The next morning, Meg is depressed. The holidays are over, the party is over, and now she has to go back to her daily grind. Jo tries to console her, but it's not easy.
Meg and Jo go downstairs to breakfast, and it turns out that everyone is in a bad mood. Meg is feeling dissatisfied with being poor, Beth has a headache, Jo is making a racket, Amy's not ready for school, Mrs. March is trying to finish a letter, and Hannah is cranky from staying up late.
Despite everyone's bad moods, Hannah has remembered to make a pair of turnovers for Meg and Jo to take with them as their lunch – and to keep their hands warm on the cold walk to the houses where they work.
Meg and Jo walk to work. Their walk is together most of the way, and Jo is able to cheer Meg with silly claims about what she'll do for her sisters once she's rich.
The narrator breaks in to explain what's going on. When Mr. March lost his fortune, Meg and Jo got jobs to help support the family. Meg is a governess for four children in a rich family, the Kings. Jo is a paid companion for her wealthy, cranky Aunt March.
The narrator explains that Jo puts up with her job as Aunt March's companion because, as soon as the old lady falls asleep, Jo can read the books in her uncle's library. (Her uncle died many years ago, but his books are still there.)
We learn more about the personalities of the girls. Jo is ambitious to do something amazing, but she isn't sure what. She has a hasty temper and tomboyish ways.
Beth, the third oldest sister, is too shy to go to school, so her parents have home-schooled her. Now that her father is away and her mother is busy with the war effort, she tries to do her lessons on her own. She spends most of her time doing household chores with the servant, Hannah.
Beth also plays with dolls a lot – she has a whole collection of the different dolls that her sisters have discarded over the years, and she takes care of them with love, almost as if they were pets.
Beth does have one sorrow – she loves to play the piano, but her family only has a really old one that's out of tune. She tries to practice, but it's almost impossible. She doesn't make a big deal out of it, but waits patiently hoping she'll get a nicer one someday.
Amy, the youngest, is vain. She worries a lot about the fact that her nose is flat instead of aristocratically pointed. She's also an artist; she spends a lot of time sketching, and she's pretty good at it. She has a lot of little aristocratic mannerisms, which are sometimes charming, but sometimes make her seem uppity.
One thing keeps Amy from being too vain: she has to wear hand-me-down clothes from her cousin Florence, and Florence's mother has terrible taste, so they're all really ugly.
The sisters tend to pair off – Meg and Amy have a special bond, and so do Jo and Beth.
That evening, the girls sit together sewing and talk about their day.
Jo says that Aunt March caught her reading a novel for fun, but then asked Jo to read some of it to her and got interested in the plot. Now Jo is excited because she's hoping she'll get to read some interesting stories to her aunt, instead of having to read aloud from boring moral essays all the time. She says that Aunt March could have a lot more fun in her life if she wanted to, with that wonderful library.
Meg also tells a story about her day. When she got to the Kings' house, everyone was really upset because the oldest son had done something disgraceful and been disowned by the family!
Amy describes something that happened in school. Another girl, Susie Perkins, came to school wearing a fancy carnelian ring that Amy envied. But then Susie drew a rude cartoon of the teacher and was punished in front of everyone.
Even Beth has an interesting story about something that happened. She went to the fishmonger's and saw a woman beg the shop owner to let her work in exchange for food for her family. He refused, but Old Mr. Laurence was there and bought a huge fish for the woman.
The girls ask their mother if she has a story to tell, and she does. She was helping sew coats for the troops (the Civil War is going on right now) and worrying about her husband when an old man came in. The man explained that he had four sons and all of them were in the Union army; two have been killed, one captured, and he's on his way to see the other, who is sick. Mrs. March feels blessed by comparison.
Jo asks Marmee to tell them another true story with a moral. She re-tells them the stories about their own days, showing them the lessons in those: Meg has learned that being rich can't keep a family from experiencing shame and disgrace; Jo has learned that her youth, health, and good attitude make her happier than her cranky old rich aunt; Amy has learned that behaving well is better than having nice stuff; and Beth has learned that, even though she has to work hard, at least she doesn't have to beg.
The girls are amused by their mother's "sermon" and promise to remember the lessons.