Meanwhile, Amy is holed up at Aunt March’s and having a rough time. Amy has taken Jo’s place in caring for Aunt March, and these chores, coupled with her schoolwork, leave her with little free time. Thankfully, Amy has allies. Laurie comes by every day to take her out, and the French maid Esther has taken a fancy to the girl.
Laurie’s attention to Amy foreshadows later developments in Part II of the book. It’s worth noting that Amy’s workload has increased; as such, it seems like she’s poised for an increase in virtue.
While Aunt March takes her nap, Esther allows Amy to look through the old woman’s troves of jewelry. As Amy looks through a jewelry box, Esther asks the girl which of the things within she would most want to have. Amy picks out a strand of gold and ebony beads. Esther says she would like that necklace, too, but (given that she’s Catholic) she would like to use it as a rosary.
Initially spurred by her greed for finery (a stereotypically feminine desire), Amy inadvertently chooses a necklace that holds some religious significance. Is this due to her innate goodness and simplicity? Or just luck?
Esther goes on to tell Amy that she would find great comfort in taking up the Catholic practice of spending a little time each day in prayer and meditation, ideally in a chapel. Amy has been neglecting her daily readings of Pilgrim’s Progress, and she asks Esther if it would be right for her to mediate and pray. Esther assures her that it is all right, and offers to set up a small chapel in one of the house’s unused closets.
Amy’s interest in Catholicism has perhaps as much to do with her interest in aesthetic beauty as it does with her desire to live a moral life. It’s worth noting that Amy’s newfound piety is spurred by visions of finery.
As they put away the jewelry, Esther reveals that Aunt March plans to give her jewelry to the March girls after she dies. Amy is delighted to learn that Aunt March also has plans to give her a turquoise ring when she leaves for home, given that she’s been well behaved. She resolves to be more obedient than ever, in order to be worthy of such a present.
Again, Amy’s desire to live a moral life is spurred by her feminine desire to adorn herself. The turquoise ring seems to symbolize the gift of the kingdom of heaven – one that she might earn if she’s very, very good.
Amy works to be more pious and well behaved, and Aunt March is pleased. Amy prays and meditates in her small chapel every day. Inspired by Aunt March, and in an effort to be even more well behaved, she decides to make her will.
Aunt March recognizes that Amy, in becoming more virtuous, is becoming more womanly – that is, she is learning to embody the traits of an ideal Gilded Age woman.
Amy asks Esther and Laurie to sign the will as witnesses. Laurie reads the document and asks Amy if she got the idea from Beth. Amy is confused, and Laurie goes on to explain that one day, when she felt particularly ill, Beth dictated her own meager last will and testament to Meg, in which Beth (lacking wealth) asked for locks of her hair to be given to her friends and family. Moved to tears, Amy asks to for a clause to be added to her will, stipulating for her own hair to be cut off and distributed. After Laurie departs, Amy goes to her chapel and prays for Beth.
Beth’s role as the pious invalid exerts its influence here, as Amy is reminded that she’s been committing the sins of selfishness and vanity. Amy also realizes that the loss of her sister would be greater than the loss of any of her worldly possessions. Faced with the imminent loss of Beth, her decision to give away her hair (her natural beauty) is a sign of her commitment to be more Beth-like.