I read Little Women in middleschool. You would think that I wouldn’t connect with Little Women, being a pre-teen in the early 00s, far disconnected from the world as described by Alcott. But I did connect to it. Hell, I loved it. The themes are universal. Familial love, forgiveness, friendships, loss, dreaming big dreams, and the fear of growing up.
I haven’t read it since, though. I remember it very well; a testament to the book and my connection to it. But I was excited for the 2019 movie nonetheless. In Gerwig’s adaptation I found those same themes that I had connected to as a pre-teen…familial love, forgiveness, friendships, loss, dreaming big dreams and the fear of growing up. But I had forgotten about topics like the loss of what could have been, the importance and beauty of platonic intimacy, advocating for yourself, and advocating for those around you. It was invigorating to reconnect with such a beloved work. After watching the movie I reflected on it for awhile and I realized another beautiful aspect of the story. It told the story of four women who were creators, each with a different artistic expression, and each with their own prioritization of it.
We have Beth, the quiet pianist. Meg, the generous actress. Amy, the motivated painter. Jo, the spirited writer and appreciator of the arts. Each woman expresses her interest in the arts and creative expression differently. Each one prioritizes it differently as well. One is not right and the others are not wrong. Each one is just different and beautiful in its own right.
“Write something for me. You’re a writer. Even before anyone knew or paid you…Do what Marmee taught us to do. Do it for someone else.”-Beth
Beth is soft and gentle. She observes everyone around her silently, with the most loving attentiveness. Her gift to them is the piano. She’s a talented pianist. Despite her talent, she is completely against even the idea of playing in front of people. She only wants to play for the people she loves.
Artists are generally stereotyped as self-absorbed people. I don’t want to say I get where the stereotype comes from….but of course I do. However, the bulk of respectable artist I know, whether they be writers, actors, painters, theatre makers, singers, musicians, ect, want to give back to the world in some way. They want to give back to the community, they want to help educate, they want to give other’s experiences a voice. At the end of the day, good artists do what they do for someone else.
“Just because my dreams are not the same as yours doesn’t mean they’re unimportant.”-Meg
Meg happily participates in her sister’s acting troupe. You can definitely see Meg’s joy in the performance, but there’s something she finds more joy in. It’s apparent that she loves to act because she loves being with her sisters. She loves community. She loves family. Ultimately, that’s what’s most important to her. A family.
There are a lot of people I know who loved theatre/music/drawing/writing in highschool and college but ultimately didn’t pursue it. They might have kept the discipline in their lives in some way but it definitely doesn’t hold the same place as it once did. But is that necessarily a bad thing? I don’t think so. It taught them valuable skills, cultural knowledge, and the importance of self-expression. It gave them a community and it made them happy when they needed it. Even if they didn’t need it forever, what a blessing it was.
“I want to be great or nothing”-Amy
Amy is fascinating. I know that I was not the only reader who hated Amy and only begrudgingly accepted her because Jo eventually did. We don’t see Amy’s growth unless Jo specifically points it out. In Gerwig’s adaptation we not only see Amy grow, but we understand her connection to Laurie, the societal pressures she navigates and how much she actually adores her family. We also see her practicality and how grounded she is. She has self evaluation skills that are admirable. In Paris, we see her painting and content, only to look over and see her fellow artists breaking the mold. She does not. She packs up her studio and tells Laurie in a matter of fact tone (with a hint of passion) “I want to be great, or nothing.” She is not angry with herself. She is not jealous of her fellow painters. She merely sees what is in her wheelhouse, it doesn’t meet her standards, so she moves on.
An argument can be made (and is touched on by Laurie) that artists have to push themselves to be better and abandoning the craft is not necessarily the answer. Yet, Amy’s ability to critique her own work and abilities while not sacrificing the high standards she has for herself is admirable. Most talented creatives I know push themselves because of similar sentiments, mainly that you should try to be better than you were yesterday.
“I’m sick of being told that love is all a woman is fit for”-Jo
I never thought I was like Jo. Jo’s in-your-face boldness is in stark contrast to my slowly built confidence. So, I was surprised when I found myself really seeing myself in Jo. I still don’t think I’m like Jo personality-wise, but I do think Jo’s expression and pursuit of her creative endeavors reflect mine. More importantly, I think they reflect the expressions and pursuits of anyone who has chosen to make the arts a living (or priority). The way she scribbles in her notebook by the fire, stands in the back of the audience of Twelfth Night and shares (and vehemently defends) her work with others seems deeply familiar.
Yes, Jo marries, despite Alcott’s wishes. But you know what she still loves and fights for? Her writing. Teaching. Caring for her family. Yes, love is fit for Jo. But that’s not all she is fit for. Professor Bahear or not, Jo is not going to lose sight of her passions. Jo’s love pours into every area of her life, it doesn’t have to be restricted to romance. I think Jo resonates with me and so many other creatives is simply because of that. She loves what she does SO much.
I don’t know what I was expecting from this adaptation of Little Women. I know I wasn’t expecting to find it so relevant. Whatever way you express and prioritize creativity, you’re not alone.