Jo realizes she has to come to grips with life without Beth. She finds it difficult to act virtuous without her sister’s pious influence, and she realizes that she can never fully take Beth’s place (something Beth had asked her to do before she’d died). In despair, Jo goes to Mr. March and tells him her troubles. She finds comfort in confiding in him, and she also eventually finds comfort in performing the small household tasks that were once Beth’s responsibility.
As women in the Gilded Age were lauded for their ability to serve as virtuous role models for men, it’s interesting to note that Beth played this very role in Jo’s life. Jo, for whom feminine virtue doesn’t come easily, therefore finds it difficult to be good once Beth is gone.
One day, while sewing with Meg, Jo reflects on how good marriage has been for her sister. Meg suggests to Jo that love will make her show her heart one day. “Frost opens chestnut burrs…and it takes a good shake to bring them down,” Jo retorts. The narrator reveals that grief is the frost that has pried Jo’s heart open.
Interestingly enough, it seems like Beth had one more lesson to teach Jo. Somehow, Jo finds herself newly able to fall in love as a result of her deep grief over Beth. In recognizing Meg’s happiness, Jo revises her thoughts about marriage; it may be that, because she’s a woman, she would be happiest if she were married.
Mrs. March suggests to Jo that she start writing again. Jo takes her advice, and pens a short story that, after publication, goes on to garner quite a bit of praise. Jo is puzzled with her success, and Mr. March tells her it’s because “there is truth in it,” given that Jo wrote it with no “thoughts of fame and money.”
Jo’s break from writing seems to have cleansed her spirit. Because she isn’t striving for power (a masculine pursuit), her writing is finally deemed good.
Amy writes to tell her family about her betrothal to Laurie. Jo is grave when she reads the news, but soon reveals that she’s happy. Jo retreats to her garret, where she reflects on the winter she spent at the Kirkes’ house. She finds a note from Professor Bhaer tucked away in one of her books – the note bids her to wait for him. She clutches the note fast and longs for the professor to fulfill his promise.
Jo’s real feelings aren’t clear in this passage. Is she happy for Amy? Or does she feel regret for letting Laurie go? Her regret may have to do with her realization that she is now ready to marry. Jo’s romantic feelings for Bhaer signal that she’s grown more in line with the 19th century ideal of femininity.