Literature Study GuidesLittle WomenPart 1 Chapters 10 12 Summary

Little Women | Study Guide

Louisa May Alcott

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Little Women | Part 1, Chapters 10–12 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 10: The P.C. and the P.O.

The March sisters set up a secret society called the Pickwick Club (P.C.) and name themselves after characters in the Charles Dickens novel The Pickwick Papers. They even put together "The Pickwick Portfolio," which includes poems, stories, and family news. Alcott includes the newsletter in the chapter. Jo convinces her sisters to allow Laurie to join the club, and he sets up a post office (P.O.) in an old birdhouse, and correspondence between the two houses goes through this post office for many years afterward.

Chapter 11: Experiments

It is June, and Meg is free for three months since the King children have gone to the seashore, and Jo gets a respite from Aunt March, who has also gone on vacation. The girls decide they want a holiday in which they will do nothing, and Beth and Amy also join in. Marmee agrees to the experiment for a week. Not surprisingly, the girls begin to get bored after a few days of excessive leisure, and by the end of the week, Marmee and Hannah take a holiday and leave the girls to run the house. They fail miserably and relearn the importance of a community pulling together for the comfort of all. Marmee cautions: "Have regular hours for work and play, make each day both useful and pleasant, and prove that you understand the worth of time by employing it well."

Chapter 12: Camp Laurence

The narrator describes some of the mail that goes through the post office Laurie sets up. Marmee writes Jo a letter to tell her she has noticed her efforts to control her temper, and Jo is extremely gratified by the praise. In a letter, Laurie invites Jo and her sisters to a picnic and outing with his visiting English friends, the Vaughns. The Vaughns include Kate, age 20; twins Fred and Frank, who are about Jo's age; and Grace, age 9 or 10. The party also includes Sallie Gardiner, Ned Moffat (who has a crush on Meg), and Mr. Brooke (Laurie's tutor). They play games, including croquet and Rig-marole, in which a group of people tell a story; each person makes up a piece of it and then stops randomly, handing the story off to the next person. Mr. Brooke provides Meg with some German instruction, and it becomes clear he is also sweet on her.

Analysis

The Pickwick Club and the family newsletter impact the self-contained family society. Laurie becomes an official member of the family when he joins the club after Jo's sisters are persuaded that he won't make fun of them. The March girls have a civilizing and softening influence on Laurie as he adjusts to life with the four sisters. He even contributes to the club by providing a post office box, which encourages correspondence between the Laurences and the Marches, who have now joined together in a larger society.

The girls also get a lesson in the necessity of cooperation when Marmee lets them go on vacation for one week. Not only do they become bored, but they also learn that each family member needs all the others if everyone is to live in comfort. The girls also realize that uninterrupted idleness is not that much fun.

Laurie invites the March girls and some of their mutual friends into his world in a new way in Chapter 12 when he invites them to an outing and introduces them to his upperclass English friends. Thus, the March-Laurence family is sharing itself with the community. In these chapters, "family" members successfully negotiate both gender (when Laurie is accepted into the girls' club) and class barriers (when Laurie's English guests mingle with his American friends). For her part, Jo begins embracing her expected gender role, which can be seen in her happiness with her mother's letter. Marmee has noticed she is trying to behave like a proper little woman, and Jo is grateful.

These chapters are the first in which the author uses alternative genres to tell her story. First, she reproduces the March newspaper in its entirety, and then she tells the nonsensical fictional story created by the Rig-marole game, perhaps to show how important language is in establishing and maintaining relationships.

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