HomeLiterature Study GuidesLittle WomenPart 1 Chapters 1315 Summary

Little Women | Study Guide

Louisa May Alcott

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Little Women | Part 1, Chapters 13–15 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 13: Castles in the Air

The March girls have remained busy through the summer and sometimes go to the woods to work, dressed like pilgrims to add some fun to a game that has become a serious striving. They head off purposely in flapping hats, shouldering linen pouches and carrying long staffs. Laurie follows the March girls one September day. He finds them in a clearing in the woods and humbly asks to be admitted to the group. Laurie is accepted into the "Busy Bee Society," provided he does some work, and he takes over Jo's reading while she continues to knit. The group of young people now share their fantasies for the future as they look out over the hilltops. Laurie wishes to be a famous musician. Meg imagines herself in a lovely home with lots of money. Jo wants to be a rich and famous author, while Amy wants to go to Rome and be the best artist in the world. Beth has the modest desire to stay home and help take care of her family. Jo suggests they meet 10 years hence to see how far they have come in reaching their dreams.

Chapter 14: Secrets

Jo finishes writing two stories in October and delivers them to the newspaper office, hoping to have them published. She meets Laurie on the way home, who wheedles her secret out of her. He tells her another secret in return: His tutor, Mr. Brooke, is holding on to one of Meg's missing gloves. Jo is horrified to learn that Mr. Brooke has a romantic interest in her sister. She then races Laurie down a hill, and a reproving Meg catches them and asks Jo when she will stop running. "Never till I'm stiff and old and have to use a crutch ... Let me be a little girl as long as I can," she says, sadly thinking about how quickly Meg seems to be growing up. A few weeks later, the paper publishes one of Jo's stories, and she shares the good news with her sisters.

Chapter 15: A Telegram

In November Marmee receives a telegram telling her Mr. March is ill and she should come at once. Mr. Laurence sends Mr. Brooke to be Mrs. March's escort to Washington, pretending he has errands in the capital, and Aunt March lends the necessary money for the trip. Jo wants to contribute money, so she sells her beautiful chestnut hair for $25. That night Jo cries into her pillow over her lost hair, although she does not regret her act of selflessness.

Analysis

The motif of The Pilgrim's Progress shows up literally in Chapter 13 when the girls outfit themselves as pilgrims, resorting to their childhood game of acting out the story while more seriously enacting their resolutions of self-conquest and selfless service. Their admittance of Laurie to their circle reinforces his membership in their family, almost as an honorary fifth sister. As critic Anne Dalke points out, the relationship between Laurie and the March girls is mutually beneficial. For their part, the women have a civilizing influence on him, as well as other men in the novel, teaching them to be more like women—able to express their feelings and nurture others. In Laurie's case, the March girls discourage his indolence and ask him to shoulder his load by taking on the job of reading.

When they share their dreams for the future, Jo and Amy reveal fantasies that are more like Laurie's than their sisters', in that they wish to be acknowledged as artists. For Jo, who is already producing stories, art is also a way to obtain prosperity and help support her family. Thus, Jo has "male" aspirations that are contradictory to the overt message of the novel, which is that girls should become self-sacrificing wives and mothers. Jo's pilgrimage through the novel is one of painful re-education, in which she submits to the demands of the patriarchy, although some critics say she does so on her own terms.

The collision between Jo's views and those of society is evident in the next chapter. She secretly takes two stories to the newspaper but is spied by Laurie, who refers to her as "the oddest fellow" he ever saw. Yet, Laurie treats Jo as an equal, and he wholeheartedly supports her artistic ambitions. Jo expresses her wish to remain a child for as long as possible, asserting that she wants to hold on to the freedom and autonomy she experiences as a single young woman and will not go quietly into the straightjacket of gender expectations. However, critic Ann Murphy characterizes Jo's decision to sell her hair to help finance her mother's trip to Washington, D.C., as a "self-destructive sacrifice," which "effaces" Jo's triumph as an author. In this act, the reader witnesses the beginning of Jo's re-education.

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