Before I get started, I must say that this blog post will contain some spoilers as talking about them is somewhat crucial for my opinion of both the book and the movie.
I frequent the AMC on 84th street and on 68th Street quite regularly. I have a membership with the theater that allows me to see movies at a discounted rate for the month, or at least see on during the month for the same price. Because of that, I see a lot of trailers, and a lot of the same trailers while there. One that always caught my attention was Little Women with its star-studded cast and, of course, seeing myself in Jo March, played by Saoirse Ronan, as the heroine known for her writing and a quite progressive stance on women.
In the trailer, over beautiful scenes from the film, you hear the angst and pain in Ronan’s voice when she says, “Women, they have minds, and they have souls as well as just hearts. And they’ve got ambition, and they’ve got talent as well as just beauty. I’m so sick of people saying that love is just all a woman is fit for, I’m just sick of it.” I watched the trailer end for the first time and immediately knew I wanted to see it the second it came out.
But then in the back of my mind, I knew it is based on the 1868 novel written by Louisa May Alcott. It was a book most everyone has seen in some capacity. There are trendy Urban Outfitters versions, illustrated, coffee table worthy versions, paperback, hardcover, leather-bound, fabric coated, vintage, and new-age versions. Its a classic in all sense of the word, but as I scroll through Goodread and converse with other women my age, most of my cohort have marked the book “to-be-read.” Before January, I saw the book, always said I would like to read more classics, but it wasn’t until I saw the trailer did I actively go out to seek a copy of the book. In fact, the first book store I stopped in looking but it was sold out of every print they had.
After not seeing the movie on Christmas Day, I put off seeing it until I had a copy of the book in my hands and had read it. Something I do very commonly is read the books after I have watched the movie. I’ve done that with too many good stories, although it’s rare for me to not like both of them had I seen the adaptation first, I know everyone says, “the books are always better.”
So, a friend and I vowed to read it together and go and watch the movie once we were both done. And before I get into my overall thoughts, I want to talk about my expectations that I had from the trailer and how that really did impact the way I read my copy of Little Women.
I was SO ready for this novel all about female empowerment and independence and chasing dreams and not boys, but then again, I got that, but not to the extent that I wanted.
The novel follows the March sisters, Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy. Throughout the story, they are anywhere from pre-teen to their early twenties and are doing what they can to support their family while the father is away during the war. Everyone has something that they enjoy, but I took to Jo quite quickly as she was the writer, and in many ways, I saw Alcott projecting herself within Jo’s character as I do in my own writing. Jo is proud of what she writes, she learns to write for herself and allow the money to become a bonus. She holds a complicated but platonic relationship with the neighbor, Laurie, who becomes an important character throughout. He can be a great friend at times and pushed the envelope at others, but in the back of your mind, you cheer for him and Jo’s relationship because of how it seems as though he genuinely cares.
But for the majority of the book, you experience Jo’s loss. You see how she struggles with death, and when her sisters marry, she leaves home thinking it would save her friendship, and she grapples with this concept of love and knowing women can do more than just love, and part of me wanted Jo to remain independent. Its the eye roll at the end of the trailer that has me believing Jo will be that heroine, but then she marries an advisor of her’s, “the professor,” Mr. Bhaer.
Outside of this sudden shift of my expectation, Allcott write beautiful characters to life that has you beliving these are your friends and not fictions. They exhibit a series of struggles, sacrifices, flaws, and kindness. They are characteristics all of us strive to understand and exhibit, and at the same time, their characters can be believable. There is more to the story that I can critique, but I think its also necessary to touch on how the movie impacted my opinion.
At first, I was disappointed in the book because I didn’t necessarily want Jo to end up with anyone, and part of me was knowing that that was selfish. I wanted a female character that embodied “making it on your own” and wondered if Jo settled when she married the only other man we have to know her to be intimately acquainted with—outside of the publisher.
But then you watch the movie, you see how Jo embodies that. The book’s story is posed in almost two different realities within the movie—where flashbacks and foreshadowing of the story as opposed to the chronological telling from the book. Outside of that, the ages of the men, and the fact that the professor was French and not German, there was nothing glaringly upsetting about how the story was retold in the film. In fact, I felt the movie almost made me appreciate the book a bit more.
While I was reading, I told you that for selfish reasons I wanted Jo to follow her dreams and not marry; I wanted the rouge telling of a single woman making waves in her occupation, but then you listen to the pain in Ronan’s voice and come to remember there is nothing wrong with wanting human interaction. That being lonely isn’t some flaw to the female character, and her desire for companionship doesn’t discredit her career pursuits—it in ways showcases how forming that connection can improve our mental health and benefit our work.
I also appreciate the added interaction with Jo and Mr. Dashwood, the publisher. I loved seeing how the director, writer, and producer shined a light on the publishing community. Being someone who would love to work in the contracts department, I understand how much can benefit the company versus the writer, and love how she negotiated for better pay and the copyright. I felt it was an accurate description of how the publishers know what will sell, and how the end of the book could have changed because if Louisa May did base Jo off of herself, she did not marry.
I really do appreciate that I read the book first and went to see the film, and I look forward to doing that more with other novels!