Little Women (2019) captures modern femality


Little Women directed by Greta Gerwig

Ainsley Martinez, North Marketing Editor

While walking out of the theater I felt enlightened. It wasn’t the overwhelming contrast between the dark theater and the unexpected sunny day in January, but a sense of awe in womanhood. The first time I watched the 1994 adaptation of Little Women I was nine years old, and immediately after the credits rolled… I pressed play again. Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women is an undeniable classic. The novel, among with five movie adaptations, has continued to resonate with readers since the publication 150 years ago. With various film adaptations and cultural significance, another movie version of the novel could seem excessive. Carrying a piece of this passionate, Winona Ryder-loving nine year old girl who could recite the entire script of the Little Women, even I felt that there wasn’t much to improve. However, after watching Greta Gerwig’s Little Women it was difficult to give justification to my childhood bias. 

Gerwig’s interpretation of Alcott’s concentrates the core values of the novel, while previous adaptations that are simply a linear progression of the storyline. The integrated changes in the film, such as the structural reorder of the movie switching from past and present and the dialogue modifications, enhance the overall theme of the domestic struggles of women in the 19th century. The dialogue is a key transformation that has brought more focus on the monetary values of marriage in the time period, while in other renditions those issues were more discreet.

However, one of the most important and drastic changes occurs at the end of the movie with Jo March. In the novel, and seen in previous movie adaptations, the story of Little Women was ultimately written by Jo March (the plot of Alcott’s novel essentially being a reflection of Jo’s semi-autobiography). After getting published, Jo abruptly finds love and marries a man named Friedrich Bhaer. This was unexpected of Jo, a character who had constantly proclaimed that she had no desire for romance. The novel, and the movies that came after it, then ended with Jo and this man (who wasn’t even a developed character) standing under an umbrella proclaiming their love. In Gerwig’s version however, getting published isn’t such an easy task. Jo’s publisher insists that her character in the novel get married: claiming that young female readers want romance. She disagrees with this romantic notion in her novel, and reiterates the theme that marriage is a monetary transaction. Jo then concludes that writing a false marriage narrative would not be romantic, but solely a way to sell her novel (a monetary transaction in the real world, if you will). The umbrella scene is now transformed into a fictional narrative; one where Jo March doesn’t actually get married. 

Gerwig allows Jo to be a consistent character that doesn’t conform to martial values in the 1800s, something that Alcott always wanted. After the publication of Little Women Alcott wrote to a friend that “Jo should have remained a literary spinster,” but because of the pressure from audiences to have Jo marry someone she later included it in the novel. And seeing that Alcott was never married, and the novel is based on her family, maybe by transforming Jo’s narrative Gerwig simultaneously transformed Alcott’s legacy. 

For any comments or concerns please contact Ainsley Martinez: [email protected]