Amy is becoming more serious in her undertaking to become a real artist. Aunt March has enrolled her in a drawing class, and as a result she experiments with pen-and-ink drawing, poker sketching, oil painting, charcoals, and nature sketching, all with varying levels of success.
Amy is a social climber, and latches onto opportunities to better her position. By growing close to Aunt March, Amy has access to some of the things rich girls enjoy: namely, art classes. Her attempt to become an artist pushes against the gender norms of her society.
Meanwhile, Amy also longs to become “an attractive and accomplished woman” who will one day be able to mingle with “best society,” and she succeeds quite well in doing this. “Never forgetting that by birth she was a gentlewoman,” Amy grooms her manners for the day when she might move in aristocratic circles.
But even as she pushes against the gender norms for women in her ambition to become an artist, Amy simultaneously desires to fit in. She wants to be an ideal aristocratic woman: beautiful, desirable, and intelligent.
With this in mind, Amy asks Mrs. March if she might have the girls from her drawing class over for lunch and a drawing session by the river. Amy wishes to express her gratitude for their kindness toward her, given that they’re rich and she’s poor. Mrs. March feels they should treat her kindly no matter what, but agrees to help Amy give a luncheon.
Amy’s desire to move in aristocratic circles proves to be another hurdle in her moral development. Amy’s mistake, in Mrs. March’s estimation, is that she’s trying to appeal to immoral people: those who value wealth rather than good character.
Mrs. March suggests a simple lunch, but Amy insists on delicacies: cold chicken and tongue, French chocolate, and ice cream. With the help of Meg and Jo (who wonders why Amy should go through such trouble for “a parcel of girls who don’t care a sixpence for you”), and spending quite a bit of her own money (she hires a coach to drive the girls down to the river), Amy prepares for the party. Hannah has trouble cooking the delicacies Amy has ordered, but Amy perseveres.
Amy secretly (or perhaps not so secretly) desires to impress the girls she’s in class with, and assumes that they won’t appreciate the simplicity that her family values. In organizing a complicated, fussy lunch, Amy is indulging in the kind of frivolous thinking that (in Alcott’s opinion) will only lead to trouble.
It’s drizzling on Monday morning, the day appointed for the lunch. Amy has set a rain date for the following day, and by noon it’s clear no one’s showing up. The Marches sit down and eat the ices and other trifles that won’t keep till the following day.
This chapter essentially reconfigures and replays the moral lessons doled out in Chapters 7 and 11. Amy’s plans are spoiled, given that she didn’t keep things simple and aspired for the wrong things.
Amy prepares for the luncheon once again the following day. It’s sunny out, so she’s sure the girls will come. The kittens get into the cold chicken, leaving Amy tasked with getting a lobster from town. Amy orders the coach and drives off to collect her guests. She returns home with just one girl – Jo spies them as they approach the house and bids Hannah to clear the table of most of the food, given that they’ve planned for a dozen guests.
It seems that the universe is conspiring against Amy’s desire for a complicated, fussy lunch. Amy, however, continues to commit the sin of vanity and insists on following through with her plans.
She has a pleasant time with her sole guest. After the girl leaves, Amy and the rest of the Marches sit down to their second night of salad and ices for supper. Jo makes a joke about it, and Amy bursts out laughing. She bids that they take the party leftovers to the Hummels. Mrs. March expresses her sympathy that the party was a disappointment, but Amy reflects that she is satisfied. “I’ve done what I undertook, and it’s not my fault it failed,” she says.
Similar to the lessons learned at the end of Chapters 9 and 11, Amy is cautioned to avoid vanity, pride, frivolity, and anything unnatural.