Chapter 6 Beth Finds the Palace Beautiful
One of the lions to get past before the Marches can enjoy the Palace Beautiful is their awkwardness because they are poor and the Laurences are wealthy. However, they soon learn that Laurie feels himself the benefactor, and they accept the mutual benefit. The March family's philosophy and hard work influences Laurie, and everyone enjoys the Laurence home except Beth, who cannot overcome her fear of the gruff Mr. Laurence. Mr. Laurence hears of this, and asks Mrs. March, so Beth can hear, if one of the girls could come over and play the piano to keep it in tune. Beth approaches him, and Mr. Laurence kindly tells her she reminds him of his own granddaughter. The next day Beth gathers her courage to go to the big house, where she finds easy music on the piano, and then returns daily.
To thank Mr. Laurence, Beth makes him a pair of slippers. In return, Mr. Laurence surprises Beth by giving her the cabinet piano that his granddaughter used to play. Beth is so moved that she decides to go thank Mr. Laurence in person, before she becomes too afraid. Mr. Laurence pulls her onto his knee and, remembering his lost granddaughter, Beth kisses him, and the two become fast friends.
Chapter 7 Amy’s Valley of Humiliation
Amy sighs for money, wishing she could buy pickled limes to treat her friends at school. Meg gives her a quarter, and Amy brings the limes to school. One unkind girl reports the limes to Mr. Davis, the teacher.
Mr. Davis makes Amy throw the limes into the snow, then strikes her palm and makes her stand in front of the class until lunch. For Amy, the experience is deeply humiliating, since Amy’s parents had never hit her. At recess, Amy takes her possessions and goes straight home. Marmee withdraws Amy from the school, but she lectures Amy on breaking the rules, and encourages her to be more modest. Amy, upon reflection, realizes that Laurie is accomplished, but not conceited, so people enjoy his natural charm.
Chapter 8 Jo Meets Apollyon
Laurie invites Jo and Meg to the theater, and Amy begs to go along, but Jo refuses. To get revenge, Amy burns up a book manuscript, a collection of stories that Jo had been writing for several years. Jo, who has a hot temper, shakes Amy and boxes her ears. Gradually Amy realizes she was wrong, but Jo will not forgive her. The next day Jo goes skating with Laurie. Amy follows, but Jo does not tell her which ice is safe, and Amy falls through the ice. Laurie rescues Amy, with Jo’s help. At home, with Amy safe, Jo confesses to her Mother that she was consumed by anger and could have lost Amy as a result. Marmee then tells Jo that she, too, once had a very bad temper, but that she has learned to control it. Jo’s Father has been a great help to her, and she tries to be an example for her girls. Jo takes great comfort and inspiration from her Mother sharing this weakness, and prays that she will never again let her anger bring her so close to tragedy.
Chapter 9 Meg Goes to Vanity Fair
In the spring, Meg goes to stay a fortnight with Annie Moffat. Mrs. March is concerned that Meg will return discontented, but consents to the trip. Meg is upset she does not have very nice things to take, but she remembers to be happy that she has this chance.
Meg is at first daunted by the luxurious environs, but she enjoys idling and dining finely, and begins to adopt the mannerisms of her hosts and envy her friends. When preparing for the first, smaller party, Meg is embarrassed by her second-best dress, and wears her nicest one, but it is still plain. She feels upset until she receives flowers from Laurie and a note from her mother. Rejuvenated, she shares the flowers with her friends and enjoys the party and a few honest compliments. Unfortunately, the party is spoiled for her by overhearing gossip that Meg’s mother wants her to marry Laurie for his wealth, and that her friends hope Meg would tear her dress, so they can offer her another, nicer one for the next ball. Meg’s pride is insulted, but she holds her tongue, and cries that night feeling that her innocent world has been corrupted by romantic speculation and gossip.
