A Friend
Reading Comprehension Activity

Author: Louisa May Alcott

Chapter XXXIV passage: While she is working as a governess, Jo March has made friends with Professor Bhaer who lives in the same boarding house. She’s fascinated by the fact that while he is not young, handsome, or rich, people still gravitate to him. Students will read the passage and respond to questions about character traits, the language, and the theme.

Topic(s): Realistic Fiction. Skill(s): Theme, Character Traits, Context Clues. Genre(s): Prose

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In Little Women, Jo March has gone to New York to be a governess for a family who runs a boarding house. There she meets one of the residents, Professor Bhaer. She becomes friends with him, and she finds that all the people in the house are very fond of him. She is also fond of him, and she struggles to figure our why.


I don’t know whether the study of Shakespeare helped her to read character, or the natural instinct of a woman for what was honest, brave, and strong; but while endowing her imaginary heroes with every perfection under the sun, Jo was discovering a live hero, who interested her in spite of many human imperfections. Mr. Bhaer, in one of their conversations, had advised her to study simple, true, and lovely characters, wherever she found them, as good training for a writer. Jo took him at his word, for she coolly turned round and studied him,-a proceeding which would have much surprised him, had he known it, for the worthy Professor was very humble in his own conceit.

Why everybody liked him was what puzzled Jo, at first. He was neither rich nor great, young nor handsome; in no respect what is called fascinating, imposing, or brilliant; and yet he was as attractive as a genial fire, and people seemed to gather about him as naturally as about a warm hearth. He was poor, yet always appeared to be giving something away; a stranger, yet every one was his friend; no longer young, but as happy-hearted as a boy; plain and peculiar, yet his face looked beautiful to many, and his oddities were freely forgiven for his sake. Jo often watched him, trying to discover the charm, and, at last, decided that it was benevolence which worked the miracle. If he had any sorrow, “it sat with its head under its wing,” and he turned only his sunny side to the world. There were lines upon his forehead, but Time seemed to have touched him gently, remembering how kind he was to others. The pleasant curves about his mouth were the memorials of many friendly words and cheery laughs; his eyes were never cold or hard, and his big hand had a warm, strong grasp that was more expressive than words.

His very clothes seemed to partake of the hospitable nature of the wearer. They looked as if they were at ease, and liked to make him comfortable; his capacious waistcoat was suggestive of a large heart underneath; his rusty coat had a social air, and the baggy pockets plainly proved that little hands often went in empty and came out full; his very boots were benevolent, and his collars never stiff and raspy like other people’s.

“That’s it!” said Jo to herself, when she at length discovered that genuine good-will towards one’s fellow-men could beautify and dignify even a stout German teacher, who shoveled in his dinner, darned his own socks, and was burdened with the name of Bhaer.

Comprehension Questions

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