HomeLiterature Study GuidesLittle WomenPart 2 Chapters 33 35 Summary

Little Women | Study Guide

Louisa May Alcott

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Little Women | Part 2, Chapters 33–35 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 33: Jo's Journal

This chapter is a series of letters from Jo to Marmee and Beth. Her work with Mrs. Kirke goes well, and she makes the acquaintance of a learned German professor, Friedrich Bhaer, and a rich and cultivated spinster, Miss Norton, who takes her to cultural events. Professor Bhaer, close to 40 years of age, is very poor and gives lessons to children. He also takes care of his two orphaned nephews. Professor Bhaer is beloved by all the children in the house, whom he entertains with abandon, as well as by the adults, who appreciate his kindness and generosity. Jo makes friends with the professor and helps Mrs. Kirke take care of him by darning his socks. He finds out, however, and insists that she accept German lessons. Jo reveals in her letters that the friendship is growing and she has more than a little regard for him.

Chapter 34: A Friend

Jo is still haunted by a desire for money, mostly to help her family. Thus, she again takes up writing sensational stories, which she begins selling to the Weekly Volcano. In an effort to find material, Jo combs the newspapers for the most lurid accounts of "accidents, incidents, and crimes" and reads about historical examples of the worst kinds of human behavior to help prime her creative pump. She also ponders what makes Professor Bhaer so likable, despite the fact he is neither handsome, rich, nor famous. Jo determines that "genuine good will toward one's fellow men could beautify and dignify even a stout German teacher." Eventually, Bhaer guesses that Jo has been writing "sensation stories," and he tells her that such tales are like whiskey—poison for the mind. When she is alone, she ponders what he said and decides to burn everything she is currently working on. Jo leaves New York in June and invites Professor Bhaer to come and meet her family and Laurie, who will be graduating college. He immediately thinks Laurie must be a love interest and declines the offer. Bhaer is in love with Jo but believes he doesn't have a chance with her.

Chapter 35: Heartache

Laurie has turned over a new leaf in Jo's absence and ends up graduating with honors. As soon as he has a chance, he confesses his love to Jo, but she must tell him that she doesn't reciprocate his feelings. Laurie accuses her of loving "[t]hat devilish Professor," but she denies it. Laurie can't take no for an answer, so Jo confides in Mr. Laurence. He tries to comfort his grandson and then proposes they go to Europe, where he has some business in London. Laurie agrees, and when he says goodbye, he asks Jo one more time if she won't change her mind; she says that she cannot. Laurie then "straightened himself up ... and went away without another word." On her part, Jo feels "as if she had stabbed her dearest friend, and when he left her without a look behind him, she knew that the boy Laurie never would come again."

Analysis

When Jo gets to New York, she writes to her mother about the German professor, who makes a great impression on her. It is somewhat difficult to understand why Jo would prefer Professor Bhaer to Laurie. She suddenly begins referring to Laurie as "my boy" in Chapter 34 and again in Chapter 35 when she turns him down, apparently distancing herself sexually from him and taking on the role of mother to her old friend. Certainly, a liaison with Professor Bhaer is more in keeping with the self-sacrifice and self-denial that Jo has internalized from her parents. Professor Bhaer is even poorer than Mr. Brooke, reduced to living in a boardinghouse with his two nephews, whom he has promised to raise as Americans. For this reason, he has sacrificed his university career in Germany and now works as a tutor in the United States. Such selflessness is admirable, and as Jo observes Professor Bhaer, she sees he is well-loved by children and adults alike because of his kindness, generosity, and willingness to accept people.

In New York, Jo's "blood & thunder" stories become more titillating as she writes for a newspaper that underpays but still provides enough income. When Professor Bhaer guesses what she is up to, he uses his considerable influence to put a stop to it; indeed, Professor Bhaer is very much a father figure to all, including Jo. He teaches her German, and she highly esteems his opinion. Jo determines once again that she writes trash: "Now she seemed to have on the Professor's mental or moral spectacles ... for the faults of these poor stories glared at her dreadfully and filled her with dismay." She thus decides that money is not worth putting others in moral danger, as Professor Bhaer claims. Nevertheless, she is clearly absorbed in her work even as she devalues her stories in light of the professor's criticism. She still feels compelled to write, which is why she tries her hand at juvenile or moral tales. Unfortunately, she cannot find a style that suits her, so she puts her pen away. The fact that the narrator claims Jo cannot write juvenile fiction is something of an inside joke because by the time Part 2 of Little Women was being written, Part 1 was already wildly successful in the juvenile fiction market. Thus, Alcott does not allow her hapless heroine to imitate life in this regard.

When Jo returns home and Laurie proposes to her, she refuses him. Laurie has a hard time taking no for an answer, so he enlists the help of Mr. Laurence, who steps in to take his grandson away from the scene of his rejection. While Professor Bhaer is in love with Jo, she does not yet know (or will not admit) that she is in love with him. Jo fears the marriage trap, and perhaps she fears sexual contact with a man. In that sense, the virile Laurie might be more threatening than the fatherly Professor Bhaer. Still, it will take more time before she accepts Professor Bhaer as a husband.

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