Study Guide

Little Women Chapter 23

By Louisa May Alcott

Chapter 23

Aunt March Settles the Question

  • The March girls, their mother, and Hannah look after Mr. March, whom they are very excited to have at home. However, everyone seems to be waiting for something else to happen.
  • In the afternoon, Laurie comes by. When he sees Meg, he goes down on one knee in front of her and pretends to have a lover's fit, beating his breast and tearing out his hair. Meg doesn't understand what he means, but Jo explains that he's imitating the way John Brooke is going to behave soon – when he proposes!
  • Meg tells Jo that she doesn't care about John Brooke...much. Jo says that the whole family can tell they are in love; she's disgusted with the whole thing.
  • Meg tells Jo to stop talking about it; she can't do anything herself anyway, since the man has to propose. It is the 1800s, after all.
  • Jo asks Meg how she would respond if John Brooke asked her to marry him. Meg says that she would refuse, saying that she was too young to get engaged. Jo is very pleased by this and makes Meg promise that she'll turn John down.
  • Just then, John Brooke comes by to get his umbrella, which he accidentally left at the Marches' house. The two sisters look startled and guilty when he comes in. He gets confused and asks to speak to Mr. March.
  • Jo leaves so that Meg can turn John down in private. Meg asks John to sit down and says that her mother would like to see him.
  • John asks Meg if she's afraid of him. She says she couldn't be because he has been so kind to their father. She gives John her hand and says that she wishes she knew how to repay him.
  • John holds Meg's hand firmly and tells her that he knows a great way for her to repay his kindness.
  • Meg becomes flustered and bashful. John asks whether she cares for him. Instead of making the speech that she discussed with Jo, Meg says that she doesn't know.
  • John woos Meg and tells her how much he cares for her. She says that she's too young, and John says he's willing to wait.
  • As they are talking, Meg looks up and catches sight of John's expression. He looks very sure of himself, and Meg is a little offended by his confidence. She starts to behave more coyly and tells him to go away and leave her alone.
  • John is surprised and hurt, and asks whether she really means it. She says that she does.
  • John asks Meg not to play with him, and says he's willing to wait while she sorts out her feelings, for a long time if necessary. She tells him not to think about her.
  • John and Meg stand there looking at each other for a moment. Meg starts to feel bad about how she is treating John.
  • Suddenly, Aunt March comes in and surprises them. John Brooke tactfully ducks into the next room while Aunt March demands to know what's going on.
  • Meg tells Aunt March that the visitor is John Brooke, a friend of her father. Aunt March recognizes the name; she knows that John Brooke is Laurie's tutor and that he is interested in Meg.
  • Aunt March tells Meg that, if she marries John Brooke, she will disinherit her.
  • Meg is offended and tells Aunt March that she will marry whomever she likes.
  • Aunt March tells Meg that it is her duty to marry a rich man and help her family. Aunt March also suggests that John Brooke probably wants to marry her because he's heard that Aunt March is wealthy and thinks Meg, as the oldest niece, might inherit a fortune.
  • Now Meg is really offended, and she tells Aunt March that neither she nor John would ever marry for money. She says that they're not afraid to work hard and they intend to wait and have a long engagement.
  • Meg gets carried away describing how great John Brooke is, how hard he works, how smart he is, and how likely he is to succeed. Apparently she does like him quite a bit!
  • Aunt March is angry and says that she washes her hands of the affair. She tells Meg that she's not going to inherit anything from her and storms out.
  • John comes back into the room. He tells Meg that he couldn't help overhearing what she said, and he's delighted to find out that she does care for him. Meg says she didn't know how much she cared until Aunt March started insulting him.
  • A little bit later, it is quiet in the room. Jo, assuming that John has left after being turned down by Meg, comes into the room to gloat with her sister. But what she sees is Meg sitting on John's knee!
  • John asks Jo to congratulate them. Jo runs out of the room and tells her parents that John is acting "dreadfully."
  • Mr. and Mrs. March go downstairs to find out what's happening. They have a private conversation with John and Meg in the parlor, in which John convinces them that he has responsible plans for making a home for himself and Meg.
  • John stays and has tea (an early evening meal, like an early dinner) with the family. Everyone is excited except Jo.
  • Over the meal, the family talk about how much has happened to them this year.
  • John says that he and Meg are going to work and wait for three years before they get married. Well, he'll do most of the working, and she'll do most of the waiting, but you get the idea.
  • Laurie comes in with a large bouquet for Meg and congratulates the couple. Jo assumes that Laurie, like herself, will feel un-romantic about the whole thing, but Laurie's actually very excited and says that he knew John would win Meg over.
  • Old Mr. Laurence comes in and the family greets him.
  • Laurie asks Jo why she looks upset. She says she's not happy about the match, but she's trying to be polite about it. She feels like she's lost her best friend.
  • Laurie tells Jo that he will always be there for her. She says that's comforting.
  • Laurie wonders where they will all be in three years' time.
  • As the chapter (and the first volume) ends, the entire extended family is gathered together. Mr. and Mrs. March are reliving their past. Amy is sketching John and Meg, who are sitting together. Beth is lying on the sofa, talking with old Mr. Laurence. Jo is sitting and talking to Laurie, who is leaning on the back of her chair. It's pure domestic bliss!