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Summary

Little Women Chapter 38 Summary Page 1

On the Shelf

  • The narrator begins this chapter by considering the different treatment that married and single women receive in America and in France. In America, married women seem to be put "on the shelf" – even though they're still young and pretty, they're not admired as part of fashionable society.
  • About a year after Meg's babies are born, she starts to feel confined to the nursery and left out of the larger affairs of the world – even disconnected from her husband.
  • Meg lets herself get completely obsessed with her children. John feels uncomfortable in his own house and starts spending his evenings with friends.
  • At first, Meg is glad to have John out of the way, but then she starts to miss him and feel lonely. She doesn't really have any adult company, except for her cook, Kitty.
  • Meg starts to feel like she must be getting old and ugly; she thinks maybe John doesn't love her as much anymore.
  • One day, Marmee finds Meg in tears and asks what's wrong. Meg says that John has been neglecting her by spending all his time with Mr. and Mrs. Scott.
  • Marmee gently suggests that Meg has caused the problem herself by making John feel like he's not a part of the family. She tells Meg to try and take an interest in politics and in the other things that John follows, and also to involve John more with the children.
  • Meg is dubious about this plan, but Marmee assures her that she made the same mistake when she was a young mother, and that sharing the burdens of child-rearing – and also trying to lead an adult life and not let the kids' needs take over – will help.
  • Marmee suggests that Meg involve John more with Demi's upbringing. Even as a toddler, the little boy is mischievous and willful, and Marmee thinks he needs his father's discipline. (We're really seeing stereotypical nineteenth-century gender roles here – why couldn't Meg be the disciplinarian? Well, that's just not how this novel works!)
  • Meg starts following her mother's advice. This is a shock for Demi, who is used to being spoiled and having his own way all the time. His father refuses to spoil him.
  • One evening, Meg tries to make some time for her and John to have a nice meal together as adults after the children are in bed. Unfortunately, Demi refuses to go to sleep. (This is turning into an episode of SuperNanny!)
  • Finally, Meg makes Demi settle down by promising to feed him cake in the morning. She dresses up and goes downstairs to have the evening meal, which they call tea, with John.
  • John is pleasantly surprised that Meg is dressed up and they start eating together. But almost immediately Demi comes in and says that it's morning now and he wants his cake!
  • Meg tries to put Demi to bed again, but he's fussy and refuses. She gives him a lump of sugar and goes back downstairs.
  • Demi follows her down and asks for more sugar. This time John has had enough and carries Demi upstairs. SuperNanny would be proud – we hear this is exactly what you're supposed to do.
  • Demi throws a tantrum, crying, and screaming. He keeps getting out of bed, and every time John puts him back in. Finally he stays in bed, but still screaming and hollering.
  • Meg begs John to let her take care of Demi, but he insists on being firm. He lets her kiss Demi good night, and then makes her leave the room.
  • Demi finally calms down and falls asleep. Meg creeps back into the room and sees John sitting quietly by Demi's bed. Demi is holding tightly to his father's finger. Meg realizes that John can be tender with the children as well as firm.
  • John comes downstairs and finds Meg trimming her bonnet (that is, she's putting decorations, probably ribbon, on a hat or cap). She asks him to read the election news from the newspaper while she works. Meg tries to be interested in it.
  • In return, John tries to be interested in Meg's bonnet. She says that it's a fancy one to wear to concerts and the theater sometime and asks him to take her to a concert soon – she's been shut up at home too much. John agrees.
  • John asks what made Meg change how she was doing things, and Meg describes her talk with Marmee. John is delighted and gives her a big kiss.
  • The Brookes go on together like this, caring for their children together and also making time for themselves as a couple. They don't have the recipe for marriage perfect at first, but gradually they make things work very well.

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