The upcoming Christmas looked like it would be a bleak affair
to the four March girls. With their father at the Civil War
battlefront, and their saintly mother, Marmee, as they called her,
working to support her family, the holiday would be void of many of its
traditional pleasures. With the dollar Marmee said they might spend,
the girls each settled on buying simple gifts for their mother and for
the Hummel family down the road; and receiving, in kind, surprise
treats of ice cream and bonbons from rich old Mr. Lawrence next door.
The girls resolved to face life as Pilgrims, to
overcome their weaknesses, and be "good little women" by the time their
father returned. The oldest, Meg, determined to enjoy her work more and
fret less about her looks. The tomboy, Jo, pledged to better control
her temper, upgrade her writing abilities and develop feminine
qualities. Amy desired to be less selfish and less vain concerning her
beautiful golden hair. Everyone believed Beth, the home-body, to be
perfect, but she earnestly prayed to overcome her fear of people. The
girls labored for the next year to acquire these qualities, with much
success and occasional failure.
At year's end, Meg confidently and excitedly
attended a fashionable New Year's dance. She talked Jo into
accompanying her, but Jo didn't care much for "girls or girlish
gossip," and felt as much out of place as a "colt in a flower garden."
Running from a prospective dance-mate, Jo hid behind a curtain. But she
wasn't the only bashful one. To her surprise, there she met little
Theodore Lawrence, or "Laurie," as everyone referred to him, the new
next-door-neighbor boy. Awkwardly, they introduced themselves, but as
they peeped through the curtain together, gossiping and chatting, they
soon felt like old acquaintances. A lifelong friendship was formed.
Laurie had been orphaned as a baby and now lived with his crusty
Grandfather Lawrence in his great mansion. In the March family, Laurie
found a circle of sisters and a mother he never knew; and they found,
in him, a brother and a son.
Through that year, the girls learned to be happy
in their work. Meg, by spending two weeks at the estate of a wealthy
girl friend, discovered how wonderful her own home life was, even if
her family was poor. Jo detected that she was not the only one
struggling with outbursts of anger. Much to her amazement, her mother
also possessed a hidden temper. This knowledge helped Jo believe she
could, with effort, control hers. After all, her great wish was to
become a famous romance writer; reaching that goal would require
discipline. Jo's romantic novels were soon published. Amy continued to
grow more beautiful, but also came to understand the need for humility.
After being embarrassingly reprimanded before the whole school, she
began to understand that "conceit spoils the finest genius." And Beth
remained extremely shy, but was still the heart and joy of her family.
Everyone, especially Jo, came to gentle Beth for comfort.
One winter day, a telegram arrived from the war
department: Mr. March was critically ill. Heartsick by this news,
Marmee felt she needed to be with her husband. With no money to spare,
Joe offered to sell her only vanity - her long, flowing chestnut hair.
The sacrifice, though tearfully made, brought twenty-five dollars, and
financed the trip. Mr. Lawrence sent along John Brooke, Laurie's tutor,
to assist Mrs. March in her journey. Both Mr. and Mrs. March grew to be
very fond of John - and he, in turn, became very fond of Meg.
Back at home, dark days were to visit the little
women. Patterning herself after her mother, Beth continued to care for
the large, impoverished Hummel family. One night she returned home
depressed and crying. She had just held the Hummel baby in her arms as
he died of Scarlet Fever. Beth also contracted the fever, becoming much
more infirm than anyone expected. It was a somber time for all, as she
hovered near death. Fearing the worst, the girls finally telegraphed
their mother of Beth's deteriorating condition. But the very night
Marmee returned, Beth's crisis passed and her health improved. It was a
happy family that welcomed their mother home.
As the second Christmas arrived, the girls
anticipated their father's homecoming. Their joy was complete when
Laurie arrived and announced, "Here's another Christmas present for the
March family," and in walked their father. During the jubilant family
reunion, Mr. March admired his family, reflecting on how the girls had
changed over the years. Meg had defeated much of her vanity, and had
cultivated industry and the womanly skills to create a happy home. Jo
had become a gentle young lady, who dressed properly and no longer used
slang. He noticed that Amy now took the poorer cut of meat, waited on
everyone with patience and humor, and seldom gazed at herself in the
mirror. As for Beth, her father simply held her near, grateful she was
still alive. They all agreed Mr. March's absence had been a productive
period, and that the girls were becoming little women of great talent,
beauty and grace.
Three years passed. Much to Jo's initial horror,
she saw the family begin to split up when Meg became Mrs. John Brooke.
Like all new wives, Meg learned the art of homemaking and how to
organize and spend money frugally. Shortly, twins, Daisy and Demi,
arrived. Meg discovered that John, too, could help take care of the
children, as she began to include him even more in her life.
Jo also had matured, and her friend, Laurie, fell
more deeply in love with her. Despite all her efforts to change his
heart, Laurie proposed marriage. Jo, devoted to her writing and
publishing, was dismayed because she could never love Laurie more than
as a brother, and refused his proposal. Brokenhearted, Laurie left with
his uncle on a tour of Europe. But Laurie was not the only one voyaging
to Europe; Amy was traveling there, accompanying her rich aunt. She
soon learned some of life's harsher lessons. To her initial
disappointment, she first detected that she would never be a great
artist. She also came to recognize that marrying for money rather than
love would not lead to happiness. Inevitably, Amy's and Laurie's paths
crossed and they each gradually grew in love for the other. To the
delight of all, they too were wed.
But at home the family grieved a great loss. Beth,
never fully recovered from the fever, had slowly faded away, no longer
to sit contentedly by the fire knitting and smiling. Jo unearthed a
great emptiness in her heart and life after her sister's death. Meg and
John, and Amy and Laurie were happily married. Though Jo had resolved
never to marry, still she felt an awful loneliness as she wondered what
direction her life should take. While struggling with these feelings, a
tutor entered her life, Professor Bhaer. He was an older, German
gentleman, filled wit'n a genteel love. People turned to him because of
the compassion he so freely gave, akin to Beth's spirit. This love
healed Jo. They married and opened a "school for lads, a good, happy
homelike school." Jo looked after the boys while the professor taught
them in the large, Plumfield home, willed to Jo by her aunt.
As the sisters gathered together to celebrate
Marmee's birthday, they agreed that their lives were happy, rich and
full. The little women had become cultured, confident young ladies.
There at the table, surrounded by her children and grandchildren, along
with one empty chair, symbolizing their love for Beth, sat the
contented mother. She wished that such a moment could last forever.