HomeLiterature Study GuidesLittle WomenPart 2 Chapters 27 29 Summary

Little Women | Study Guide

Louisa May Alcott

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Little Women | Part 2, Chapters 27–29 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 27: Literary Lessons

Jo is writing a novel and periodically shuts herself up in her "scribbling suit" (a black woolen pinafore and cap) to fall into her writing "vortex." During these periods she forgets to eat and sleep and is supremely happy. A chance conversation with a stranger gives her the idea to switch from romances to thrillers. She enters a contest, and six weeks later prize money of $100 arrives in the mail. Jo decides to send Beth and Marmee to the seaside for a few months. Her new stories pay better, and she is able to provide necessities for the family as well as extras. Her novel is also accepted by a publisher, although he wants her to make considerable cuts. She also takes everyone else's advice about revisions and ends up publishing to mixed reviews that simply bewilder her. Nevertheless, she earns $300 for her novel.

Chapter 28: Domestic Experiences

Meg and Mr. Brooke are very happy, although married life is not without its trials. Their first serious argument occurs when Mr. Brooke unexpectedly brings home a friend for dinner while Meg is in the middle of her first canning fiasco and thus cannot accommodate him. Both feel they are in the right, but Meg remembers her mother's words: Mr. Brooke has a slow temper that once aroused is hard to quench. Thus, she is the first to apologize. A second incident occurs when Meg overspends on clothes at Sallie Gardiner's urging and buys expensive material to make a dress. Mr. Brooke does not reproach her but forgoes a new winter coat. Meg repents again and sells the material to Sallie so she can buy the coat. After the couple is married a year, Meg delivers twins—a boy and girl nicknamed Demi and Daisy.

Chapter 29: Calls

Amy prevails upon Jo to go with her on a round of social calls—Jo's least favorite occupation. Amy gives her sister a set of instructions about comportment, and Jo bedevils her with extreme compliance. At one house she doesn't speak at all; at another she is excessively social and imitates one of Amy's friends, May Chester, acting with exaggerated charm. Amy tells Jo that "[w]omen should learn to be agreeable, particularly poor ones, for they have no other way of repaying the kindnesses they receive." When the girls finally get to Aunt March's house, Jo shows her most ornery side, saying she doesn't like favors; they make her feel oppressed. What she doesn't know is that the aunts (Aunt Carrol is visiting Aunt March) are deciding which sister will go to Europe, and Jo effectively takes herself out of the running.

Analysis

The theme of woman as artist continues in Chapter 27, which describes the rapture of a writer in the midst of creation as Jo puts on her "scribbling suit" and descends into a "vortex." Her family asks her if genius "burns," which symbolizes the artistic "flame" in Jo's brain as well as the fact that the act of creation takes passion and "burns" the artist—being both a pleasure and pain. Once again, the narrator raises the issue of genius: "She did not think herself a genius by any means, but when the writing fit came on, she gave herself up to it with entire abandon, and led a blissful life, unconscious of want, care, or bad weather." These spells are "all too short to enjoy the happiness which blessed her only at such times, and made these hours worth living, even if they bore no other fruit." Thus, the narrator now indicates that genius is not required to justify a woman's art. Curiously, the happiness Jo experiences in her act of creation is much more vividly and convincingly described by Alcott than marital happiness. Jo's switch from romances to thrillers nets her a considerable increase in income, and her contest earnings pay for a few months of vacation for her mother and sister—not a small achievement. Even so, the little dialogue reserved for Mr. March in the novel includes his criticism of her thriller: "You can do better than this, Jo," he says. "Aim at the highest and never mind the money." Amy opines that the money is the "best part of it," a clear contradiction of her father's view.

Chapter 28 turns to the question of domestic happiness, which hinges in large part on the forbearance of a person's spouse, especially for a woman. When Mr. Brooke unexpectedly brings home a friend in the middle of Meg's canning difficulties, he is disappointed to learn that his wife cannot feed them and he will not be able to showcase his marital bliss. He is irritated, as is Meg, but she quickly gives in because her mother has taught her "peace and happiness depend on keeping his respect." Apparently, Marmee realizes a woman is at the mercy of her husband. Now that Meg is happily ensconced in her little house, her longing for the finer things in life returns. When she overspends, Mr. Brooke does not reproach her but instead makes her feel guilty when he says he cannot afford a new winter coat. Thus, she puts his need ahead of her own and exchanges her silk for a new greatcoat.

Jo's hard lessons continue in Chapter 29 when she comically rebels against Amy's attempts to rein her in while they make social calls. When the girls meet their aunts, Jo brags about her independence and dislike of "patronage." She is referring to Amy's willingness to help the Chesters with their "highly connected fair," but the aunts praise Amy's gratitude and decide to reward her by choosing her to accompany Aunt Carrol to Europe.

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