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by Louisa May Alcott
Little Women Chapter 40 Summary
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The Valley of the Shadow The March family accepts that Beth is dying. They band together to make her last days easy and comfortable and to comfort one another. Everyone contributes something to make Beth comfortable; a room is set aside for her, and Meg visits frequently with her twins. Even in her dying days, Beth keeps doing little domestic tasks. Her favorite thing to do is to knit and sew gifts for the poor schoolchildren who pass underneath her window every day. The first few months are pleasant – the family hangs out together in Beth's room and everyone is cheerful and loving. Soon, however, Beth becomes much sicker. She's too weak to sew and she is very ill and disturbed. Jo spends all her time nursing Beth – she even sleeps on the couch in Beth's room. Beth spends a lot of her time reading the Bible. Watching Beth come to grips with her mortality is an important moral lesson for Jo. She starts to realize how important Beth is to the family, even though she doesn't do anything ambitious or showy. One night when Jo is asleep, Beth starts reading Pilgrim's Progress and finds a copy of a poem in Jo's handwriting. She reads the poem, which is about her, and finds it loving and comforting. Jo wakes up and she and Beth talk about the poem, and about how much Beth has meant to the family. Beth says that she knows now that she hasn't wasted her life. Beth and Jo talk about their religious faith and their belief that death will not really part them, in the end. Beth makes Jo promise to take her place as the "angel in the house" and take care of their parents. Beth doesn't say any famous last words, but her death is easy and gentle. Beth's family prepare her body for burial – that's pretty typical for the nineteenth century. The family thanks God for Beth's life.
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