Story by Bridget Gibley, Culture Editor
Photo courtesy of sonypictures.com
First of all, let’s get one thing straight: I’m a Beth who wants to be a Jo. I know, Jo March is the best of the “Little Women.” She writes plays and stories and doesn’t want to get married, and every self-respecting feminist little girl who grew up reading Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel knew that she should be a Jo. On the other hand, Beth was weak and sickly and—spoiler alert— dies. But Beth is a girl who is scared of everything and does everything she should, despite maybe wanting to be more of a rebel, like her sister. That’s me.
As a young girl reading “Little Women,” I saw pieces of myself in all of the characters. I wanted Jo’s spirit, I had Beth’s timidity, I could act out like Amy, I adored the way Meg took care of her family. I longed to have a post office in the woods or to trade pickled limes like the girls at Amy’s school.
“Little Women” was everything I needed when I was a girl. It was a story about a family who fought often but loved fiercely. The little women made mistakes (still not quite over the loss of the manuscript), but I still loved them all, with all my heart.
I’m not going to say that it’s a universal story; I understand that there are things that shape the Marches’ story as inaccessible to major portions of the population, including their whiteness and their class status (although the Marches are poor, they still have an aunt who can take them to Europe, placing them way above average on the “privilege” scale). But the story was an escape for me. Reading the book made me feel like I was sitting by the fire at Christmas—warm and cozy and safe.
When the news about the Greta Gerwig adaptation of “Little Women” came out, I was a menace to everyone I saw, constantly talking about it—did you know Saoirse Ronan’s going to be in it? Has there ever been anything more perfect than Meryl Streep as Aunt March? I’ve already seen the movie twice and I will gladly go see it again (I’m free next weekend).
And the oh-so-familiar story felt new. Not only has Gerwig finally given Amy March the redemption arc she deserves, but she also revolutionized the story with the juxtaposition of childhood and adulthood. The film begins with Jo living in New York, Amy in Paris, Meg a wife and mother, and Beth sick. It is only after all of this is established that Gerwig takes us back in time; shifting the colors from a cool palette to warm yellows and oranges, giving the little women the glow of adolescence. The story continues to jump back and forth in time, highlighting differences and similarities in the March family’s lives as children and adults.
It’s a reminder that childhood ends, that although the girls might be close as children, they will eventually have their own lives, miles and miles apart. This point is made clear in a scene right before Meg’s wedding, when Jo voices her concern that Meg will be bored with her new life. Meg says she is sure she wants to marry, and that simply because her dreams are different from Jo’s does not mean they are unimportant. Jo absorbs this statement and puts her head on her sister’s lap, saying, “Childhood is over.”
That line stuck with me both times I saw the film. I am a senior in college, and I have only the vaguest of answers to the question of what I’ll do after May 9. I’ve spent most of this year so far thinking the exact thing that Saoirse Ronan as Jo said: Childhood is over.
But in the film, it’s a bittersweet moment at worst— the girls are happy. Although there’s loss, adulthood is not the enemy of the story. It’s the end of childhood, but it’s not the end of everything. The cool colors Gerwig uses for the adult scenes are strikingly different from the childhood scenes, but they aren’t uninviting. Perhaps I should focus more on Meg’s response to Jo’s comment: “It was going to end one way or another. And what a happy ending.”
It’s comforting to think that, although I might not get the ending I wanted when I was nine years old, I can still find a happy ending. Jo can get married or abandon her salacious stories or write a book about domestic struggles, and be happy with her choices. Amy can understand that marriage is an economic proposition and still turn down a proposal from a rich man midway through the movie. I can question my post-graduation plans and still find goodness wherever I end up.
The story of “Little Women” has always been exactly what I needed it to be. When I was a young girl looking for safety and comfort and a promise that a girl could be anything she wanted to be (a writer, an artist, a mother), that’s what it was. Now that I’m entering my adult life and am reflecting on my childhood, “Little Women” has evolved into a story about growing up and learning about all the complexities involved in being anything you want.
It still felt like coming home to me. I felt cozy and nostalgic and sad and happy all at once in that theater. It’s nice to know that this story will still be there for me when I need it, even if I wasn’t even sure what I needed it for.
Bridget Gibley is a senior at Aquinas studying English, Spanish and Women’s Studies. She thrives on reading, writing, and lots of coffee.