Jo is sure she sees the signs of love in Meg. “She’s got most of the symptoms,” Jo notes, “is twittery and cross, doesn’t eat, lies awake, and mopes in corners.” Meanwhile, after much teasing, Laurie soon learns Jo’s secret about Meg and Mr. Brooke. He feels slighted that he wasn’t taken into his tutor’s confidence, and resolves to “devise some proper retaliation.”
Jo becomes preoccupied with spotting lovesickness in those around her, largely because she recognizes it as a threat to the stability of her family. Women in 19th century America tended to live with their parents until they married. If Meg marries, she’ll move out; Jo doesn’t want this.
The next day, Jo brings a sealed letter for Meg from the P.O. Meg cries out in embarrassment when she reads the letter, and she accuses Jo of playing a trick. She hands Jo a different note from her pocket – it’s a fake love letter from Mr. Brooke to Meg, in which he declares his undying love. Jo knows instantly that this is Laurie’s work, and she vows to make him pay. Meg reveals that she had secretly responded to the note. In her response, she had told “Mr. Brooke” that she was too young to marry, and that he must speak to Mr. March. Mrs. March is proud of Meg’s response. Meg then reveals that the letter she received today is from the real Mr. Brooke; in it, he speculates that Jo has played a trick. Mrs. March deems this second letter to also be the work of Laurie.
Laurie has a number of moral demons to wrangle with; one of them is his tendency to cause mischief when he feels slighted. His hijinks serve one good purpose, however, in that they give Mrs. March some insight into how Meg might behave should she actually receive a love letter. Meg’s chaste response to Laurie’s fake love note signifies that she harbors qualities of the ideal Gilded Age woman, in this case chastity, innocence, and deference to men (Mr. March).
Jo runs to fetch Laurie. While she’s gone, Mrs. March asks Meg if she loves Mr. Brooke. Meg responds that she wants nothing to do with love at the moment, given the recent trauma of Beth’s illness. Laurie arrives, and he apologizes profusely. Meg and Mrs. March forgive him, but Jo gives him the silent treatment. Mrs. March makes Laurie swear to keep Mr. Brooke’s infatuation with Meg a secret.
Mrs. March is proud that Meg places her family before romance. Meg isn’t a flirt, and it’s a result of her simple, wholesome, religious upbringing.
After Laurie has gone home, Jo feels ashamed that she wasn’t more forgiving. She goes to his house under the pretense of returning a book, only to find that Laurie is shut up in his room. Jo goes to him and finds that he’s furious with his grandfather. Earlier, Mr. Laurence had asked Laurie to tell him why he’d been in trouble with the Marches, but Laurie didn’t tell him the whole story given that he’d given Mrs. March his word to keep quiet. When Laurie refused to tell the whole story, Mr. Laurence grabbed Laurie by the collar and shook him. Laurie then ran to his room, fearing that he’d strike the old man.
Laurie’s impulsive, explosive nature is supposedly tied to his “hot” Italian blood. This is the same thing that, in the past, drew him to the thought of running away to become a musician. Jo shares his fiery spirit (though she has no Italian blood to explain her peppery nature). It is implied that the male aggression in this scene requires the soothing mediation of a woman.
Jo tries to reason with Laurie, but he refuses to leave his room until his grandfather apologizes. Laurie briefly fantasizes about running away, and Jo momentarily commiserates with him before remembering that she must be rational. She resolves to go hash things out with Mr. Laurence.
Jo can’t help but sympathize with Laurie, given the number of novels and plays she’s read about adventurers. Her moral upbringing prevents her from giving in to this fantasy, however.
Jo enters the library, where Mr. Laurence is fuming. She innocently tells him she’s there to return a book. While she browses the shelves, looking for a new volume, Mr. Laurence turns to her and demands to know what Laurie did wrong. The two engage in a verbal tug-of-war. Jo convinces Mr. Laurence that he’s been too harsh. Mr. Laurence sees the error in his ways and writes a written apology to Laurie. Jo delivers the letter to Laurie, and Laurie is satisfied.
In a traditional patriarchal society, women are seen as virtuous creatures who offer themselves as role models of purity and piety to the men around them. It is up to Jo, then – who in spite of her boyishness is, after all, female – to teach the men in her life the value of forgiveness and familial love.
After all is said and done, Meg begins to think about Mr. Brooke more than ever. Jo worries that “Laurie’s prank had hastened the evil day for her.”
If Meg falls in love with Mr. Brooke, Jo sees that it’s inevitable that she’ll marry him.