nearly everything life could offer, who as suffered and endured much, and has learned infinite patience will continue throughout the book. The family is unusual in that while the girls have occasional bouts of sibling rivalry, none of them ever disagrees or has a cross or rebellious word for Marmee.


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