Little Women: Showing us that women are anything but little

Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, Saorise Ronan, and Eliza Scanlen as the March sisters

When Louisa May Alcott published Little Women in 1868, she released to us a story about the perseverance, reverence, and beauty of women. She eloquently combined, in a children’s novel, themes of gender constraint and individual identity with amusing tales centered around sisterhood and friendship. Great novels like this endure through time and make a lasting impact. It is a difficult feat to recreate the magic that first brought the novel to life, but Greta Gerwig’s newest film adaptation of Little Women does the book a monumental justice and shares an exceptional retelling of the story that is sure to inspire a new generation as the original did more than a century ago.

Little Women is a story with which many are familiar. It tells the tale of four sisters living in Concord, Massachusetts during the time before and after the Civil War. The film takes us through the lives of these sisters, as they navigate and struggle from adolescence to womanhood and the trials that come with change.

Jo March (Saorise Ronan), the second oldest of the March sisters and an aspiring writer bustling with ambition, is the center of the story and based off Alcott herself. She bristles with independence and struggles with the traditional nature of society. Meg (Emma Watson), is the oldest with a passion for theatrics and a sense of responsibility. Constantly pressured to marry for wealth instead of affection, she rebels and marries a school tutor, sealing a fate of poverty. The relationship between economics and marriage is a heavy weight that Meg carries throughout the film. Beth (Eliza Scanlen), is shy, sweet, and gifted with beautiful musical ability. Her gentle heart is a constant force, as she somehow always manages to reunite the sisters, though sometimes in sorrowful cases. The youngest sister, Amy (a breakout performance by Florence Pugh), is arguably the most boisterous and mischievous of the four. Her artistic talent takes her on a trip to Paris with the practical minded Aunt March (Meryl Streep). Pugh manages to capture Amy’s playful nature even when grasping the implications of marriage on a woman.

The March sisters

Together, they are the March sisters and are all woven with their own passions and personalities. Their bond is strong, with each sister not being the same without the other, even through spouts of annoyance. Their clamorous, adoring, and genuine nature wraps around those close to them such as their wise mother Marmee (Laura Dern) and shy boy next door Laurie (Timothée Chalamet). Laurie, although enamored with Jo and eventually turning to Amy, fits well as part of the family more than a love interest.

Gerwig, director and writer of the outstanding Lady Bird, utilizes ambitious storytelling that keeps the timeless novel relevant as ever. Gerwig zigzags between two different time periods, starting the story with its heroine Jo as a writer in New York, seven years later from where Alcott originally starts. From there, we are told the story of Little Women through periods of recollection, easily associated by two distinct color tones associated with each time period and watch as the story eventually intertwines. Although the film takes place in the 17th century, the movie has a modern touch that successfully pays homage to its classic roots while delivering pertinent messages for today. Out of respect for Alcott, Gerwig remains true to its origins but tells the story with a spin for today’s modern audience as to illuminate its lessons all the much better.

Greta Gerwig on the set of Little Women

And how needed those lessons are for the audience of today. Little Women deals heavily with a woman’s struggle to find her place in a male dominated world. Women, in that age, served only the roles of wife and mother, hardly being encouraged to follow ambitions or dreams. Jo March, as told by her publisher, states that any women in her writings must end up married or dead by the end. This is a grappling truth that the film leans into greatly and showcases through the struggles of the March sisters. Jo especially rejects these notions of gender constraint and marriage and advocates for a woman’s independence in society, saying through tears in one of the film’s most awe-inspiring scenes, “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 so sick of it!”. Even though this story was told long ago, ripples of the same concerns for women are still present today, as we still see issues of male dominance in society. Take the recent Oscar nominations as example, no female was nominated for Best Director, including Gerwig herself, making the lessons of this film even that more poignant.

Saorise Ronan as Jo March

Little Women is nothing short from a stunning achievement. The film does much more than just entertain. It breathes life into a timeless story with boughs of intelligence, simplicity, and utter sincerity. The concurrent coming-of-ages of each sister are profoundly felt and made tangible for the audience. It is a tale that has withstood the test of time and demands to be present for many more generations to come.

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Hannah Feltz

There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.