“Just because my dreams are different than yours doesn’t make them any less important.”
“The world is hard on ambitious girls.”
I might never want to stop singing praises for this movie because I don’t know how long it’ll take to be this moved by something again as a woman. Greta Gerwig’s adaptation of the classic novel is this generation’s deepest treasure. I’ve never felt more seen by another female character as I did numerous times throughout the film by each of the March women. But for this article specifically, we’re here to celebrate our differences and to shine light on the universal truth, which is the fact that all our dreams are incomparably vital.
Dare I say, women are the most extraordinarily complex and remarkably rare beings to exist. There’s fire in even the quietest of souls for goodness as pure as Beth’s demands great patience. We’re driven by all that’s around us, moved by a myriad of spectacles and beautiful through it all. Louisa May Alcott’s characters are magic, each in their own unique way representing the kind of woman that’s perhaps in all of us. Gerwig’s adaptation has thus far been the strongest ode to the very complexities that are so acutely reflective of who we are today, while bringing forward a version of the book that feels so true to the story Alcott’s been telling from day one. In this version of Little Women, we’re given the chance to see each of the girls in a way past adaptations didn’t get to showcase, and in doing so, it’s given all those watching, the chance to see that there’s greatness in us all.
It is now 2020 and while immense progression has taken place towards achieving equality, in the midst of it shaming has also taken root. I’ve written about strong women a lot, and while I’m thankful for the opportunity to have such fierce representation in the form of female superheroes, public figures, and gifted beings, we’ve neglected the quieter side of women, which is the showcase of simpler lives. Little Women does that exquisitely by reiterating the fact that women aren’t just strong when they choose not to marry or when they can handle things by themselves, but that strength comes from the choices they make for themselves and the goodness they sprinkle into the world. Women are beautiful – they are complex masterful beings who deserve the chance to be exactly who they want to be and Little Women gives each of them the opportunity to do so in a film that holds its ground amongst darkness with remarkable ease and potency.
Whether it’s the nonchalance towards femininity or the welcoming of it. The desire for silk dresses or the desire for fairy wings. Little Women is a film that points fingers, thus making that much more reflective of organic sibling rivalries, but it doesn’t lose its footing in reminding viewers of the universal truth that we are all indescribably special and important. Women are allowed to change their minds, they’re allowed to grow and evolve. They’re allowed have moments consisting of deep vulnerability, pure sincerity, or utter chaotic perplexity. And these lessons are bold, in your face reminders, which have exceptionally resulted in profound, inspiring storytelling that’s bound to make a difference.
Some women form big dreams when they’re younger, but at a certain age they come to find that those dreams have changed significantly. Some can find a balance, others choose not to, but the important thing is that it comes down to a woman’s choice. And it was Meg’s choice to fall in love with John Brooke. It was Meg’s choice to marry him, be his wife, and the mother of their children. It was Meg’s choice to put her dreams as a famous actress aside but find means of teaching it later on all while choosing to love a man even when he cannot provide her with the things she’s always dreamed of. It’s unfortunate that Meg and John live in poverty as long as they do, but the two of them choose one another through the good and bad, the beautiful and the ugly, and no part of Meg’s choice is shameful or any less than another woman’s. Emma Watson is so flawlessly cast in this as she’s an absolute natural at playing the mediator and wise one. (Hermione Granger forever!) There’s a placidity in Watson as an actress who’s just so great at bringing to the surface a sense of graceful warmth, which Meg, much like Marmee possesses a tremendous amount of.
The seemingly simple life isn’t appealing to all, but to some, a quiet life with a house of their own and children to look after can be a big dream. (A dream that’s greatly important and wonderful when the marriage is a healthy, ever growing one like Meg and John’s.) Some women are mediators like Meg and Beth, others are fire starters like Jo and Amy. Some are quiet, others are loud. But what’s perhaps so riveting about Meg’s arc is the fact that she finds genuine love, she doesn’t settle because she loses faith in her dreams, instead she finds a new dream where she’s completely safe and happy in spite of the challenges that arise with the lack of money. The thing is, this isn’t shocking coming from someone like Meg, the older sister who’s always trying to include each of her siblings in everything. The one who’s taking on Marmee’s role when she isn’t there. The one who’s everyone’s quiet confidant. Meg is undoubtedly talented, but a traditional life works for her because it’s not only something that comes naturally to her, but it’s something she chooses time and time again without even realizing it, not as a routine, but as a way of fulfillment. Meg never abandons her family, she doesn’t forget or neglect them, but she chooses the path that’s right for her while keeping an anchor back home as there’s profound joy there, too.
