Laurie has worked hard during Jo’s absence, and he has graduated with honors. After his graduation ceremony, Laurie makes Jo promise to meet with him the following day. Jo secretly worries that he’ll propose to her.
Laurie has put Jo on a pedestal. She is the force that keeps him on the straight and narrow path of a moral life. This is a traditional role for women in a patriarchal society.
Jo meets with Laurie the following day. While they walk through the woods and fields near Laurie’s house, he has it out with Jo. Laurie proclaims his love to her. “I’ve loved you ever since I’ve known you, Jo,” he says. Jo pushes him away and tells him that she can never love him the way he wants her to. Laurie is crushed, and Jo apologizes profusely.
It’s not clear whether Jo actually feels this way, or if she’s frightened of the prospect of being romantically involved with Laurie. Laurie’s almost overwhelming passion could be seen as a vice – something that would corrupt Jo’s morality.
Laurie bitterly speculates that Jo is in love with Professor Bhaer. Jo denies it, and then tells Laurie that he will fall in love with someone else. Laurie stamps his foot and cries, “I can’t love anyone else, and I’ll never forget you, Jo, Never! Never!” Laurie implores her again to marry him, this time appealing to Mr. Laurence’s hopes that they would marry, and Jo loses her temper. “I’ll never marry you, and the sooner you believe it the better for both of us – so now!” she cries. Laurie storms away.
Little Women can be seen, in part, as a love letter to Laurie. - no other male character in the book is so tenderly, vividly rendered as he is. It’s because of this vivid rendering that scholars speculate Laurie is based on Laddie, Alcott’s former paramour. In appealing to his grandfather’s wishes, Laurie appeals to Jo’s affection for the old man, as well as reminding her of his wealth.
Jo goes to Mr. Laurence and tells him about Laurie. Later that day, Mr. Laurence confronts a distraught Laurie. Mr. Laurence reveals that he has business to attend to in London, and that he’s like for Laurie to come with him. Heartbroken, Laurie agrees, and preparations are made for their departure.
Mr. Laurence recognizes that Laurie’s passionate spirit can only be tamed by time away from Jo. It’s also implied that working with his grandfather in Europe will heal Laurie, as work is (according to Alcott) a “panacea.”
As Laurie says his goodbyes, he embraces Jo and begs her to reconsider. “Teddy, I wish I could!” Jo says. Laurie leaves, and Jo realizes that “the boy Laurie never would come again.”
This is the breaking point for Laurie and Jo. It’s implied that this is the most virtuous choice that the two could have made.