Something in Beth’s behavior worries Mrs. March. After observing Beth in secret, Jo concludes that she has fallen in love with Laurie. This leads Jo to daydream about love and marriage. She considers, briefly, her family’s speculation that Laurie has become fonder of her lately. Jo dismisses this notion, citing how Laurie is too much of a “weathercock.”
To Jo, the worst thing that could befall Beth is falling in love (which means she’ll be married off and taken away) – hence her assumption that she’s in love with Laurie. Mrs. March, however, secretly worries that Beth is dying.
That night, Jo watches Laurie talk to Beth in the Marches’ parlor. Jo retreats to the sofa, so as to give the two some space. As she considers where in the house she might hide away, Laurie suddenly sits down beside her. Jo tries to send him back to Beth, but Laurie won’t hear of it.
Jo is in denial about Laurie’s infatuation with her, perhaps because she regards the idea of marriage with nothing short of horror.
Laurie and Jo banter about flirtation. Jo scolds Laurie for flirting with girls who don’t care “two pins” for him at college, and Laurie quips, “Sensible girls for whom I do care whole papers of pins won’t let me….” Jo admits that she doesn’t understand flirting, and Laurie replies that he’s glad Jo isn’t capable of flirting.
Laurie is, in effect, blaming his flirtations with other women on Jo, given that she isn’t giving him what he wants. In rejecting love, Jo is rejecting another facet of what at that time was considered feminine.
Later that night, as she lies awake in bed, Jo overhears Beth weeping into her pillow. She assumes that Beth is crying about Laurie.
Again, given her strong anti-romance sentiments, Jo can’t fathom that Beth might be upset about something else.
Several days later, prompted by both Beth and Laurie’s behavior, Jo tells Mrs. March that she thinks it would be best if she left town for a while. Jo’s plan is to go to New York, where she will work as a governess for Mrs. Kirke, a friend of the family. Jo admits to Mrs. March that Laurie is in love with her, and Mrs. March is relieved that Jo isn’t in love with him – she fears they would “both rebel” if they were married. Mrs. March agrees to Jo’s plan, and bids her to enjoy life as a single woman until she tires of it, “for only then will you find that there is something sweeter.”
Jo and Laurie’s relationship in Little Women is curious. It seems that both Jo and Mrs. March fear Jo’s involvement with Laurie. There’s often a sense that they’re both too hotheaded, both too passionate – hence Mrs. March’s feeling that they would both “rebel” if married. One might speculate that there’s strong sexual tension between Laurie and Jo, and that such feelings are regarded with suspicion. Marriage, according to Little Women, shouldn’t be passionate. This is very much in line with popular thought in the 19th century.
On the day of her departure, Jo asks Beth to take care of Laurie for her while she’s away. As she says goodbye to Laurie, he leans in and whispers, “It won’t do a bit of good, Jo. My eye is on you, so mind what you do, or I’ll come and bring you home.”
It’s speculated that Alcott based Laurie’s character on Laddie, a Polish musician whom she met while traveling in Europe. Their affair was brief and passionate. This may explain her rendering of Jo and Laurie’s relationship in Little Women.