Little Women
Louisa May Alcott
Contributed by Sherie Debus
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Chapters 6-10
Summary

Summary — Chapter 6: Beth Finds the Palace Beautiful

The March girls start mingling with the Laurences and spend more time in their house. Meg loves to walk in the greenhouse and Amy admires the artwork there. Beth is particularly fond of Mr. Laurence’s piano but is afraid of him too and does not venture far inside the house. Mr. Laurence comes to know of Beth’s fears and visits the Marches’ house one night. He rues the fact that no one plays the piano and informs Beth that no one is around the house during the day. Assured, she decides to visit the house during the day and play the piano. Beth, however, is unaware that Mr. Laurence sometimes leaves his door open to hear her play. When Beth plays the piano, Mr. Laurence is reminded of his beloved granddaughter who passed away.

After some days, Beth makes Mr. Laurence a pair of slippers to show her gratitude. He, in turn, sends her the little piano that his granddaughter owned. Beth is thrilled to see it. Jo advises Beth to go and thank him but is of the view that her shy sister would never do it. Beth surprises everyone by marching over to Mr. Laurence’s house and kissing him on his cheek. A friendship is solidified between the two.

Summary — Chapter 7: Amy’s Valley of Humiliation

At Amy’s school, the girls indulge in a fashionable treat of those times — trading pickles. Amy receives many limes but is tense that she does not have the money to buy limes for her friends in return. Meg takes pity on her little sister and gives her money to buy some limes. Amy tells her adversary, a girl named Miss Snow, that she will not give any limes to her. Seeking revenge, Miss Snow informs the teacher, who has forbidden limes in class, of Amy’s stock. The teacher asks Amy to throw the limes out the window and hits her on the palm. As a punishment, she also makes her stand at the front of the classroom until recess. Amy goes home during the recess and tells her family about the incident. The Marches are not sorry for her punishment as she did a wrong thing but are upset that the teacher hit her on the palm. Marmee decides to give Amy a vacation from school and wants her to learn at home with Beth.

Summary — Chapter 8: Jo Meets Apollyon

Jo and Meg are going to watch a play with Laurie, and Amy wants to join them too. Jo does not like it and says that she cannot go because she was not invited. Angered, Amy tells Jo that she will repent. During the play, Jo is remorseful for her behavior with her little sister. When the girls reach home, Amy ignores Jo. The next day, Jo's manuscript goes missing and it is learnt that Amy burnt it. Jo is really angry with Amy and says she will never forgive Amy for this as that book was her pride and joy. Amy apologises for her mistake and Marmee cautions Jo not to “let the sun go down upon her anger,” but Jo is not ready to forgive Amy. Next day, Jo and Laurie go skating and Amy tries to follow them. Laurie warns Jo that the ice is thin in the middle but Jo does not tell this to Amy. The little girl falls through the ice, and Jo suffers a moment of brain-fade, paralyzed with fear. Laurie, however, saves Amy just in time. At home, Jo admits to Marmee that her anger is the biggest shortcoming in her. Marmee, on her part, admits that she too struggles to control her anger. Jo is completely taken by surprise with this revelation, for Marmee has always been a perfectly calm person. Finally, Amy and Jo patch up and are friends again.

Summary — Chapter 9: Meg Goes to Vanity Fair

Meg plans to stay with her wealthy, fashionable friend, Annie Moffat, and packs all of her nicest clothes but wishes she had more. At Moffats, Meg and Annie visit friends, go to plays and give parties. At the first party, Meg wears simple clothes and hears people gossip that Meg’s mother must be looking for Meg to marry Laurie for his money. At the next party, the Moffat girls insist on dressing Meg in borrowed finery. She is a bit embarrassed but enjoys playing the role of a fashionable girl. Laurie is also at the party and he rebukes Meg for being so frivolous. Laurie's reprimand makes Meg regret her irresponsible actions. Meg comes home and tells Marmee and Jo how she overheard gossip about herself and Laurie. Marmee tells the sisters that she has no such plans for Meg. She only hopes that the girls stay happy in youth and in marriage, and all are always good, adding that she hopes that they understand that appearances are shallow. True love is built on something deeper than money, she says.

