Aunt March Settles the Question
Reading Comprehension Activity

Author: Louisa May Alcott

Chapter XXIII passage: Love is in the air for Meg and Mr. Brooke — or is it? This passage from Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women” has Aunt March settling the question of Meg’s feelings for Mr. Cook — uh, Book — uh, Brooke. Students will read the passage and respond to questions on the language, the plot, and character traits.

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

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The four March sisters in Little Women are growing up. The eldest, Meg, has feelings for Mr. Brooke, the tutor who works next door for the Laurence family. However, she’s not ready to announce these feelings, so when Mr. Brooke declares his love, she tells him she is not interested. Mr. Brooke is greatly disappointed, and at this critical moment, Meg’s difficult great-aunt walks in the room to surprise her nephew, who is Meg’s father. Aunt March, in the conversation with Meg, misnames Mr. Brooke several times.


The old lady couldn’t resist her longing to see her nephew; for she had met Laurie as she took her airing, and, hearing of Mr. March’s arrival, drove straight out to see him. The family were all busy in the back part of the house, and she had made her way quietly in, hoping to surprise them. She did surprise two of them so much that Meg started as if she had seen a ghost, and Mr. Brooke vanished into the study.

“Bless me, what’s all this?” cried the old lady, with a rap of her cane, as she glanced from the pale young gentleman to the scarlet young lady.

“It’s father’s friend. I’m so surprised to see you!” stammered Meg, feeling that she was in for a lecture now.

“That’s evident,” returned Aunt March, sitting down. “But what is father’s friend saying to make you look like a peony? There’s mischief going on, and I insist upon knowing what it is,” with another rap.

“We were merely talking. Mr. Brooke came for his umbrella,” began Meg, wishing that Mr. Brooke and the umbrella were safely out of the house.

“Brooke? That boy’s tutor? Ah! I understand now. I know all about it. Jo blundered into a wrong message in one of your father’s letters, and I made her tell me. You haven’t gone and accepted him, child?” cried Aunt March, looking scandalized.

“Hush! he’ll hear. Sha’n’t I call mother?” said Meg, much troubled.

“Not yet. I’ve something to say to you, and I must free my mind at once. Tell me, do you mean to marry this Cook? If you do, not one penny of my money ever goes to you. Remember that, and be a sensible girl,” said the old lady impressively.

Now Aunt March possessed in perfection the art of rousing the spirit of opposition in the gentlest people, and enjoyed doing it. The best of us have a spice of perversity in us, especially when we are young and in love. If Aunt March had begged Meg to accept John Brooke, she would probably have declared she couldn’t think of it; but as she was peremptorily ordered not to like him, she immediately made up her mind that she would. Inclination as well as perversity made the decision easy, and, being already much excited, Meg opposed the old lady with unusual spirit.

“I shall marry whom I please, Aunt March, and you can leave your money to any one you like,” she said, nodding her head with a resolute air.

“Highty tighty! Is that the way you take my advice, miss? You’ll be sorry for it, by and by, when you’ve tried love in a cottage, and found it a failure.”

“It can’t be a worse one than some people find in big houses,” retorted Meg.

Aunt March put on her glasses and took a look at the girl, for she did not know her in this new mood. Meg hardly knew herself, she felt so brave and independent,-so glad to defend John, and assert her right to love him, if she liked. Aunt March saw that she had begun wrong, and, after a little pause, made a fresh start, saying, as mildly as she could, “Now, Meg, my dear, be reasonable, and take my advice. I mean it kindly, and don’t want you to spoil your whole life by making a mistake at the beginning. You ought to marry well, and help your family; it’s your duty to make a rich match, and it ought to be impressed upon you.”

“Father and mother don’t think so; they like John, though he is poor.”

“Your parents, my dear, have no more worldly wisdom than two babies.”

“I’m glad of it,” cried Meg stoutly.

Aunt March took no notice, but went on with her lecture. “This Rook is poor, and hasn’t got any rich relations, has he?”

“No; but he has many warm friends.”

“You can’t live on friends; try it, and see how cool they’ll grow. He hasn’t any business, has he?”

“Not yet; Mr. Laurence is going to help him.”

“That won’t last long. James Laurence is a crotchety old fellow, and not to be depended on. So you intend to marry a man without money, position, or business, and go on working harder than you do now, when you might be comfortable all your days by minding me and doing better? I thought you had more sense, Meg.”

“I couldn’t do better if I waited half my life! John is good and wise; he’s got heaps of talent; he’s willing to work, and sure to get on, he’s so energetic and brave. Every one likes and respects him, and I’m proud to think he cares for me, though I’m so poor and young and silly,” said Meg, looking prettier than ever in her earnestness.

“He knows you have got rich relations, child; that’s the secret of his liking, I suspect.”

“Aunt March, how dare you say such a thing? John is above such meanness, and I won’t listen to you a minute if you talk so,” cried Meg indignantly, forgetting everything but the injustice of the old lady’s suspicions. “My John wouldn’t marry for money, anymore than I would. We are willing to work, and we mean to wait. I’m not afraid of being poor, for I’ve been happy so far, and I know I shall be with him, because he loves me, and I-”

Meg stopped there, remembering all of a sudden that she hadn’t made up her mind; that she had told “her John” to go away, and that he might be overhearing her inconsistent remarks.

Comprehension Questions

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