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Literature Study GuidesLittle WomenPart 1 Chapters 4 6 Summary

Little Women | Study Guide

Louisa May Alcott

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Part 1, Chapters 4-6

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Part 1, Chapters 4-6 of Louisa May Alcott's novel Little Women.

Little Women | Part 1, Chapters 4–6 | Summary



Chapter 4: Burdens

Following the New Year celebrations, the girls reluctantly resume their duties—Meg as a "nursery governess" and Jo as a companion to Aunt March. Both began earning money to help support themselves after Mr. March lost his property. Meg feels especially burdened and wishes she could just have fun. Amy must return to school and Beth to her housework. Beth is too shy to go to school and does her lessons with her father when he is home. Ambitious Jo plans to do something "splendid" in time and often feels frustrated. She has a "quick temper, sharp tongue, and restless spirit" that gets her into trouble. Amy is somewhat spoiled as the youngest, and her confidante is Meg, while Jo serves that purpose for Beth. Meanwhile, Marmee delivers a parable on gratitude to her discontented brood and points out that "shame and sorrow" also exist in the homes of the rich. They thank her for the timely sermon packaged in a good story.

Chapter 5: Being Neighborly

On a snowy winter day, Jo goes out to shovel the path around the garden. She throws a snowball at Laurie's window to attract his attention, and he pops his head out and says he's sick. Marmee gives Jo permission to visit him, and she arrives with some of Beth's kittens. The two have a lively conversation in which Jo learns that Laurie is lonely and has been watching them. Jo amuses Laurie with stories about working for her crotchety Aunt March. When Mr. Laurence gets home, Jo boldly makes his acquaintance, and he invites her to come again. At home she learns Mr. Laurence and his son were estranged after he married an Italian musician, but the couple died young, so he took Laurie in to raise as his own. Jo speculates that the beautiful Laurence house might be their Palace Beautiful "full of splendid things," referencing Christian's journey in The Pilgrim's Progress.

Chapter 6: Beth Finds the Palace Beautiful

Mr. Laurence pays a call to Mrs. March to renew their acquaintance and open the path of friendship for his grandson. At first the Marches feel awkward because they are poor and the Laurences are rich, but soon a genuine give-and-take develops between the families. Beth still holds back from visiting, however, and Mr. Laurence helps her overcome her shyness by being especially kind to her and convincing her to come and use his piano. Beth cannot resist such a temptation, and she soon makes him a pair of slippers to thank him. He then gives Beth the cabinet piano that belonged to his deceased and beloved granddaughter as a gift. Afterward, the two of them maintain a close and special friendship.


The theme of the family as a model society comes into focus in these three chapters. The girls feel somewhat let down after the holidays, and despite their resolutions to shoulder their burdens with fortitude, they complain about their tedious obligations and responsibilities. Their mother reminds them that people who have more are not necessarily any happier than those who have less. Marmee is the revered leader of this band of women, and together they constitute a self-contained society, where Marmee teaches the values of love, generosity, and self-sacrifice. Within the family circle, there are dyads: Meg and Jo sometimes bond as the elder sisters, and Meg watches out for Amy while Jo is Beth's special confidante.

Nevertheless, the Marches are not isolated. Right after Marmee's lesson, Jo extends her friendship to the lonely boy, Laurie, who lives next door in his grandfather's mansion. It's not long before Mr. Laurence responds by renewing his acquaintance with Mrs. March because he can see how much good it does his grandson to spend time with Jo. The wealth disparity makes the Marches uncomfortable at first, but the two families are able to transcend their class differences by recognizing that the relationship is reciprocal. Both families obtain value from the friendship. But the fact that the Marches have to consider the wealth of the Laurences underlines how much money is in the consciousness of the working poor.

Jo immediately establishes her place with Laurie as his special friend, and she thinks of herself as another boy with him—someone with whom she can share boys' games and preferences. When he asks her if she goes to school, she identifies herself a "businessman" before correcting herself and saying "girl." She does not stand on ceremony and frankly responds to Mr. Laurence's questions when he unexpectedly comes upon her in the library. Jo is bold and brave, and while Meg simply pines for the old days, Jo is making plans to change their situation. "Wait till I make my fortune," she tells her sister, "and you shall revel in carriages and ice cream and high-heeled slippers, and posies, and red-headed boys to dance with." Louisa May Alcott, the model for Jo, actually did see this dream come true after Little Women became a runaway success.

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