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In Concord, Massachusetts, at the height of the Civil War, sisters Jo, Meg, Beth and Amy March struggle to keep their spirits high in spite of their poverty and the absence of their father, who is fighting with the Union Army. While pretty but selfish Amy finishes her schooling, and timid, sensitive Beth practices on her broken-down clavichord, envious Meg works as a seamstress, and spirited, tomboyish Jo, who dreams of becoming a famous author, panders to the whims of her gruff but well-to-do Aunt March. As a Christmas present, Aunt March gives each of the girls one dollar, which they then decide to spend on presents for their mother, whom they call Marmee. On Christmas morning, Marmee is pleasantly surprised by her daughters' impetuous generosity, particularly that of Amy, and asks them to donate their holiday breakfast to the Hummels, an impoverished local family. Later, after the sisters have performed one of Jo's original "dramas" before a crowd of appreciative children, Jo boldly introduces herself to Laurie Laurence, her wealthy next-door neighbor whose grandfather has terrified her for years. Jo immediately ingratiates herself to Laurie, and even impresses the inscrutable Mr. Laurence. To cement their new friendship, the Laurences invite the March girls to a lavish party, at which Meg meets Laurie's tutor, John Brooke. Over the next few months, while Meg is being romanced by John, Jo has her first short story published and Beth overcomes some of her shyness so that she can practice on Mr. Laurence's fine piano. After Marmee is alerted that Mr. March has been wounded and is convalescing in a Washington, D.C. hospital, she leaves her daughters to go to her husband's side. While she is away, Beth contracts scarlet fever from Mrs. Hummel's baby. As Beth's fever worsens, Jo prays that Marmee will return before she dies and tearfully reveals her deepest fears to Laurie. Beth survives, however, and is reunited with both Marmee and her father. Then, in spite of Jo's objections that the happy March family will be forever torn apart by her romantic "defection," Meg marries John. Inspired by the wedding, Laurie confesses his love to Jo, who reluctantly rejects him as a suitor. Laurie's subsequent snubbing causes Jo to move to a New York boardinghouse, where she meets Professor Baer, a poor German linguist. Helped by the professor, Jo greatly improves her writing and overcomes her confused hurt about Laurie. When Beth, who never fully recovered from her fever, nears death, Jo abandons Baer and returns to Concord. After Beth dies, Jo learns that Amy, whom Aunt March had taken to Europe, has fallen in love with Laurie. Eventually, Amy and Laurie marry, and Jo, who readily blesses the union, accepts the proposal of her sincere professor.