Cast of Characters:
Meg (Margaret): She remembers living better and struggles to be graceful about their straightened situation, although it has obviously been the way things are for quite some time.
Aunt March: She is childless & offered to adopt one of the girls when the March family fell on hard times. She was upset by their refusal and initially refused to speak to them, but has since mellowed enough to take Jo as a sort of domestic assistant. Aunt March is a widow. See also: Jo.
The King Family: Thus far we have read about the 4 children that Meg tends. In addition there are two older sisters, Grace & Ellen, that are about Meg & Jo's age that have recently debuted and are enjoying all the little luxuries that Meg wishes for. There is also an older brother whom the father sent away because of some unspecified disgrace.
Jo (Josephine): She is "Josy-phine" to Aunt March and she considers Aunt March to be a considerable trial she must endure (but she also loves her). But Aunt March still has her late husband's library, which Jo loves. Jo is restless and ambitious, but as yet seems to have little direction for her ambition.
Beth: Because she did so poorly at school (she's very bashful), Beth is homeschooled, previosly by her father but now Marmee does it, and Beth also does a great deal working with Hannah to keep up the house. She is a tender thing who loves music and has a little hospital of discarded dolls.
Amy: Amongst the other girls, Amy almost seems out of place. Where the others have quite a few virtues, Amy seems to be selfish ("Not one whole or handsome among [her dolls], all were outcasts till Beth took them in; for, when her sisters outgrew these idols, they passed to her because Amy would have nothing old or ugly." Ch 4, pg 45) She's prissy and I find myself more than a little sympathetic to the irritation that leads Jo to constantly needle her. Her nose is her greatest trial?? She is, however, very artistic and a good student.
Susie Perkins: One of Amy's classmates. She gets in trouble for mocking Mr. Davis, the teacher.
Mr. Davis: Amy's teacher.
Laurie: bashful, but friendly and kind neighbor. He seems to be about the same age as Meg and Jo.
Mr. Lawrence: He's the gentleman next door and Laurie's redoubtable grandfather. He takes a nearly instant liking to Jo.
Laurie's parents: His father married his mother against the wishes of Mr. Lawrence; they both died young. Mrs. Lawrence was an Italian and a pianist.
Chapter 4: The March family struggles to remain happy in the face of trial. Marmee reminds them all that in spite of the things they don't have to remember how many blessings they have.
Chapter 5: Jo goes to visit Laurie and also meets his grandfather. It appears to be the beginning of friendly relations between the two households.
Chapter 6: Mr. Lawrence allows Beth to use his piano. She sends beautiful handmade slippers by way of thanks. He responds by giving this little girl, who reminds him of his late granddaughter, his granddaughter's piano. Mr. Lawrence and Beth become fast friends.
One of the things I just love about this book is the way that Alcott keeps it real. It starts with complaints ("Christmas won't be Christmas without any presents!") and although the girls & their Marmee are definitely wonderful women, they all have their cross moments in this second set of chapters. I love the way that Jo works against the grouchiness in the beginning of chapter 4 with the imagery of the Pilgrim's Progress and other good literature. But I think that there is a bit of wisdom in the comment about Meg:
"Poor Meg seldom complained, but a sense of injustice made her feel bitter toward everyone sometimes, for she had not yet learned to know how rich she was in the blessings which alone can make life happy." (Chapter 4, pg 44.)
What an ordinary human problem! I think that Meg is in good company with this problem. I think that Kate has the right of it: Count Your Many Blessings. It's likely the best and fastest cure for the problem. I should count mine more often.
The other thing that stands out to me here is the grand effects of simple kindness. Jo went out to shovel paths for Beth in the yard. She ended by going to visit Laurie, who was ill. Small and simple things bring great things to pass, and from these humble beginnings springs all sorts of wonderful things: Laurie gets out more and generally leads a happier life. There is much visiting back and forth. Everyone in both households is better off. Finally, in chapter 6, Beth and Mr. Lawrence each give the other kindnesses that are priceless to their recipients.
I like the way this book makes me want to be a better woman myself. The fruits of goodness and kindness are so clearly and so realistically displayed in the March family's lives as we read about them. But more than the benefits they receive for their goodness, it's clear that their goodness makes them wonderful people. I want to be like that. I like that this book makes me think that kind of thoughts.