© 2014 Shmoop University, Inc. All rights reserved.
Little Women

Little Women

by Louisa May Alcott

Little Women Chapter 29 Summary

Calls

  • Amy reminds Jo that she has promised to make six calls with her today. (Historical Context Lesson: it was a common nineteenth-century practice for the middle and upper classes, especially the women, to "call on" one another. These "calls" were formal visits during which gossip was the main pastime. They took place at specific times of day, often mid-morning, and everyone knew that they should be ready to receive visitors at those times. If someone called on you, it was polite to return the call within a certain period of time, so Amy has a mental list of friends and neighbors to whom the Marches "owe" return calls.)
  • Jo really doesn't want to make the calls, but Amy insists that they had a deal – she finished a sketch of Beth for Jo, and Jo promised to help her call on their neighbors.
  • Jo reluctantly agrees to accompany Amy, puts her sewing aside, and picks up her hat and gloves. Amy is distressed to learn that Jo intends to call on people wearing old, casual clothes. She wheedles her sister into getting dressed properly.
  • Jo obeys Amy's instructions about what to wear and how to do her hair. Amy makes sure that both of them look absolutely perfect before they leave the house.
  • Amy and Jo finally get underway; Hannah watches them go and is proud of their appearance.
  • The first call that Amy and Jo make is at the home of the Chesters. Before they go in, Amy gives Jo pointers on how to behave, telling her to be "calm, cool, and quiet."
  • Jo follows the letter of Amy's instructions, but not the spirit. She gives one-word answers to everything and acts excessively dignified. Mrs. Chester and her daughters try to draw her out by asking about her writing, but she remains aloof.
  • As they leave the Chester home, they hear one of the women say that Jo is haughty and uninteresting. Amy is frustrated with Jo and tells her that she should be more personable and should gossip and chat with the women as they visit.
  • The next visit is to the home of the Lambs. Here Jo again follows the precise letter of her instructions – in fact, she does a mean imitation of May Chester, Mrs. Chester's daughter, and gossips and giggles and goes completely over the top.
  • The Lambs are especially amused by Jo's anecdotes about Amy's silly childhood escapades. Amy is desperately embarrassed as Jo tells stories about how she learned to ride on a clothes-horse and once carried a saddle on her head across a stream to ride a neighbor's horse.
  • Things only get worse for Amy as Jo receives a compliment on her hat – and reveals to everyone that Amy painted an old straw hat to make it nice and fashionable again. When the Lambs are intrigued, Jo reveals that Amy once painted an old white pair of boots blue to make them look like satin. Amy is ashamed that everyone knows that they are too poor to afford new accessories.
  • Miss Lamb compliments Jo on one of her short stories, and Jo brushes off the compliment. Unfortunately, Jo's modesty seems like an insult to Miss Lamb's taste.
  • Jo realizes that she has offended Miss Lamb and abruptly breaks off the visit. As Jo and Amy leave, Jo is very satisfied with her performance, but Amy is almost in tears.
  • At the next house (we don't learn the name of the family), Amy washes her hands of Jo. They find that a mutual friend, Mr. Tudor, is also calling on the family. Amy chats with the hostess and Mr. Tudor while Jo plays with the young men and children in the family.
  • Jo is dragged off to see a pet turtle belonging to one of the boys. Amy lets herself enjoy chatting with Mr. Tudor, who is a British aristocrat. Amy's social-climbing heart really enjoys hobnobbing with the titled upper classes.
  • After an appropriate time (it was rude to stay too long), Amy politely begins to end the visit. She goes to find Jo and is distressed to find her sister sitting on the lawn in her best dress, a dog lying on her skirt, the children gathered around her, telling a somewhat inappropriate story about a practical joke that Laurie played.
  • As they leave, Amy doesn't comment on Jo's ragged appearance, but does ask why her sister doesn't like Mr. Tudor. Jo says that he is immoral – he treats his family badly and Laurie says he is "fast," which probably means that he wastes money, has mistresses, gambles, drinks, or does other things considered improper.
  • Jo and Amy debate the way that Jo treats people. Amy says that Jo should have respect for Mr. Tudor's rank and position. Jo says that she has more respect for the grocer's son, Tommy Chamberlain, because he is a good person.
  • Amy and Jo's next visit is to the home of the Kings. (Presumably these are the same Kings that Meg worked for as a governess and nursemaid.) The Kings aren't home, so Amy leaves a card. (More Historical Context: In the nineteenth century, middle- and upper-class people had personal or family cards, sort of like business cards. These cards had their names and maybe a family emblem or design, and they were left behind to indicate that you had called on someone when they weren't home. If you cards left by really high-class people, like lords or princesses, you might even display them in your living room to impress your snobby friends.)
  • At the fifth house, Amy and Jo are told that the family is "engaged," which probably means that they already have callers and can't comfortably fit any more people in their living room. (OK, we're saying "living room," but they would have called the room where they received callers a "drawing room." Unless they decided to receive the callers in the library, or the parlor, or the salon, or...well, you get the idea. These people are rich. They've got a lot of rooms to choose from.)
  • The last call that Jo and Amy need to make is to their Aunt March's house. Jo wants to skip it and go home, because they can see Aunt March any time, but Amy says that Aunt March likes to see them pay formal visits, too.
  • Jo sighs and comments on what a good person Amy is; being polite to people and pleasing them seems to come naturally to Amy, but it's very difficult for Jo.
  • Amy and Jo discuss politeness. Jo thinks it is essential that women show their disapproval of immoral men – hence the way that she snubs Mr. Tudor. Amy thinks that it doesn't do any good when they are rude to him, and it helps them when they are polite.
  • When Amy and Jo call on Aunt March, they find their other aunt, Aunt Carrol, visiting also. The two women have been discussing something intently, but they stop when the girls come in.
  • Aunt Carrol asks Amy if she is going to help with the fair – apparently there is going to be a local craft fair. Amy says yes, and that Mrs. Chester, who is organizing the fair, has asked her to be in charge of a table.
  • Aunt Carrol and Aunt March are pleased at Amy's deference toward Mrs. Chester and willingness to accept favors gracefully. Jo says that she hates taking favors from anyone, and her aunts exchange a significant look.
  • Aunt Carrol asks Amy if she speaks French. Amy says that she does, because Aunt March's maid, Esther, taught her.
  • Next Aunt Carrol asks Jo what languages she knows. Jo says that she doesn't know any and isn't any good with languages.
  • Aunt Carrol talks to Amy about her long-term dream to go to Rome and continue studying art. She says that she's sure Amy will get to go someday.
  • As the girls leave, Aunt March tells Aunt Carrol that she should do "it," whatever "it" is, and that she (Aunt March) will pay for it.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement