Meg and Jo are invited to a New Year’s Eve party thrown by the Gardiners, a well-to-do local family. The night of the party, Meg and Jo busy themselves with primping. Jo is a klutz, and many of her fine things have been ruined – her nicest dress has a burn in the back, and she spilled lemonade on her gloves. Meg’s gloves are spotless, and the sisters agree to each wear one of Meg’s good gloves and to carry one of Jo’s spoiled gloves. Meg burns off a few locks of hair about her face in an attempt at curls. Mishaps aside, the girls finally arrange themselves in simple, tasteful (albeit imperfect) clothes and leave for the party.
Nineteenth century ideals of feminine beauty are exemplified here in the juxtaposition of boyish Jo with immaculate Meg. Meg’s Christian goodness shines through when she agrees to share her gloves with Jo. There’s a moral lesson in the loss of Meg’s curls to the hot iron: if Meg had relied on her own simple, natural beauty instead of succumbing to vanity, her hair would have remained intact.
Meg warns Jo to refrain from dancing and keep her back to the wall during the party, so she might hide the burn. Meg agrees to signal to Jo if she sees her tomboyish sister engaging in awkward or unseemly behavior. Meg is at ease, and is swept up in conversation with the Gardiner sisters. Jo sees a group of boys talking about skating and longs to join them, but Meg raises a stern eyebrow as a warning signal and Jo’s wishes are quashed. Hindered by her burned dress and feeling utterly out of place, Jo makes a dash to hide in a curtained recess, only to run smack into Mr. Laurence’s grandson, Laurie.
Meg’s preoccupation with keeping up appearances is exemplified in this chapter, particularly when it comes to her attempts to keep the unkempt, unruly Jo in check. Meg, unlike Jo, is at ease inhabiting her gender role. Jo, on the other hand, finds herself crammed into an uncomfortable dress, unable to move or speak without upsetting Meg. Teenage girls in nineteenth century society were not generally allowed to associate freely with boys – at least, not in the manner Jo wishes to engage with them.
Jo is somewhat nervous to run into Laurie, given that she’s only ever talked to him once before. (Sometime in the recent past, Laurie had returned the March’s pet cat, and Jo had chatted with Laurie about the sport cricket.) Laurie quickly puts her at ease, however, and Jo falls easily into tomboyish chatter with Laurie. Laurie asks Jo to dance, and Jo turns him down, citing her burned dress. Laurie is momentarily downcast, but then suggests that they dance in a nearby hallway. They do so, and they have a grand time.
Ironically, Jo is at her most genuine and attractive when she’s flouting gender norms. (In this case, when she’s chattering freely with a boy.) The fact that Jo dons a burned dress is due to the March family’s poverty. This is in stark contrast to many of the attendees at the dance, who can afford to buy new things Laurie’s love affair with Jo begins here, with their first meeting.
Meg comes in search of Jo and reveals that she’s sprained her ankle thanks to her very pretty (but slightly too small) slippers. Meg begs Jo to help her hide her mortifying injury from others. In an attempt to help her sister, Jo runs to get Meg a cup of coffee. Jo manages to spill it down the front of her dress, and ruins Meg’s glove in an attempt to clean it up. Laurie appears and, against Meg’s wishes, puts things to rights. He brings Meg coffee and bonbons, and gives the girls a ride home in his grandfather’s carriage.
The dangers of vanity are again explored in this scene. If Meg had dressed in a simple, genuine fashion, she never would have sprained her ankle. That said, Meg only wore the slippers in an attempt to embody femininity. Jo, meanwhile, expresses her irrepressible boyishness in ruining her fine things. Laurie sets things right, showing that the girls, regardless of their strengths, need a man’s influence.