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Free Study Guide: Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

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FREE STUDY GUIDE: LITTLE WOMEN

Chapter 35: Heartache

Summary

Laurie has graduated from college; he put forth some real effort and graduated with honors in hopes of winning Jo. He proposes to her in spite of her objections and she tells him that although she is very fond of him, she does not love him in the way that he wants her to.

Mr. Laurence is sympathetic with his grandson, but understands that love cannot be forced. In an attempt to consol Laurie and get his mind off of his feelings of rejection, Mr. Laurence plans a trip to London. At first Laurie objects, but promises of utter freedom to wander Europe while Mr. Laurence tends to business in London finally convince him to go. He has no interest in the trip however, and even his final words to Jo are a plea for her to reconsider.

Notes

Joís refusal of Laurie is one of the few real surprises of the novel. From the beginning, Jo has been the one to reach out to Laurie on every possible occasion and to include him in all of the family events, even to their little family newspaper. Most readers would secretly hope that eventually Jo will change her mind, but this decision is not a smoking gun. Jo loves Laurie like a brother and has loved him without reserve because it IS a brother/sister relationship in her eyes. She has no thought of romance with him and has consistently refused to acknowledge his changing feelings toward her. So Laurie has been figuratively passed from one sister to the other, leaving only Amy who unknowingly waits in Europe.


Chapter 36: Bethís Secret

Summary

Jo uses the money she earned from the Volcano to take Beth for another visit to the ocean. During the little vacation, Jo learns that Beth never was in love with Laurie, but that the reason for her sadness of the previous year was that she had begun to realize she was dying. She seems to fade a little more each day. Beth has accepted the idea that her death is inevitable, and that it was meant to be.

When the girls return home, Beth has weakened to the extent that their parents are able to see Bethís condition without being told.

Notes

Joís comment in the chapter about Amy foreshadows the relationship between Amy and Laurie that is about to be introduced in the next chapter.



Chapter 37: New Impressions

Summary

We find Amy and Laurie in France where he has promised to spend Christmas with her. He seems glad to see her and admires the changes in her, but the sentiment is not shared. To her, he seems indifferent, and his dandy-type compliments are hollow and insincere. They attend a Christmas ball where his off-hand remarks and relief at getting out of a dance offend her. Amy deliberately ignores Laurie and dances with several others, spending most of the evening with an 18 year old Polish count. Laurie observes her in spite of himself, and when the count leaves, he spends the remainder of the ball with her. The narrator drops a not-so-subtle hint that the evening is the beginning of a relationship between the two.

Notes

(none needed for this chapter)


Chapter 38: On the Shelf

Summary

John and Meg endure a minor storm in their marriage. Meg has been devoting all of her time and energies to the twins to the exclusion of her husband. The housework has been allowed to slide while Meg spends the day in the nursery. When John gets home from work, he has to tread lightly and speak softly to avoid disturbing sleeping children, and Meg is not interested in talking about anything other than domestic affairs. John begins spending more and more time at the home of his friends the Scots.

At length, Meg becomes depressed and feels that John is neglecting her. She turns to her mother for advice. Mrs. March explains that the fault is Megís and urges her to let John have more to do with the children and to pay more attention to John herself. She advices her to make home so pleasant that John wonít want to be anywhere else.

Meg takes the advice to heart although Demi tests her resolve on the first night by refusing to stay in bed. She allows John to take over the task in spit of Demiís screams and soon discovers that John is able to handle the children with just the right mix of firmness and love. That evening she tells him of the discussion with her mother and renews her commitment to make their home a delightful sanctuary.

Notes

Meg does make the mistake that many young mothers and wives make when children come into the home. However, it might have been more effective and given us more insight into Johnís personality if he had been the one to approach Meg about her excessive mothering to the exclusion of being a wife. When Meg turns to her mother, it adds to the emphasis on the appearance of female submission; "appearance" is the operative word here, because while Marmee herself seems the epitome of selflessness and humility, she really has directed the family all along. The life-philosophy being touted is for women to appear to be humble, self-abasing, take responsibility for everything, devote herself to being a tireless homemaker and peacekeeper, and submit to every whim of her husbandís and behave in a manner that allows him to think he is the head of the home while she is actually in control. This may not be so very different from 20th century women except that modern women no longer bother pretending to be submissive.


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