Meanwhile, Jo continues her literary aspirations. “Every few weeks she would shut herself up in her room, put on her scribbling suit, and ‘fall into a vortex….”
It becomes very clear in this chapter that Jo is essentially Louisa May Alcott herself. Meanwhile, Jo's writing work is making her independent, a somewhat novel role for a woman.
One day, shortly after one of her writing jags, she escorts her gossipy neighbor Mrs. Crocker to a lecture on the pyramids. A man there is reading a newspaper, and Jo’s eye is drawn to a scandalous illustration accompanying one of the stories. The man offers her the paper – after Jo reads the story (a work of sensationalist fiction), he mentions that the woman who wrote it makes a good living from her writing.
Before writing literary fiction and nonfiction, Alcott paid the bills by writing pulp fiction very similar to the sensational titles Jo is discovering in this scene. Jo is lured by the promise of money, with the desire to contribute to her family’s welfare.
Jo resolves to try her hand at a sensational story – in particular, she wishes to win the $100 prize advertised in the paper the man gave her at the lecture. She pens a sensational story and furtively sends off the manuscript.
Jo is being secretive because she knows that her family won’t approve of what she’s writing. She realizes that they’ll consider her stories immoral.
Six weeks later, Jo learns that she’s won the prize. Her family is “electrified,” but Mr. March feels that Jo is capable of better. “Aim at the highest, and never mind the money,” he cautions. Jo resolves to use her earnings to send Beth and Mrs. March on a seaside holiday.
Mr. March acts as the moral compass in this scene – he worries that Jo’s vulgar stories will corrupt her. Jo, however, has achieved a level of power and independence that few Gilded Age women can enjoy.
Jo continues to sell her stories, and she feels “genuine satisfaction” with her ability to support herself through her writing.
Jo’s success as a writer is never painted in disparaging terms; in this way, the book can be seen as feminist.
Spurred by her successes, Jo sends out her novel manuscript. It’s accepted, but under the condition that Jo trims it down by a third. Jo goes to her friends and family for advice, and they all give her differing opinions on how she should edit it and whether she should edit it at all. Confused by the conflicting advice, Jo decides to edit the book using a few of everyone’s suggestions.
In consulting with other people about her book, Jo isn’t being true to herself. This is an example of the trouble she encounters when she deviates from the path of simplicity and genuineness. This desire to please others is driven by her desire to contribute financially to her family.
The book is published and Jo receives $300. She is disappointed and confused, however, when her book receives wildly mixed reviews (the product of her attempt to try to please everyone); ultimately, though, she reflects that she has become a stronger person as a result of the experience.
If Jo had been true to herself she probably still wouldn’t have pleased everyone, but she would have had the approval of her father. The ability to take risks and make a living from her wits is bolstering Jo’s self-esteem – an experience many women weren’t able to have at that time.