Literature Study GuidesLittle WomenPart 1 Chapters 7 9 Summary

Little Women | Study Guide

Louisa May Alcott

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Little Women | Part 1, Chapters 7–9 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 7: Amy's Valley of Humiliation

Amy gets money from her sister Meg to buy a bag of pickled limes to treat her classmates. Amy feels she must pay a debt to all her friends who have been treating her up until now. The limes are all the rage among the young adolescent set, but they are forbidden at school. Mr. Davis, Amy's teacher, finds her contraband and forces her to throw the limes out. He strikes her palms and makes her stand on a punishment platform until recess. Mrs. March does not believe in corporal punishment, doesn't like Mr. Davis's teaching style, and believes the girls Amy is associating with may not be doing her much good, so she decides to pull Amy out of school and have her study at home.

Chapter 8: Jo Meets Apollyon

Laurie invites Meg and Jo to a play, and when Amy tries to tag along, Jo prevents her from doing so. To take revenge on Jo, Amy burns her Jo's stories, which she has been working on for several years. While the family sees this as a "small loss," for Jo it is a "dreadful calamity." Amy begs Jo's forgiveness, but Jo refuses to forgive her. Later, Jo and Laurie go skating, and he warns Jo away from thin ice. Amy is following behind, but Jo turns her back and does not pass the warning on. Jo is horrified when Amy falls through the ice and assists Laurie in the rescue. Mortified by her own rage, Jo confesses her feelings to Marmee. To her surprise, her mother says, "I am angry nearly every day of my life, Jo, but I have learned not to show it, and I still hope to learn not to feel it, though it may take me another forty years." Her mother explains that Mr. March has helped her to curb her temper. Jo sincerely resolves to correct this fault in herself.

Chapter 9: Meg Goes to Vanity Fair

Annie Moffat has invited Meg to visit her for a fortnight (two weeks). The Moffats are a fashionable and well-to-do family, and Meg finds herself envying Annie's "pretty things" and wishing she were rich. When Laurie sends Meg flowers, the women begin to gossip and then invite Laurie to the dance. Meg is prevailed upon to borrow a fancy gown, and the girls dress her and trim her like a fine lady. When Laurie sees Meg, he is put off by her "fuss and feathers" but promises not to tell the family. Later, Meg tells her mother everything and mentions that people were talking as if the Marches were deliberately making plans to match wealthy Laurie with one of the girls. Marmee says she is ambitious for her daughters but would rather see them happy as "poor men's wives," than as "queens on thrones, without self-respect and peace." She also notes that it would be better for them to be "old maids than unhappy wives, or unmaidenly girls."

Analysis

The important role money plays in comfort and happiness comes up again in these chapters. Both Amy and Meg suffer because of the family's poverty. Amy is keenly aware of the disparity between herself and the other girls when sharing the limes. Her sister Meg helps her by loaning her the money to buy limes, but the episode ends badly, with Amy being punished by her teacher. Similarly, when Meg goes to "Vanity Fair" (a reference to The Pilgrim's Progress, in which Christian is temporarily waylaid), she allows herself to be dressed in the finery of her more prosperous friends and is punished with Laurie's disapproval as well as her own guilty conscience. Both girls realize they must learn to be happy with less.

At the Moffats, Meg's friends and their parents notice Laurie's attentions and immediately jump to the conclusion that Mrs. March is angling to catch the rich Laurie as a suitor for her daughter, which couldn't be further from the truth. Marmee explains to her daughters that while wealth is not a bad thing, her sole desire is that they enter into happy marriages. She would rather see them single than unhappy or acting without propriety, which is a radical stance for the time period. Thus, she gives them permission to stay single and remain within the family circle.

The theme of the woman as artist arises in Chapter 8, where Jo's aspirations play second fiddle to the necessity of being patient and forbearing with her sister and forgiving her misdeeds. Amy burns a set of fairy tales—"the loving work of several years." From the perspective of any artist, this ranks as a most heinous crime. And yet, the reaction of the family to her offense seems understated. Amy does ask Jo's forgiveness, but it is understandable why Jo will not accept Amy's apology. Jo learns the harsh lesson that her anger may lead to another person's harm, and Marmee teaches her that anger must be contained at all costs, as hers has been contained with the help of her husband. It is hard not to read this episode as a covert message of resentment that women must be muzzled. While anger can be destructive, it is also sometimes righteous or creative. But there is no room for any type of anger in the March household. Jo's temper may also be why she is frequently associated with burning. This time her stories burn, but in earlier chapters, she tries to hide the dress she burned, and she accidentally burns her sister's curls. Jo is also described as a person who is constantly breaking things, perhaps as a displacement mechanism to release some of the passionate feelings she is trying to subdue.

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