Mrs. March returns, and the girls are ecstatic. The girls sleep most of the day, and a “Sabbath stillness” falls over the house.
The return of the matriarch of the March home signifies the return of their moral compass – the “Sabbath stillness” is therefore fitting.
Laurie goes to Aunt March’s house to tell Amy the good news. Mrs. March bursts in and Amy is so overjoyed that her cries awake an exhausted Laurie, who had been napping on the couch. Amy shows Marmee the chapel Esther made for her, and Mrs. March approves of it.
Mrs. March’s approval of Amy’s Catholicism reflects Alcott’s own liberal, Transcendentalist notions of religion; Amy isn’t punished given that Mrs. March (and Alcott) believes that there are many paths to God.
Mrs. March notices that Amy is wearing a turquoise ring, and Amy explains that Aunt March gave it to her. Amy asks her mother if she can wear it as a reminder to be good (and to not be selfish, in particular). Mrs. March approves, but cautions Amy that she should trust more in her chapel than in her ring.
Mrs. March seems worried (perhaps rightly so) that Amy’s ring is too much a thing of vanity. Any adornments that aren’t simple and/or natural (flowers, for instance) are regarded with suspicion in Little Women; there’s a fear that they’ll lead to sin.
That evening, Jo goes to Mrs. March and tells her what Laurie told her: that Mr. Brooke took one of Meg’s gloves, and that he likes Meg but worries that the match won’t be approved given that Meg is young and he (Mr. Brooke) is poor. Referring to Mr. Brooke by his first name (John), Mrs. March asks Jo if Meg isn’t interested in him. Jo is flabbergasted that her mother would refer to Mr. Brooke in such informal terms, and Mrs. March explains that she and Mr. March grew quite close to Mr. Brooke during their time in Washington.
Although Little Women is often gently radical in terms of how it treats is female characters, this is a moment where it clearly ascribes to the standard patriarchal views of its time; it is clearly in favor of Meg becoming a housewife. Mrs. March’s behavior shows that she approves of the match, given Mr. Brooke’s hardworking, genuine, and pious nature.
Jo is upset that her mother has taken Mr. Brooke’s side, and fears that Meg will be married off and taken away from the family. Jo expresses a wish that she could marry Meg, so Meg would never go away. “Why weren’t we all boys, then there wouldn’t be any bother,” she sighs. Mrs. March, on the other hand, thinks Mr. Brooke is an excellent man, and that she would be happy to see Meg wed to him in three years time.
To modern day readers, the betrothal of a 28-year-old tutor to a 17-year-old girl would be scandalous. In the Gilded Age, however, matches such as this were commonplace. Jo’s horror (shared as it may be with modern readers) would have been comical to readers in the 19th century. Mrs. March’s approval is seen as reasonable, given that she adds the stipulation that Meg wait until she turns 20.
Jo asks her mother if she wouldn’t rather see Meg married to a rich man. Mrs. March replies that she’d rather see her daughters happily, if humbly, married rather than have them marry into money out of a sense of duty. Jo asks why Meg can’t just marry Laurie, and her mother replies that Laurie is far too young and undependable.
Laurie is younger than Meg, and in Gilded Age society it was considered unusual for younger men to marry older women. This match, oddly enough, would be seen as more unorthodox than the betrothal of a teenager to a man in his late twenties.
Meg walks in at that moment with a letter for Mrs. March to proofread. Mrs. March tells Meg to add a note to “John,” sending him Mrs. March’s love. Meg is surprised that her mother refers to Mr. Brooke so informally, and Mrs. March tells Meg that she and Mr. March now regard him as a son. After Meg and Jo leave the room, Mrs. March says to herself, “She does not love John yet, but will soon learn to.”
Given that Mrs. March is the moral compass of the March household in the absence of her husband, it’s assumed that her judgment of Mr. Brooke is moral and right. The notion that a woman might have to “learn” how to romantically love is in line with the patriarchal notion that women are more sexually innocent than men.