Amy insists that Jo should go with her on a series of house calls one day. Jo is reluctant, but agrees to go along under the condition that Amy is in charge. “You shall be commander of the expedition, and I’ll obey blindly,” Jo says. Amy dresses Jo in a manner she sees fit (in clothes that Jo finds uncomfortable), and the two sweep out to make their visits.
Amy isn’t pleased with Jo’s typically boyish or sloppy appearance, so she does her best to make Jo appear more feminine. In making house calls, Amy is working to strengthen her connections with wealthier families.
Before they arrive at the Chesters’ house, Amy instructs Jo to be “calm, cool, quiet,” behaviors that are “safe and ladylike.” Jo agrees to do so, and remarks that she’ll rely on her acting experience in order to play the part.
One of Little Women’s more radical aspects can be found in its sympathy for Jo’s boyish behavior and unfashionable looks; both of these things are valuable in part because they’re genuine.
At the Chesters’, Jo horrifies Amy by sitting in icy silence as their hosts try to make conversation with her. One of the Chesters remarks on how haughty Jo is as the sisters leave, and Amy is mortified.
And the minute Jo pretends to be something other than she actually is, disaster strikes.
Before they reach the Lambs’ house, Amy instructs Jo to be more sociable. “Gossip as other girls do,” she says. Jo agrees to do so, once again citing her acting abilities. When they reach the Lambs’ Amy is once again mortified by Jo’s behavior. Jo tells an outlandish story about how Amy learned how to ride a horse (a story that Amy fears will lead the Lambs to believe that Amy is a “fast” girl). Amy rushes Jo out of the Lambs’ house and chastises her for once again misunderstanding her instructions.
This chapter exposes the contradictions inherent to the Gilded Age notions of how a proper lady should act. Jo’s satirical send-up of these behaviors makes it clear how impossible the prospect of being a perfect lady actually was. To be a perfect lady meant being everything to everyone, it seems.
Amy gives up on Jo at the next house, bidding her to act however she likes. Jo is pleased, and when they arrive she begins chatting merrily with three boys. Amy remains in the house to chat with another guest, Mr. Tudor, who has aristocratic ties. After taking her leave, she exits the house to discover Jo sitting in the grass with the boys, her dress in ruins.
Jo is thus allowed to behave as she normally would, which leads her whole feminine charade to come tumbling down. Amy, meanwhile, continues to make valuable connections with the upper class – ones that will serve her well.
After they depart, Amy asks Jo why she paid no attention to Mr. Tudor, and yet was so kind to one of the boys, whose father owned a grocery store. Jo replies that she thinks Mr. Tudor “puts on airs, snubs his sisters, worries his father, and doesn’t speak respectfully to his mother.” The grocer’s son, on the other hand, “is a gentleman in spite of the brown paper parcels.”
Once again, Alcott puts forth the idea that social class is no basis by which to judge someone. Jo, for better or worse, chooses to involve herself with anyone she considers genuine.
For their final visit, the girls go to Aunt March’s house. Before they reach the house, the girls have a conversation about how poor women should behave toward men. Jo argues that she should be allowed to snub men like Mr. Tudor, given that her disdain might influence him to reform his behavior. Amy argues that poor women “should learn to be agreeable…for they have no other way of repaying the kindnesses they receive.”
Jo’s attitude betrays her feeling that women can be on equal footing with men. Amy’s assertion that women “have no other way of repaying” the men they interact with assumes that the only currency women wield is their ability to be charming. It thus makes sense that Jo (who has earned quite a bit of money) disagrees.
It turns out the Aunt Carrol is visiting Aunt March. Aunt Carrol makes conversation with the girls about an upcoming fair to be held by the Chesters. Amy reveals that she’ll volunteer there, as a favor. Jo – riled up after her discussion with Amy, not to mention a day’s worth of house calls – is in a feisty mood, and declares to Aunt Carrol that she doesn’t like favors, given that they oppress her and make her feel like a slave. “I’d rather do everything myself, and be perfectly independent,” she adds. Aunt March exchanges a glance with Aunt Carrol, and it’s clear that they’ve made an important decision based on Jo’s saucy statements.
Socially savvy Amy is digging her tendrils into the wealthy set yet again with the news that she’ll be volunteering at the Chesters’ fair. This scene offers a bit of backlash against Jo’s desire to be completely and utterly genuine, despite whether it might offend someone. This is one of Little Women’s cautionary tales against feminism: even if you’re an independent, free-thinking woman, this doesn’t exempt you from the consequences doled out by the patriarchal society you live in.