‘Little Women’ shows fun changes to a classic story

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A little less than a year ago, I had hardly even heard of Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women.” 

All I knew was it’s an old book, considered a classic and that my roommate had a tradition of reading it every single year in college. But when I first saw the trailer for director Greta Gerwig’s rendition of the story, my interest was piqued.

I read the book a few months after first seeing the movie advertised, and went on to watch older versions of “Little Women” that had come before, specifically the most famous Winona Ryder version. After all of this I considered, and still consider, myself a huge fan. That said, I walked into the theater back on Dec. 28, 2019, expecting to see a fresher and newer version of the story I had grown to love. I was not disappointed. 

“Little Women” focuses on the fictional account of Jo March and her sisters growing up in the 1800s. I first fell in love with March as a character while reading the book. She’s described as a wild girl who does not necessarily fit the definition of a “proper woman” of the time. She is a writer trying to publish her first book, and does not want or expect to get married. In many ways, she reminds me of myself. 

Needless to say, when I approached the 2019 rendition of the film, I thought I knew for sure everything that would happen, and that there would be no surprises — I was wrong. 

The movie begins in the middle of the original story. March, played by Saoirse Ronan, walks into a publishing company, preparing to face yet another disappointment as she attempts to publish another story in a newspaper. After having her story torn apart by a publisher and edited for his purpose, she eventually sells him the story. As audiences learn later in the movie, this money is to help support her family while her father is off at war. 

While March is undoubtedly the main character, and by many means my favorite character, the stories of her sisters and the overall family relationship is what makes “Little Women” a classic that can be told for hundreds of years to come. Each sister,  — Jo, Meg, Beth and Amy March — are each given fulfilling, individual storylines. Most of the time, the girls’ desires cannot be obtained because of the family’s poor finances, but each one finds a way to be happy in their lives, even when they can’t have all that they want. 

Seeing the story that I had grown to love on the big screen was a thrill, but Gerwig’s direction made the movie much more thrilling than I had originally expected. Starting in the middle of the original story and flipping back and forth through the movie was at once surprising and also extremely enjoyable. It made me wonder which part would come next, even though I basically had the story memorized. This served to make the most heart-wrenching scenes, which I knew would come and had prepared for, even worse. 

Spoiler alert: the youngest member of the March family, Beth, ends up getting sick twice in the movie, and ultimately dies of scarlet fever at a young age. As a person who knew the story, I was prepared for this part, and was expecting to make it through without crying. That is not what happened. 

But beyond this emotional element the beauty of several scenes and the love between both family and lovers throughout the film had me in tears more than once. In stories such as “Little Women,” I almost expect that the focus would be mostly on the romantic and cheesy storylines that so many people love — the ones where two people endure a significant number of struggles, but end up together regardless. But, just like March, this story defies even those expectations. 

Besides the amazing additions to the story itself — which included the switching back and forth between the timelines and an emphasis on the scenes between March and the publishers — what stuck out to me the most was the additional aspect of portraying the strength of women. Since “Little Women” was written and set in the 1800s, the story, of course, has a lot of references about the societal role of women at the time. Women were told that the most important thing is for them to get married —  even Jo ends up married at the end, but it’s not because she compromises or changes any part of who she is. 

There are many powerful scenes throughout the film, but my favorite scene had to be toward the end, which shows a conversation between March and her mother. March, an “older lady,” according to the time’s societal standards, has not yet married after she turned down her best friend, Theodore Laurence years before. As she’s speaking with her mother, March realizes that even though she does not want to admit it, she is lonely and wants to be in love. And yet, she still hates how women are raised only to marry men. 

“Women have minds, and they have souls, as well as just hearts,” March says. “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 all a woman is fit for. I’m so sick of it!” 

This scene, more than any other in the movie, shows me what the true message of “Little Women” is. Everyone has a purpose, regardless of if they are a man or woman, and no matter what the stereotypes are or what people think someone is supposed to be according to society. The only person who makes your life is you.