Jo and Professor Bhaer begin to spend more and more time together, and by the second week of his visit the Marches (all but Jo) are sure of his intentions. However, after two weeks of daily visits, the professor is away for three days. Jo is frustrated, and she decides to take her mind off of things by running some errands in town (secretly harboring the hope that she would run into the professor). Her mother reminds her to take an umbrella before she leaves – Jo forgets this.
It’s not clear whether Jo is in disbelief about Bhaer’s intentions because she’s oblivious (given that she’s very innocent and natural) or whether it’s because she has low self-esteem (given that she’s not an ideal woman). She leaves the house without the protection of an umbrella, a symbol of masculine protection.
Jo finds herself walking in the men’s district of town – the counting houses, banks, and wholesale warerooms – where she hopes to catch a glimpse of the professor. It begins raining, and Jo chastises herself for forgetting her umbrella in her foolish search for the professor. As she walks, she notices that an umbrella is being held over her head. She looks up and sees that it belongs to Professor Bhaer.
Lo and behold, here’s Bhaer with an umbrella, the symbol for male protection! It’s significant that he offers her some protection in this, the men’s side of town. Given that she’s a writer, Jo has (up until now) had to navigate the male world (that is, the world outside of the home) on her own.
As they walk, the professor reveals that he’s been offered a position at a college in the West. Jo is shattered, but keeps her feelings to herself. She numbly accompanies him on a number of errands, and finally tells him that she must return home. She begins to weep as they walk, prompting the professor to ask her what’s wrong. Jo confesses that she’s heartbroken that he’s going away. Professor Bhaer is overjoyed, and he proposes to Jo on the spot. Jo joyously accepts
The professor has taken this position in order to raise money for his adopted children; this is yet another example of the intertwining of hard work and virtue. Note how platonic their love seems. It is deep and true, and yet it seems to lack the passion of Jo’s prior interactions with Laurie.
The professor reveals that he got the courage to court Jo from a poem of hers (“In the Garret” – detailing each of the March girls’ hope chests) that he found published in a paper. The poem convinced Professor Bhaer that Jo was lonely and might accept his love. When they arrive at the March family’s house, Jo kisses him while they still stand under the umbrella.
Bhaer made the assumption that Jo would accept his proposal given that she was lonely…not because they were especially compatible or in love. The assumption here is that women are happier when they’re married; Bhaer assumed that Jo would be no exception.