Summary — Chapter 10: The P.C. and P.O.

In the spring time, the girls develop an interest in gardening. They also run a society for arts and letters, the Pickwick Club, modeled on an all-male society in Charles Dickens’s novel The Pickwick Papers. The girls hold meetings of the club and produce a newsletter each week, with advertisements, poems, and stories. During one of those meetings, Jo proposes that they invite Laurie to join the club. Amy and Meg are horrified by this proposal from Jo; they do not like the idea of a boy making fun of them. Finally, they give in, only to realise that Laurie has been hiding in the closet all this while. He gifts the club a postal box to be installed between the houses so that the March sisters and Laurie may pass things back and forth.

Analysis

In the chapter 5 to 10, each girl takes a step ahead from childhood to adulthood by overcoming a fault successfully. First, Beth must overcome her shyness to pursue her musical hobby. She does it successfully and gets a piano in reward. Her gratitude beats her shyness as she goes to Mr. Laurence’s house and kisses him in thanks. Beth’s affection to Mr. Laurence also symbolises that she is the most old-fashioned of the sisters. She is most eager to play traditional female roles for an old patriarch who is the head of a household. Mr. Laurence is a benevolent presence in the story but he also symbolises oppressive male behavior. He does not approve of Laurie's dream of becoming a musician, a culturally feminine pursuit. Instead, Mr. Laurence wants Laurie to be a man with a professional career in business. His rewarding of the March family's selflessness on Christmas with a feast reinforces the gender stereotype of the selfless woman taken care of by a man.

In Chapter 7, Amy is overwhelmed with the humiliation and unfairness of her punishment to think about the actual crime that results in the punishment. Amy is concerned with appearances only. When her mother rebukes her for being arrogant, Amy understands what is said to her. Amy admires the fact that Laurie is both accomplished and modest. Amy says, "It’s nice to have accomplishments, and be elegant; but not to show off.” The reader understands that Amy has realised the value of humility. Of all the four sisters, Amy is the most vain and difficult but Alcott makes these flaws as charming and as the product of Amy’s youthful folly. Alcott suggests that Amy’s heart is in the right place and she has the capacity to improve. Jo’s anger at the burning of her writing, the art with which she tries to transcend the limitations of her gender, is shown as understandable but also dangerous. It is clear that Jo would be angry with Amy but it is dangerous that Jo is completely overpowered by this violent reaction. Nevertheless, Jo’s anger is an important part of her character. Similarly, Marmee’s confession that “I am angry nearly every day of my life,” shows that anger is also a flaw her character as well. Critics often point out the underlying feminist theme of such an admission. The author may be implying that even wise, patient mothers are, or have a right to be, angry at their oppression.
In Chapter 9, Meg’s attraction to the luxury sets her up as an example of how materialistic desires have a potential to corrupt a good person. Amy's longing of Annie Moffat’s life and her desire for finery and riches of her own is a prime example of it. Laurie’s angry reminder to her at the ball makes it clear that she should not put on airs or pretend to be someone she is not.

Throughout the novel, Alcott condemns judging people by their outwardly experience. It is not shameful to be poor or to be a woman, she says. Alcott placing the mind and soul over outwardly appearance reflects her transcendental values. The March sisters copying the all-male society of Dickens’s novel is portrayed as humorous in the novel but the club’s activities also bring out the limited role of women in the 19th-century America. The announcements in the newspaper produced by the girls are also revealing. Firstly, a “Strong-Minded Lecturer” a woman named Miss OranthyBluggage, will give a talk on “Woman and Her Position” and the last mentions a new play presumably written by Jo. These strong feminist announcements are tempered by announcements for a cooking class, “The Dustpan Society", and doll’s clothes. The tone of these announcements is comical but Alcott makes a point that for the March sisters, traditional women’s work and unconventional womanly strength exist side by side.
Alcott makes fun of her own oversimplifying depiction of the sisters in the 'Weekly Report' section of the newspaper: “Meg — Good. Jo — Bad. Beth — Very good. Amy — Middling". The 'Weekly Report' is Alcott’s humorous confession of her own authorial choices.

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