The Timeless Significance of ‘Little Women’

Still from Greta Gerwig's Little Women

Little Women may be a classic story with a lot of adaptations, but it’s one of the few stories entirely deserving of its merit and rank amongst females. And Greta Gerwig’s version especially is as close to perfect as it gets. I’ll go as far as stating that in my eyes, it is actually perfect. Gerwig’s adaptation and my first viewing of the film is something I’ll carry with me for as long as I live because I’ve never felt more seen or exposed than watching something in a room full of people. On multiple accounts, it felt as though my innermost personal thoughts, the diary inside my head because I don’t actually carry a physical one was out there. And I’ve read the book, I’ve seen previous versions of the film, I’ve just never dived in head deep into the lives of the March women as I did today. Little Women stands the test of time over and over again because it’s a story that celebrates our differences alongside our strengths. I have quite a few pieces I want to write to celebrate this film and its mark on my life, but right now I want to scream about the importance of our goodness and the fact that it’s a choice every single day that’s often overlooked.

In times like this, I’m often reminded of the Book of Proverbs, chapter 31 where women are to be reminded of their irreplaceable place in the world. “Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come.” (31:25) And my profound love for the chapter is due to its exquisite description of our strength, exhibiting that it isn’t mutually exclusive with always having it together, but remaining steadfast to kindness and sincerity even in the midst of our troubles.

Greta Gerwig touches on a part of Marmee that adaptations in the past haven’t presented as boldly, and it’s her statement that she’s “angry nearly every day of her life,” a line that Laura Dern brings to the forefront with such vehemence and vulnerability, I can’t stop thinking about it. Each of the March girls is incomparably relatable, but we, and Hollywood especially, forget to acknowledge just how difficult it is not to let the sun go down on anger. We might be in a seemingly more progressive time where women have greater opportunities than they did in the 19th century, but it doesn’t change the fact that our fight is still great and the expectations riding on us are much higher. When a woman is angry, she’s told to calm down, but when a man’s rage turns him into a villain, it’s okay because society wronged him, broke him, and bullied him. Open any woman’s heart and there you’ll find countless rejections, deep cuts, bruises, and missing pieces that never heal and yet, the choice to consistently be caretakers, loving beings is thus overlooked. When women voice their concerns, it’s irrational, too petulant  — it’s unimportant. We live in a world that focuses too much on the darknesses that breed villainy and not enough on the darknesses that fortify armor.

Little Women is a story that describes lifelong pain beautifully, and it’s a story that shines a light on the fact that strength isn’t always interwoven with superpowers, but the nobility in our choices despite the anger and pain in our beings. “She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.” (31:26) It’s a story that shines a light on all sorts of complex women reminding us of the fact that in spite of our differences, each and every woman deserves to be seen for the choices she makes every day — the roots she plants, the plates she fills, and the goodness she sprinkles in the lives of those less fortunate. It’s a story that demands to be heard because it’s a story that explicitly focuses on our complexities and struggles as human beings bringing us to the center not to shame us, but to celebrate us. Women have every right to be angry when it feels as though only males are credited for the same work that we do. Women have every right to be angry when people ask us when we’re getting married next as opposed to what we’re working on next or where we’ll be going. And just as Jo March is sick of hearing it, so am I, but she’s right — every word. “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 beauty, and I’m so sick of people saying that love is just all that a woman is fit for. I’m so sick of it! But I’m s- I’m so lonely.” (Give Saoirse Ronan the Oscar for Best Actress NOW!)

And that’s just it, we’re living in a time where we almost expect strong women not to feel an aching sense of loneliness, but it’s there, too continuing to layer us further and once more, digging into all the pain that’s long lived in us. I dare you to walk up to any woman and ask her whether she’s ever felt angry enough to punch everything. I guarantee that the answer will be yes. Because in truth, anger is a part of us, too – whether it’s due to the mistreatment we’ve faced in the world, losing someone we hold dear, or just the downright cruelty that’s rained down on us. Each of the March women, Beth including have every right to be angry, but the fact that they’ve each chosen to rise above that anger and pepper a little goodness into the world is the kind of storytelling I want to see more of.  This includes Jo, whose anger rises more often than not, but understanding it and choosing to rise above it even when she fails is still taking steps in the right direction.  Countless women live with depression, countless women live through raging hormones and a surplus of pain once a month, and countless women are tired and broken, but so much of what we see in them is still the choice to be kind. A choice Gerwig shows us as much as she mentions it because with great loss comes great lifelong sorrow, and they’ll spend the rest of their lives mourning that the best of them was taken too soon. But it’s that very grief and pain that they’ll push passed every day even when the decision to be angry is much easier.

