Little Women
Louisa May Alcott
Contributed by Sherie Debus
Chapters 11-15
Summary

Summary — Chapter 11: Experiments

During the summer, Meg and Jo are free from their duties as the King family, for whom Meg is the governess, and Aunt March go on vacation. Meg and Jo are a relieved lot and decide to do nothing at all with their newfound freedom. Amy and Beth also take a break from their studies. The girls neglect their household chores for almost a week; Marmee and Hannah too take a day off as well. On that day, the girls fail to run the household affairs smoothly. Marmee soon teaches everyone a lesson about the importance of doing at least a little work.

Summary — Chapter 12: Camp Laurence

One fine morning in July, Meg finds that someone has put one glove in the postbox. She wonders where the other one has gone as she lost the pair but only one has been found. Along with the glove there is a German song translated by Mr. Brooke, Laurie’s tutor. Laurie has sent an invitation to a picnic scheduled for the next day.The March girls attend the picnic along with other guests: Sallie Gardiner, Ned Moffat, Annie Moffat’s older brother; Mr. Brooke, Laurie’s British friends, Fred and Kate Vaughn; and their siblings, Frank and Grace Vaughn. During the picnic, Fred cheats in a game of cricket, Jo notices it and is greatly annoyed, but manages to control her temper. When Kate comes to know that Meg works as a lowly governess, she first behaves rudely and then patronizingly. Mr. Brooke supports Meg and the two engage in a long conversation. Grace and Amy chat about ponies and Europe and Beth strikes a conversation with Frank, who has a hurt leg. As the picnic comes to an end, even a condescending Kate has changed her opinion about the sisters and says that American girls are nice.

Summary — Chapter 13: Castles in the Air

Laurie swings idly on his hammock and notices the March girls going towards a hill. The sisters do work like knitting, sewing, drawing and reading there. Laurie asks them if he may join them, they agree under the condition that he contribute something useful and conform to the work ethic of the girls’ Busy Bee Society. Accordingly, Laurie contributes by reading a book to the sisters. All the five friends discuss their dreams even as they are working:
Laurie wants to be a famous musician, Jo a famous author, and Amy a famous artist. Meg wants to be rich so that she does not have to work, and Beth wants everyone to be happy and together. Jo advises Laurie to run away from his grandfather and pursue his dream of becoming a musician. Meg, however, tells Laurie to ignore Jo’s advice and be good to both his grandfather and Mr. Brooke; Laurie follows Meg’s advice.

Summary — Chapter 14: Secrets

Laurie swings idly on his hammock and notices the March girls going towards a hill. The sisters do work like knitting, sewing, drawing and reading there. Laurie asks them if he may join them, they agree under the condition that he contribute something useful and conform to the work ethic of the girls’ Busy Bee Society. Accordingly, Laurie contributes by reading a book to the sisters. All the five friends discuss their dreams even as they are working:
Laurie wants to be a famous musician, Jo a famous author, and Amy a famous artist. Meg wants to be rich so that she does not have to work, and Beth wants everyone to be happy and together. Jo advises Laurie to run away from his grandfather and pursue his dream of becoming a musician. Meg, however, tells Laurie to ignore Jo’s advice and be good to both his grandfather and Mr. Brooke; Laurie follows Meg’s advice.

Summary — Chapter 15: A Telegram

By the time November comes, everyone is glum. Marmee gets a telegram that Mr. March is ill and that she is required to look after him in Washington, D.C. Marmee sends Laurie to Aunt March for money and Beth to ask Mr. Laurence for wine. Jo, in an eagerness to help the family, runs out to find a way to contribute. Later, Mr. Laurence advises Mr. Brooke to accompany Marmee as a travel companion and she gratefully accepts Mr. Brooke’s company. Jo earns twenty-five dollars by selling her hair and returns home with the money. Amy is horrified to see that Jo has lost her “one beauty". Jo, however, is not concerned at that moment. But late at night she cries a little for having lost her hair.

Analysis

Alcott emphasizes the importance of work and suggests that idleness does not in any way lead to happiness in Chapter 11. Alcott treats domestic work such as cleaning, teaching children and nursing the sick as an unfortunate duty. There is nothing particularly challenging or rewarding in these endeavor for women, but she also gives a message that idleness is an inadequate alternative. In Chapter 12, the author stresses the importance of work again, indicating that it is an American value. In this chapter, Kate Vaughn, Laurie’s British friend, acts as a foil to Meg. While both the women are intelligent and attractive, Kate, the lady of leisure, is shown as snobby, insensitive, and unkind. Meg, on the other hand, is hardworking, unpretentious and sweet-natured.

Laurie, in Chapter 13, feels bad that the March sisters have not included him in their Busy Bee Society. Scholar Nina Auerbach suggests that this scene implies that a society of women can be complete without men. It is Laurie who wants to join the women and not the other way around. Auerbach believes that many critics feel that Little Women often portrays an all-female world as paradise. When the March girls and Laurie express their goals, Jo, Laurie and Amy are different from the rest of the group in having big, ambitious dreams — none of them is very keen about marriage. Beth and Meg, however, are in the process of conforming to the traditional roles of the society of the time. Meg wants to have husband, family and a household. Beth is the perfect 19th century woman who is “perfectly satisfied” and has no desires.

Alcott may have given the title of this chapter 'Castles in the Air' from Henry David Thoreau’s book Walden Pond, a transcendentalist work that advocates building castles in the air i.e. dreaming and then building the foundation for it. Alcott implies that Jo, Amy, and Laurie have already built their castles in the air but are being stopped by their traditional gender roles from realizing them. By the end of the chapter, Laurie is almost ready to sacrifice his pursuit of music, a feminine field, and take up his grandfather’s dream for him. In Chapter 14, the characters of Meg and Jo begin to mature as women and move in different directions as reflected by the role that each chooses for herself. Meg matures as an elegant lady and waits for her future to come to her. Jo, on the other hand, achieves her independence through her work in terms of her income and creativity. She leaves her house and goes out into the male world of newspapers. Jo even cuts off her hair, losing her femininity, to perform the role of stereotypical male providing money for the family.

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