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Free Study Guide: Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

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Chapter 39: Lazy Laurence


Laurie spends a month instead of the planned week in France. He finds himself drawn to Amy, but she is disgusted with him. She is too lady-like and he too lazy for them to actually quarrel, but she accuses him of indolence and of neglecting his own talent and potential. When she discovers that the reason for his indifference is Joís rejection, Amy is sympathetic but still cannot accept the changes in him. Laurie tries to affect an indifference to her scolding, but her words have a profound effect on him.


This chapter is a typical "boy-meets-girl," quarrels with her, leaves, then makes up and finally returns to fall in love structure. Chapters 39 and 41 complete a miniature plot within a plot that follows the sequence of the heroís journey motif.

Chapter 40: Valley of Shadow


In one of the shortest but most emotionally packed chapters of the novel, Beth dies. For the last year of her life she is given the best room in the house and is continuously surrounded by family. Her favorite is Jo who scarcely leaves the room, but tends the fire and waits on her tirelessly. In spite of her grief, Jo begins to feel that she will never really lose Beth, that even death will not be able to separate them.


The death of Beth is a literary technique for getting a character out of the way who has served her purpose. Beth herself remarks that she alone has no ambitions, no desire to do anything other than live at home and be a help and comfort to her parents. While growing up she has had a subduing effect on Joís impetuous nature and as a character has been a mild foil to both Jo and Amy. Although it creates an intensely emotional moment in the story, her purpose has been accomplished and she needs to be moved "out of the way" in order for Jo to be open to a romantic type of love for herself.

Chapter 41: Learning to Forget


Laurie takes Amyís lecture to heart and decides that he can make Jo respect him even if he canít make her love him. He goes to Vienna to work with some musical friends and tries his hand at composing. He has little success and finally decides-after attending one of Mozartís grand operas that "talent isnít genius." He begins to look for some sort of work to occupy himself even though he doesnít need to work for a living. In the meantime, he keeps up a lively correspondence with both Jo and Amy. Laurie soon realizes that he is actually "forgetting" Jo to the extent that he has to search himself to find the passion for her that he once had. In a final attempt to verify that she will never be his, he writes to her once again asking if she can find it in her heart to love him. Her response is that she is entirely devoted to Beth and that she does not want to hear the word "love" from him again. His thoughts then turn more and more to Amy.

Amy finally receives the once expected proposal from Fred- but she refuses him. She has realized that having money or being the "queen of society" isnít really what she wants after all. From then on she and Laurie write several letters a week while Laurie waits for her to ask him to come. When word comes of Bethís death, he immediately packs up his things and goes to Velvey to be with Amy. It is soon obvious that they are in love. Laurie plans a romantic evening when he will tell her his feelings, but instead the words slip out in a metaphorical way while they are out rowing. Amy notices how well they "pull" together while rowing the boat, and Laurie asks her if she will always pull in the same boat with him. Of course, her answer is "yes."


This concludes the mini-plot begun in Chapter 39.

Chapter 42: All Alone


Jo had promised Beth that she would take her place in being a comfort to their parents and in helping to keep the home running smoothly. However, she finds that it is more of a burden than she can handle with Beth gone. She and Marmee consol each other, and Jo finds some relief in the household chores that once had been Bethís.

Seeing her loneliness and despair, Marmee urges Jo to take up her writing again. Jo does so hesitantly, but her first story is enthusiastically accepted and more requested.

Jo receives word that Laurie and Amy are engaged. Jo is happy for them both but still feels lonely and unhappy for herself. She wanders into the garret where mementoes of their past are stored. There she comes across her old workbooks and a note from Frizt saying that he will be coming. Jo wishes he would come for she feels like everyone is going away from her and she would love to see her dear old friend.


The narrator ends this chapter with another not-so-subtle foreshadowing.

"Was it all self-pity, loneliness, or low spirits? Or was it the waking up of a sentiment which had bided its time as patiently as its inspirer? Who shall say?"

This paragraph could have been left out entirely, and the reader would still be expecting the professor to appear on the scene.

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