Jo March is one of the most important characters in both literature and film, and with Greta Gerwig’s adaptation and Saoirse Ronan’s embodiment, the character is an absolute force to be reckoned with. Jo March is so many of us — all of the March sisters essentially are, but the open struggles with herself are as relatable as any fictional’s dilemmas can be. There are bits and pieces of me personally in each of the women and that’s one of the core reasons why this film is so special because I’m certain I’m not alone in feeling this way. But Jo’s dreams of being a writer, and also holding her sisters as close as possible is perhaps the most painful thing to write about because we don’t always get a glimpse into this type of sisterhood in media. This belief that marriage could change everything and that sisters want to hold on to each other is something that’s very real. It’s the painfully real declaration that even though she’s tired of the discussion surrounding women and love, she feels the aching loneliness that resides inside of her.
Jo’s desire for solitude and simultaneously shared bliss is utter proof of the conundrum that our minds and souls are. “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.” I’ll talk about this to anyone who’ll listen to me, but goodness, I’ve never felt more exposed in a theatre full of people than during the very moment those were spoken. As someone who’s often in her own head because of the characters and stories I’m thinking of, the work I’ve got to write, I have a tendency to shut things and people out. And every time someone asks me when I’m getting married as opposed to how many chapters of my novel I’ve completed, I want to scream. But to say that I don’t feel that very aching loneliness would be the biggest lie I’d ever tell — because I do. And that’s why I can’t stop thinking about Jo’s arc because it’s so acutely reflective of not only society’s treatment of women today, but of the fact that that some of us want so much, we have no idea how to hold onto everything all at once.
It’s rejecting a man knowing full well that they aren’t right for us, but momentarily regretting it partly because of loneliness and partly because we’re so used to questioning our decisions. Society tells women what we need to be and how we need to behave so frequently that the lines often get blurred in our own arguments, but Little Woman takes back the control of our beings stating that all these altering versions of ourselves, rash judgements, dream changes, etc. all contribute to making us great and special.
Jo’s also a fighter, a ferocious, stubborn woman who’ll never go down with a fight and that’s perhaps her greatest attribute, but some women like Beth, are quiet. And when she tearfully tells her to “please fight”, it’s her being, her nature, and the fire in her to stop everything in order to help Beth followed by the fire in her to consistently do all that she can to help her family. It’s magic. Jo March is magic, but not because she becomes a great writer and finally opens up a school for boys and girls, but she’s magic because she’s persistent and willing to learn. And Little Women teaches us that it’s okay to be a fighter like Jo, to be steadfast in our beliefs and refuse to sell the rights to our stories. It’s okay to have hope and it’s okay to hold on for dear life. It’s okay to scream and shout then truly understand when we need to atone.
I am incapable of thinking about Beth March without crying because to have such goodness taken away breaks me. I can’t and don’t want to imagine it. But she’s a reflection of so many women who aren’t seen because they’re quiet and closed off. However, even in all her introverted silence, Beth’s devoted heart is so transparent it makes everything brighter, and it’s the acute reminder to people not to neglect those who don’t speak up. The Beths of this world see everything, they hear everything, and they remember everything. They carry their hearts on their sleeves and they treasure every little detail others might forget. Gerwig’s portrayal of Beth and Eliza Scanlen’s embodiment of the character allow us to see the innate goodness perfectly. This adaptation doesn’t miss a single beat in reminding its viewers that Beth does things even when they’re hard solely because it’s the right thing to do and because she wants to. In the same way that Meg’s fulfilled by taking care of her sisters, Beth finds fulfillment in extending her company to others.
