HomeLiterature Study GuidesLittle WomenPart 2 Chapters 30 32 Summary

Little Women | Study Guide

Louisa May Alcott

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Little Women | Part 2, Chapters 30–32 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 30: Consequences

Amy has agreed to participate in Mrs. Chester's fair and is offered the art table, which entails a considerable amount of work. But the day before the fair opens, Mrs. Chester takes the prized table away because her daughter May heard about Jo's performance and unfairly blames Amy for making fun of her. Amy acts with great restraint and class, taking the inferior flower table. With the help of Laurie and his friends, Amy's table is a great success, and she sells everything on it. When Jo compliments Amy for keeping calm, she reveals that she wants to rise above "the little meannesses and follies and faults that spoil so many women" and hopes "in time to be what Mother is." Jo learns that she has not been chosen to accompany her cousin Flo and Aunt Carrol to Europe and must swallow her disappointment as best she can.

Chapter 31: Our Foreign Correspondent

This chapter is a series of letters from Amy, written from Europe. She travels by boat with her aunt, uncle, and cousin and sees London, Paris, and Heidelberg, as well as many other stops along the way. The party runs into Fred and Frank Vaughn, Laurie's English friends, and they begin traveling together. Fred courts Amy, and she tells her family that if he asks her to marry him, she will say yes since he is kind, well-bred, generous, and very rich. When Fred must leave abruptly because his brother is sick, Amy implicitly gives him hope.

Chapter 32: Tender Troubles

Marmee is worried about Beth and asks Jo to talk to her. Beth seems despondent, and at first Jo thinks she might be in love with Laurie. The rest of the family believes Laurie is in love with Jo although she ignores the evidence. Jo continues to watch her sister and hears her sob in pain during the night, but Beth makes light of it. After she can no longer deny Laurie is making advances, Jo decides to go away for awhile to separate herself from him. Mrs. Kirke, an old friend of her mother's, needs someone to sew and teach her children. She runs a boardinghouse in New York, and Marmee agrees a change will be good for Jo. The two women discuss Laurie, and Jo confesses she loves him only as a friend. Marmee says she thinks they would be ill-matched as a couple anyway since they are too much alike.

Analysis

Amy continues to cultivate her refinement as a young lady, and even after the Chesters unfairly punish her for Jo's behavior by demoting her to a less prestigious table at the fair, she does not respond in kind. She is rewarded when Laurie and his friends show up and rescue her. Amy also expresses a genuine desire to rise above meanness and emulate her mother, who is considered by her daughters as the paragon of female virtue. Thus, Amy continues to strive for the perfection the March sisters have promised to pursue in their "pilgrim's progress." Once Amy is in Europe, she decides she will marry for money and finds no moral problem with this decision since Fred Vaughn is good, well-bred, and generous. Amy combines the virtues of the Marches with her own practicality in carrying out worldly affairs.

Meanwhile, Laurie is attempting to court Jo with little success, and she conflates his attentions with her concern for her sister. She does not want to believe her sister is physically ill and instead invents the idea that Beth is in love with Laurie. She thinks Laurie might transfer his affection if she gets out of the way. Jo's decision to work in New York allows her to avoid both the growing attentions of Laurie and the growing manifestations of her sister's sickness, which is probably rheumatic heart trouble brought on by her bout with scarlet fever. Like Jo, Marmee agrees Jo and Laurie are a bad match because they are too similar in temperament. It can be argued that this is exactly why they are a good match. They are friends and peers, and Laurie would no doubt support Jo's artistic pursuits. But perhaps Alcott cannot conceive how their equal relationship can segue into a marital relationship; the woman must play a subordinate role in the romantic dyad, and Alcott cannot allow Jo marital equality. According to critic Ann Murphy, Jo is rejecting heterosexual passion in rejecting Laurie because "within the confines of this text and of heterosexuality, [she cannot] find any way to act out her own desires." When she finally turns to Professor Bhaer, she does so out of feelings of need and loss.

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