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Free Study Guide: Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

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Chapter 11: Experiments


It is the first of June and all of the girls are looking forward to vacation. The Kings have gone to the seashore, Aunt March is gone to Plumfield to visit other family, and Beth and Amy think they should have some freedom from lessons. Each one plans to spend days in idleness, sleeping in, playing with dolls, practicing new songs and reading books-anything so long as they are entirely free from chores.

Marmee allows the girls to have their workfree lives as an experiment that will last one week. The first day seems to be a success, but succeeding days become longer and more boring, and the girls are irritable with each other. On the last day of the experiment, Marmee adds to it by giving Hannah the day off and then going out herself. The situation goes from bad to worse as Beth finds her bird dead for want of food or water, and unexpected company in the person of the gossipy Mrs. Crocker shows up for a disastrous supper. Later in the evening several other callers visit the frantic little group. The girls decide that they do not wish to continue their experiment, and that life proceeds more smoothly when every member does a fair share of the work.


The events of this chapter are very logical and down to earth. It is normal for a group of teens to feel that vacation means utter freedom and absence from any kind of work. Marmee shows that she is capable of a sense of humor when she takes the day off herself and gives Hannah a vacation as well. The girls not only learn that life becomes chaotic when their share is not done, but they also acquire a new appreciation for the many unmentioned things their mother always does for them.

Chapter 12: Camp Laurence


Laurie invites the girls to a picnic in Longmeadow where they will be joined by some of his English friends, the Vaughnís along with Mr. Brooke, the Moffats and a few others. After taking boats to the meadow, they play a round of croquet which nearly leads to a quarrel for Jo when she catches Fred cheating at the game. Eventually, however, the activities lead to a game of truth or consequences, and Jo gets Fred to admit his transgression. Frank, a crippled youth is found in friendly discussion with Beth, and Mr. Brooke spends a little time chatting with Meg.


The primary purposes of this chapter, other than contrasting the airs of some of Laurieís rich friends with the practical natureís of the March girls, are to prepare the stage for Mr. Brookís romance with Meg and to introduce Fred who will eventually propose to Amy. The letters mentioned at the beginning include not only the invitation to the picnic, but also a letter and a glove for Meg. She is positive she left the entire pair at the Laurence mansion; we will later learn the Mr. Brooke kept the other glove.

We also see that Beth is conquering some of her shyness, and Jo is maturing enough to find subtle ways of persuading another person to admit fault.

Chapter 13: Castles in the Air


Laurie spots the girls dressed as if to go walking or boating and thinks they have failed to invite him. He follows them and finds them in a little grove where each girl is engaged in her own particular hobby. Amy is drawing, Beth sorting cones for crafts, Meg sewing and Jo knitting and reading simultaneously.

After allowing Laurie to join them, the girls explain that they are still acting out Pilgrimís Progress, and that this little grove on the hill is their version of "The Delectable Mountain" because they can look far away and see the countryside where they hope to live some day. This brings a discussion of castles and dreams. Laurie wants a place to enjoy himself as a famous musician; Meg wants a house full of all sorts of luxurious things; Jo wants a stable of Arabian steeds piled with books; and Beth wants to stay at home with her parents and help care for the family.

Laurie declares that he has the key to his castle but isnít allowed to use it because he has to go to college. Jo thoughtlessly advises him to "sail away" in one of his own ships until he has accomplished his dreams, but Meg chastises her, reminding Laurie of the kindnesses he has received from his grandfather and Mr. Brooke.

Later that evening Laurie sees his grandfather in a pensive mood and resolves to give up his castle at least while the old man needs him.


The "castles" foreshadow the ways in which each girls ideals and fantasies will change by the end of the story. They also reflect the values of the society they associate with even though their own means are limited. It is interesting that Laurie, who has all the money he needs or wants, dreams of a castle that has nothing to do with money. But the girls are not yet ready to recognize that money does completely satisfy.

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Ruff, Dr. Karen S C. "TheBestNotes on Little Women". . 09 May 2017