The next morning, the other girls show Meg more respect, thinking Laurie is courting her, which makes her laugh. Belle then kindly offers Meg a different dress for the next party, and asks to dress her up like Cinderella. Meg accepts, and the night of the party, she wears all the latest fashions, which brings her the attentions of high-society people. Meg enjoys the attention, but feels queer and uncomfortable. Laurie appears and is also uncomfortable, and tells Meg honestly that he does not like how she looks or is acting. Meg realizes she has been foolish, and Laurie apologizes for his rudeness. Meg spends the rest of the evening acting the part, dancing with Ned Moffat, flirting, and drinking champagne, despite not truly enjoying herself. She is quite ready to return home when the time comes.
At home, Meg confesses to Marmee and Jo. Mrs. March insists that they forget the gossip, and regrets sending Meg, but Meg is thankful, and admits that it is sometimes nice to be admired. Marmee says she understands, and that she hopes Meg will value the praise of those she respects, and be as modest as she is pretty. She explains that her plans for her girls are different than other mothers’ – rather than hoping her daughters marry rich, she hopes they become good women and find true and loving husbands with whom to share duties and joys. She hopes they will prepare for that time by making their current home happy, and trust that good, sincere men will not be daunted by poverty.
This section draws most heavily on Pilgrim's Progress, with each of the girls facing a challenge similar to that faced by Christian in the book. Beth must pass the lions, her fear of Mr. Laurence. For Christian, this is a test of faith, for in fact the lions are chained. Beth's faith in the kindness of the Laurences, her gratitude, and her pity for Mr. Laurence losing his granddaughter help her overcome her burden of bashfulness. When going into the Valley of Humiliation, Christian slips a little along the way, despite the help of Discretion, Piety, Charity, and Prudence. Amy's burden is selfishness, and her purchase of the limes is a selfish and indulgent "slip." While Marmee condemns the corporal punishment, she agrees that Amy needed the lesson, which Amy learns.
Like Christian, Jo meets Apollyon, a monster who tries to destroy him. The allusion serves to emphasize how evil Jo's temper is and likens it to an external demon she must defeat. Marmee urges Jo to use her faith in God to defeat her temper, as Christian defeats the monster. Like Christian, Meg passes through Vanity Fair, a fair devised to tempt passers-by into all indulging in the lusts of their heart. Also like Christian, Meg's dress is different from that of the other girls. While Christian ultimately escapes unscathed, Meg is tempted, but learns that her vanities cannot be indulged without consequences. Alcott uses simile to compare Meg to a jackdaw, who in Aesop's fable borrows fancy feathers to try being selected as king of the birds, but then is exposed as a fraud.
Poverty is a dominant theme in this section of the book. The difference in their wealth is initially a barrier to friendship with the Laurences, but as both parties are noble, they overcome that divide. Marmee later tells Meg and Jo, "Money is a needful and a precious thing,--and, when well used, a noble thing,--but I never want you to think it is the first or only prize to strive for." Both Amy and Meg struggle to accept living genuinely within their means, but cannot resist the attention that comes with luxuries like limes or silk dresses. Like the jackdaw in Aesop's fable, both are humiliated. The pressures and expectations of society differ from the morality espoused by the March family. Indeed, Alcott references Marmee reading Maria Edgeworth to the girls, whose popular story "The Purple Jar" urged the sensible choice of useful rather than pretty items.
In this chapter, we also see Meg concerned about poverty's affect on her marital prospects. The gossip at the party spoils her innocence and marks the beginning of Meg's transition from childhood to adulthood, to Jo's dismay. Marmee recognizes that the "time has come" to discuss her plans for marriage with her daughters. Marmee's description contradicts the dominant view of women's roles at the time, for though she describes marriage with a good man as "the best and sweetest thing which can happen to a woman," she also urges the girls not to marry for riches, or to demean themselves in aspiring for this goal.
Marmee embodies her wish for her girls not to fear marriage with a poor but loving man. She misses him, but takes comfort in knowing she is doing her duty to him and to her country, as well as in her Heavenly Father. This quick transition from discussing Father to discussing God, along with Father's absence and gentle encouragement from afar, draws easy comparisons between the two. Father, as a chaplain and minister, is a distant source of Christian comfort for the girls, and he inspires them to be good. The comparison also reflects on Alcott's portrayal of God, as similar to the kind of loving Father the girls know.