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Free Study Guide: Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

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LITTLE WOMEN: FREE SUMMARY / CHAPTER NOTES

Chapter 5: Being Neighborly

Summary

Jo visits Laurie one snowy afternoon when she has nothing else to do and Laurie is shut up in his house with a cold. The two teens spend a while getting acquainted. Laurie reveals that he knows quite a bit about the sisters including their names as he often watches them through his windows. Laurie describes his grandfather as kind and generous even though he doesn’t look it. He takes Jo on a tour of the house ending in the library where she is enchanted by all the books. Laurie’s opinion is that one can’t live on books. His doctor calls, so Laurie leaves Jo in the library to wait his return.

While waiting for Laurie, Jo examines the picture of his grandfather that is hanging on the wall. She talks aloud to herself, saying that she doesn’t think she would be afraid of him even though he looks strong willed, for he has kind eyes. She decides that she likes him although he isn’t as handsome as her own grandfather.

Unknown to Jo, Mr. Laurence has come into the house and is standing in the doorway to the library when Jo makes her comments. He tells her that he knew and was a friend to her grandfather, and inquires as to her intentions in visiting his grandson. She explains that she was just being neighborly as Laurie seemed lonely. Mr. Laurence is surprised at her effect on Laurie and asks her to stay for tea. After tea, the two explore more of the house whereupon Jo finds a gand piano. Laurie plays a bit for her, which seems to displease his grandfather.

When Jo returns home, her mother explains that Mr. Laurence’s objection to Laurie’s music is related to an old disagreement between Mr. Laurence and his son, Laurie’s father. That man had married an Italian musician whom Mr. Laurence did not like. He never saw his son again after they were married, and he fears losing Laurie if he should learn to like music too well.


After Jo’s descriptions, Marmee decides that it would be okay to pursue a friendship with the Laurence’s. Beth suggests, upon recalling their Pilgrim’s Progress play-acting, that perhaps the big house with all of its beautiful things will be a Palace Beautiful for them.

Notes

Mr. Laurence is more fully characterized; in many way he fits the stereotype of any outwardly gruff but inwardly gentle and loving grandfather. He is certainly much more tolerant of Laurie than the girls’ earlier impressions of a lonely boy looking out the windows of the austere mansion had led them to believe. He is not opposed to music, but is simply afraid that he will lose his grandson to it in the same way that he lost his son. This chapter sets the stage for the March and Laurence families to fill the gaps in each others lives.


Chapter 6: Beth finds the Palace Beautiful

Summary

The March family strikes up further acquaintance with the Laurence’s although they must first get past their "lions." For Beth, the biggest lion is Mr. Laurence himself who unintentionally speaks gruffly to her and sends her flying for home. For others the lions are a matter of pride and situation. They see Mr. Laurence as rich while they are poor and thus they are reluctant to accept any favors which they could not return. Laurie, however, is soon like a part of the family, for he has no mother or sisters and is quick to appreciate the attentions they give him.

When Mr. Laurence learns that he accidentally frightened Beth, he determines to correct the situation. He visits Mrs. March one day and tells her that Laurie has been neglecting his music since spending so much time with the girls. However, his "concern" is for the piano, that it will "suffer for want of use." He "wonders" if there might be a March girl who would be willing to come in at her leisure and practice on the piano. Beth hears and can’t resist volunteering to play. Mr. Laurence promises her that she can go in and out at a side door and no one disturb her or pay her any attention. He kisses her lightly, noting that he had a little girl like her many years ago.

After several trials, Beth eventually draws the courage to venture into the Laurence house. As promised, the way to the room with the piano is unobstructed; furthermore, music has been left on the piano. From then on Beth visits the house nearly every day, always finding new pieces left for her to practice on.

As a means of thanking Mr. Laurence, Beth decides to make him a new pair of slippers. With the help of Marmee and her sisters, they make a pair in deep purple adorned with clusters of pansies. Laurie helps her smuggle them onto Mr. Laurence’s study table. A day and a half later, Beth comes home from walking her dolls to find that Mr. Laurence has sent her a note and a small cabinet piano that had belonged to the child who had died. After playing a short tune on the piano, Beth decides that she ought to go over and thank him. To everyone’s surprise, Beth goes directly to the house and finding Mr. Laurence in his study, attempts to thank him. Words escape her however, so instead she hugs and kisses him. Mr. Laurence responds by cuddling her close to him, feeling as if he has his own little granddaughter back. From that day on, Beth ceases to fear him.

Notes

Perhaps, in the absence of her own father, Beth needs a father image. At any rate, the gift of a piano certainly shows her that Mr. Laurence is not a person she needs to be afraid of. In time, she will be his favorite of all the March girls.


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