Scanlen exposes these sides of her character with timely shifts in her demeanor that allow us to see just how much she frequently feels. There’s an assertiveness to her, which is so utterly refreshing because when she tells Jo to “write for her” and brings attention to her deteriorating health, we’re able to really see just how many crosses she carries silently. This version of Beth may not be outspoken about the lack of dreams and plans she’s made her for herself, but we’re able to understand that she’s a woman who’s enjoying life as is, which matters prodigiously, too. Beth loves playing the piano, she loves performing with her sisters, she loves making things and putting attention to the little details, and most poignantly, the desire to keep things as they are is so incredibly human, it’s harrowing to think of. And to even begin discussing the immense strength it takes to love as deeply as Beth does would result in another 10 page article. She is the strongest of them, even in her silence and the inability to fight death.
I’ve never appreciated Amy March the way I did after this adaptation of Little Women, and that saddens me because she’s such a multifaceted, remarkable character, it’s shameful no one’s portrayed her in this light before. (An enormous standing ovation for Florence Pugh whose masterful performances of the character’s past and presence were so riveting to watch. The tonal changes, body language, I was stunned the entire time.) Amy March, much like her older sister Beth is an observer, except instead of carrying most crosses quietly, she’s more outspoken about what she gathers from the world. She’s gifted but afraid, loud but reserved, and often misunderstood. Some women, like Meg are able to find loopholes to their dreams, but others like Amy want it all. “I want to be great or nothing.” I’d like to hope that this Amy carries on with her art, but for the purpose of this article and the focus on dreams, the confidence in her beliefs is what floors me about Amy because it layers her further as opposed to boxing her in as the once younger, unfairly least liked sister. This version of Amy and the desire to marry rich because of what she understands about women being economic propositions is the very showcase of all observations she’s made in the past. She’s watched her mother suffer, she’s watched Meg suffer, and she’s lived in the shadow of all her sisters because younger siblings are both the most coddled and most neglected. Strange isn’t it? But through Pugh’s portrayal of Amy, we’re exposed to the layers that bind a confused, utterly confident little girl who’s just wanted to do everything in life.
I believe humans have a tendency to mistake curiosity for materialism, and it’s in our nature to forget our ways of deeply desiring things once we get a little bit older.There’s a darkness in all of us, which I dedicated an entire article to, here, but Amy’s means of acting on it then carrying it with her all her life is profoundly heartbreaking because this is a woman who’s so deeply perceptive of her surroundings, she just wants to be great amidst them as well. She wants to be as good as Beth, she wants to be as wise as Meg, and she wants to be as talented as Jo, which is so natural for a little sister, but the woman she grows into is so fascinating because she becomes a little bit of all that she’s cared for as well as a result of the choices she’s made carrying her curiosities on her sleeve. So much of living in the shadows and never being the first choice results in a lot of agonizing and running around in search of attention, which Little Women normalizes beautifully because every single soul, whether a little sister or not, has done things solely for some kind of validation. It’s so unbelievably human and real that Gerwig and Pugh bringing it to life as intricately as they did may have just made Amy an absolute star. (The kind of star she should’ve always been.)
When I was younger, Jo was my favorite March sister, (I am a writer after all, it’s only natural I gravitate most towards her.) but today, with this version, I don’t think I can choose a favorite. The immense gratitude I have for each of these women, the actresses who brought them to life, and the purpose they serve in allowing women all over the world to see themselves in fiction as accurately is something I’m going to carry with me forever. Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy, and Marmee do a beautiful job of reminding women all over to be proud of themselves, to be proud of the choices they make, to be loving and accepting of each other. It’s a testament to what feminism is all about — it’s about looking at another woman who looks nothing like us and has entirely different dreams than us and commending her for being bold enough to live the life she wants. (I am of course talking honorable choices. I can’t say I’d look at a female serial killer and commend her on those decisions, you know? You get the gist.) But whether a woman wants to be a housewife or a world traveling actress or an educator or a cook, no matter how foreign or bizarre the idea is to our beliefs, it’s our duty to appreciate one another and the different dreams that make us unique and wonderful.