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Little Women

Little Women

by Louisa May Alcott

Little Women Chapter 36 Summary

Beth's Secret

  • When Jo comes home from New York, she is shocked by how much sicker Beth seems.
  • At first Jo forgets about Beth's illness because she's caught up with Laurie's proposal, but after Laurie leaves she notices again.
  • Jo takes Beth on a trip to the seashore, hoping the nice weather and the sea air will help her get better. This was a pretty common nineteenth-century idea – people often went to the coast or to a warmer climate when they were sick.
  • Jo and Beth spend several weeks at the seaside together. Jo takes care of Beth, and the sisters ignore the outside world.
  • Jo wonders how her parents haven't noticed that Beth seems to be dying. She hopes they'll notice for themselves when she and Beth return home.
  • One day, Beth begins to talk to Jo about it. She figures out that Jo has realized she's dying, and says she's glad Jo knows.
  • As the sisters talk about Beth's death, Jo realizes that Beth was never lovesick for Laurie – she was just grieving because she discovered that she was dying. Beth says that she's reconciled herself to it.
  • Jo insists that Beth can get well and says that nineteen is too young to die. Beth, however, is convinced that she is dying and just focuses on her faith.
  • Beth makes Jo promise to tell their parents about her condition. Jo does.
  • Beth tells Jo that she thinks she wasn't meant to live for very long. She never had dreams of getting married or doing something ambitious with her life.
  • Beth watches the birds outside her window. She uses the birds as a metaphor for herself and her sisters – she is like a peep, a docile bird that stays near the shore and sings, just the way she likes to stay at home and take care of the family. Beth thinks that Jo is like a gull, strong and wild, Meg a turtledove, the symbol of a lover, and Amy a lark, flying high but also returning to the nest. We think this novel is like an extra spoonful of sugar in a jar of honey – a little too much.
  • Jo promises to help make Beth's last days happy and gives her sister a kiss.
  • When Jo and Beth return home, their parents realize that Beth is dying. Jo comforts them without words.

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