On the Shelf
Reading Comprehension Activity

Author: Louisa May Alcott

Chapter XXXVIII passage: There are many differences between the lives of the 19th century March family and modern families, but toddlers at bedtime is not one of those differences. Meg’s recalcitrant toddler Demi wants to stay up and eat treats. When he doesn’t get his way, he becomes a handful — as many mothers today might recognize. Students will read the passage and respond to questions on the language and the theme.

Topic(s): Realistic Fiction. Skill(s): Theme, Summary, Compare & Contrast. Genre(s): Prose

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The March sisters in Little Women have grown up. Meg, the oldest March sister, is now the mother of twins: a girl named Daisy and a boy named Demi. In this passage, the twins are toddlers. While Daisy is easy to put to bed, Demi doesn’t like to go to sleep. He is the “little ghost” who appears while his parents are eating dinner.


Meg returned to her place, and supper was progressing pleasantly, when the little ghost walked again, and exposed the maternal delinquencies by boldly demanding,-

“More sudar, marmar.”

“Now this won’t do,” said John, hardening his heart against the engaging little sinner. “We shall never know any peace till that child learns to go to bed properly. You have made a slave of yourself long enough; give him one lesson, and then there will be an end of it. Put him in his bed and leave him, Meg.”

“He won’t stay there; he never does, unless I sit by him.”

“I’ll manage him. Demi, go upstairs, and get into your bed, as mamma bids you.”

“S’ant!” replied the young rebel, helping himself to the coveted “cakie,” and beginning to eat the same with calm audacity.

“You must never say that to papa; I shall carry you if you don’t go yourself.”

“Go ‘way; me don’t love parpar;” and Demi retired to his mother’s skirts for protection.

But even that refuge proved unavailing, for he was delivered over to the enemy, with a “Be gentle with him, John,” which struck the culprit with dismay; for when mamma deserted him, then the judgment-day was at hand. Bereft of his cake, defrauded of his frolic, and borne away by a strong hand to that detested bed, poor Demi could not restrain his wrath, but openly defied papa, and kicked and screamed lustily all the way upstairs. The minute he was put into bed on one side, he rolled out on the other, and made for the door, only to be ignominiously caught up by the tail of his little toga, and put back again, which lively performance was kept up till the young man’s strength gave out, when he devoted himself to roaring at the top of his voice. This vocal exercise usually conquered Meg; but John sat as unmoved as the post which is popularly believed to be deaf. No coaxing, no sugar, no lullaby, no story; even the light was put out, and only the red glow of the fire enlivened the “big dark” which Demi regarded with curiosity rather than fear. This new order of things disgusted him, and he howled dismally for “marmar,” as his angry passions subsided, and recollections of his tender bondwoman returned to the captive autocrat. The plaintive wail which succeeded the passionate roar went to Meg’s heart, and she ran up to say beseechingly,-

“Let me stay with him; he’ll be good, now, John.”

“No, my dear, I’ve told him he must go to sleep, as you bid him; and he must, if I stay here all night.”

“But he’ll cry himself sick,” pleaded Meg, reproaching herself for deserting her boy.

“No, he won’t, he’s so tired he will soon drop off, and then the matter is settled; for he will understand that he has got to mind. Don’t interfere; I’ll manage him.”

“He’s my child, and I can’t have his spirit broken by harshness.”

“He’s my child, and I won’t have his temper spoilt by indulgence. Go down, my dear, and leave the boy to me.”

When John spoke in that masterful tone, Meg always obeyed, and never regretted her docility.

“Please let me kiss him once, John?”

“Certainly. Demi, say ‘good-night’ to mamma, and let her go and rest, for she is very tired with taking care of you all day.”

Meg always insisted upon it that the kiss won the victory; for after it was given, Demi sobbed more quietly, and lay quite still at the bottom of the bed, whither he had wriggled in his anguish of mind.

Comprehension Questions

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