Three years have passed. The war has ended, and Mr. March has returned to his work as a local minister. Although to outsiders the house seems to be ruled by women, Mr. March is still “head of the family, the household conscience, anchor, and comforter, for to him the…women always turned in troubled times, finding him…husband and father.”
Part II was originally released as a separate book, titled “Good Wives.” In spite of how capable and independent the March women can be, it’s made clear here that they still need to defer to the man of the house, Mr. March. In this way, Little Women adheres to the patriarchal gender norms of its day.
We’re informed that Mr. Brooke served in the Civil War for one year, and was discharged after being wounded. Meg has grown more beautiful and more “wise in housewifely arts.” Ned Moffat and Sallie Gardiner have wed, and Meg can’t help but compare her own life with the wealthy one Sallie now leads. Amy has become Aunt March’s confidante, leaving Jo free to write for the newspaper and to tend to Beth (who is still delicate). Laurie, meanwhile, is in college, and has become a bit of a dandy.
Meg, in spite of embodying a number of womanly virtues, still feels occasional pangs of discomfort with her working class status. Her continued envy of Sallie’s circumstances is foreshadowed here. Amy, drawn as she is to wealth and refinement, is quite happy spending time with Aunt March.
We’re then told about the “Dovecote” – the house that “Mr. Brooke had prepared for Meg’s first home.” It is a small and simple house, but the entire family’s contributions to its décor and upkeep give it a charm that, Meg decides, money could never buy. Mrs. March estimates that there will be quite as much happiness in Meg’s small house as there will be in the Moffats’ big one.
The notion that money cannot buy happiness – and that it might actually encourage sin – is explored in this scene. Once again, Mrs. March asserts that a lack of money is actually preferable in many ways to wealth. Alcott describes the simplicity of the house’s décor in an approving tone.
The wedding is scheduled to happen tomorrow, and Laurie – who has been giving Meg gag housewarming gifts for a while now - arrives at the Dovecote with another silly present: a watchman’s rattle for Meg’s protection. Jo takes Laurie aside and warns him not to play any pranks at the wedding. Laurie reveals that he needs to ask his grandfather for some money, and Jo chastises him for being a dandy and a spendthrift.
Laurie has been living it up at college: buying fashionable clothes, partying with his friends, and flirting with girls. Jo worries that Laurie’s vices are being cultivated by his wealth and idleness. Jo, informed by her years of working for a living, views his gag gifts as wasteful.
Laurie mentions that a friend from his at college is quite stricken with Amy, and Jo replies that she hopes there won’t be any more weddings in the family for years to come. Laurie ribs her for still being single, and Jo declares that she hopes she’ll be an old maid. Laurie replies, “You won’t give anyone a chance,” giving Jo a “sidelong glance,” his face suddenly “showing a little more color.” Laurie predicts that Jo will be married off next.
Nineteenth century literature is full of references to blushing, and Little Women is no exception. In this instance, Laurie’s flushed cheeks are indicative of his infatuation with Jo. And to be fair, Jo’s rejection of marriage makes a lot of sense. Marriage, for many women, meant giving up their life’s work in order to serve a husband and children. Jo’s dreams are larger than that.