Literature Study GuidesLittle WomenPart 2 Chapters 42 44 Summary

Little Women | Study Guide

Louisa May Alcott

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Little Women | Part 2, Chapters 42–44 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 42: All Alone

Jo finds it hard to keep her promise to Beth when she is feeling so much despair over losing her sister. Marmee encourages her to again take up her pen, and Jo writes a simple story, which her father sends to a popular magazine and which receives high praise. She continues to write and earn money for additional stories in a new style. Jo is pleased when she hears of Amy and Laurie's engagement, but she admits to her mother she is lonely and open to romantic love. When she is alone, she thinks about Professor Bhaer and hopes he might visit.

Chapter 43: Surprises

Jo sits musing the night before her 25th birthday, thinking she is "[a] literary spinster, with a pen for a spouse, a family of stories for children, and twenty years hence a morsel of fame, perhaps." The narrator then breaks in to deliver a passionate speech about dealing kindly with single women who never marry. Jo is dozing and is suddenly wakened by Laurie, who is just home with his grandfather and married to Amy. After some joking, Laurie frankly tells Jo he still loves her but his love has changed, as she has changed places with Amy in his heart. Jo responds that she will miss her boy but love the man just as much, and they will be brother and sister. While the family gets reacquainted, Jo hears a knock at the door and opens it to find Professor Bhaer. She is overjoyed to see him and pulls him in, introducing him to her parents and the rest of the family. Bhaer says he will come again since he is in the city for several days on business; Mrs. March pronounces him "a good one."

Chapter 44: My Lord and Lady

Laurie tells the Marches he plans to go into business and playfully predicts they will start a salon (literary discussion group). Laurie realizes the professor intends to marry Jo, and Amy says his age and lack of wealth don't matter if they love each other. Laurie reassures his wife that he does not feel any twinges of regret about Jo. Amy wishes they could help the new couple financially and plans to look for opportunities to do so. Amy also wants to help "poor gentle folks" and "ambitious girls." Laurie agrees they should use their money to help those in need rather than accumulate it "for others to waste." Their ideas about philanthropy make them feel closer to each other.

Analysis

Jo returns to her writing at the encouragement of her parents, having found a new style that people like and of which her father approves. The narrator does not clarify what kinds of stories they are, but they may be moral tales. Jo says, "If there is anything good or true in what I write, it isn't mine. I owe it all to you and Mother and Beth." In saying this to her father, she also renounces the credit for her "little stories," once again belittled by both their author and the narrator. The narrator refers to Jo's stories as "humble wanderers" that find their way in a "charitable world" where they are "kindly welcomed" and then send home "comfortable tokens to their mother." At least poor Jo is getting paid for her efforts. Broken by her grief over Beth's death, Jo admits to feeling lonely, with all her sisters gone, and her thoughts turn to Professor Bhaer. After all she has been through, Jo is finally ready to put aside her freedom and consider matrimony.

As Jo broods on her status as a literary spinster, the narrator interjects a remarkable homily, and the reader cannot help but feel that Alcott is talking directly to her audience when she charges boys to "serve womankind, regardless of rank, age, or color." She asks them to remember how their spinster aunts nursed and petted them, helped them out of scrapes, and offered them other kind services, for which they should be grateful. The narrator seems to be making a case for recognizing that single women have value even if they never do anything remarkable or produce their own children.

In a fortuitous turn of events, Laurie, Amy, and Professor Bhaer show up on the Marches' doorstep on the same night. Thus, Jo is reunited with her sister and best friend and has a glimmer of hope that she may expect something more than friendship from the kindly professor.

Amy has changed as a result of her own physical and spiritual journey. She is resigned to the fact that she will never be a great artist, and she has taken Laurie's advice and turned down Fred Vaughn, refusing to marry him for money. While Fred has more money than Laurie, Amy still has managed to marry well. Of all the girls, she is the most successful from a conventional point of view since she marries for love and ends up with money, too.

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