These are the kind of stories that deserve to win Best Picture awards because we need to remind the world of the hard work that goodness entails. So few wake up in the morning and wonder what they could do to help another, but where great loss is involved, sometimes the only way to heal the darkness that’s clouding us is to be of use for another. “She opens her hand to the poor and reaches out her hands to the needy. She is not afraid of snow for her household, for all her household are clothed in scarlet.” (31:20-21) Thus, that’s the central theme of Little Women — it’s a group of women whose losses were so great, they couldn’t stand to see others in the same light. And sometimes that’s the route that’s taken because it’s human not to be able to visit the sick when you’re barely making ends meet, but one out of four will make that hard choice anyway. Women are multifaceted, emotionally driven, (Which is actually not a bad thing!) powerful beings who’ve learned that the good fight is found in little triumphs and the hope for someday. You wake up every morning hoping that people won’t see us as just wives and mothers, but as beings with hearts that beat and bones that could break. We absolutely are mothers, we are wives, we are sisters, we are writers, we are dancers, we are engineers, we are political figures, but we are also human beings carrying crosses by ourselves, breaking by ourselves, choosing for ourselves, and giving ourselves out to anyone who’s needing it. We all have different dreams (Another article I’m planning on writing for the film!) but our stories, no matter how different, deserve to be told because our darkness is often neglected, and our pain is easily ignored.

We clap and cheer when the Hulk (Marvel) says “he’s angry all the time”, but when a woman says those very words, the torches rise. Our anger and pain have often been associated with crazy as opposed to fortitude and rightful human nature. We’re afraid to get angry because if we do, we’ll be shunned. But that’s not why Marmee and the March women are so unbelievably strong and special, it’s because they’ve taken the pain and turned it into humility. They’ve pushed passed it, worn it as armor, and walked in love, which shows far more strength than the origin stories of a murderer. “Cool motive, still murder.” The pain and anger that Marmee’s lived through, the harrowing pain she’ll continue to live through after losing Beth is a testament to colossal strength and profound goodness. And once more, Gerwig captures that pain masterfully when she allows a mother to cling to one of her daughters in distress crying about the other child she’s lost. Laura Dern is fantastic in everything, but this scene is utter brilliance, it’s pure vulnerability and palpably evocative. I lost it as she fumbled with her fingers before she allowed herself the chance to truly grieve.

Mothers don’t grieve in front of us often. It’s almost as though they aren’t allowed to. From the beginning of time, they’ve held it all together for us, but this film gives women permission to just be. It gives mothers the chance to lean on their daughters when they’re old enough because there comes a time where we’re going to be their greatest strength, as they’ve always been ours. It’s a story that gives daughters the platform to scream and shout and to grieve in silence, too. It’s a story that shows us what it means to be the younger sibling who’s taken away from troubles and the guilt that’d follow the tremendous grief. It’s a film that celebrates our spirits, the moments we are angry and broken, and the moments where we’re in love and ambitious. It’s a film that focuses on giving as opposed to receiving while highlighting the pain that comes along with waiting and fighting.

There’s a lot women don’t talk about in secrecy with another, a lot we don’t publicly disclose, but it doesn’t change the fact that within all of us, there are thousands of wars we’re fighting and prodigious fires we’re putting out even when it seems like some have it easier than others. Facades are just ways of covering up pain because vulnerability requires strength and sometimes, we’re all very much out of it. It’s just a day-by-day journey. Gerwig’s adaptation of the film is the perfect ode to complexities and dreams. Much like the final scene being Marmee’s birthday celebration, it’s emblematic of the way this film celebrates its women. It’s the perfect showcase of strength, and the fact that it’s nominated for a Best Picture fills me with the incomparable hope that people still want to see stories where the heroine’s happy in the end. Whether she’s celebrating the -publication of her first novel or celebrating her birthday alongside her loved ones, happiness deserves celebration. So few stories with accolades end with a woman standing tall and watching her dreams come to pass, and we need to change this. Little Women is a superlative step into the right direction for impactful growth and sincere storytelling surrounding all kinds of women.

Correlated Content: Scene Breakdown: Marmee’s Birthday in Greta Gerwig’s ‘Little Women’

P.S. In my eyes, Greta Gerwig is the Best Director winner and that’s the canon I’m choosing to accept.

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