Why Little Women Continues to Mean So Much
The March sisters are back on the big screen in Greta Gerwig’s LITTLE WOMEN. The film, starring Emma Watson, Saoirse Ronan, Florence Pugh, and Timothée Chalamet, brings Louisa May Alcott’s seminal novel to modern audiences. As seen in the first trailer, this new retelling stars Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, Eliza Scanlen, Timothée Chalamet, Laura Dern, and Meryl Streep. It's the latest in a long line of adaptations of "Little Women." The novel has previously been brought to life on television, in several films, and even in an animated series. More than a century after its publication, "Little Women" continues to connect with readers and audiences of all ages.
With LITTLE WOMEN coming to theaters soon, let’s explore why the story has remained endearing to readers of all ages, and to movie audiences as well, for so many years.
A True-to-Life Tale
The novel and most film adaptations follow the four young women — willful and tomboyish Jo and her sisters: the older, responsible Meg; gentle and quiet Beth; and artistically precocious Amy — through several stages of childhood and adulthood. As it chronicles their stories, LITTLE WOMEN is defined by a realistic outlook.
The story is grippingly unpredictable, taking the four sisters and the men and women in their lives, through several shifts in the social status quo, which constantly challenge the characters as they build their lives.
They experience happiness and hardship with equal rapidity; it's a journey anyone can relate to. The poignant and life-like unpredictability of Alcott's novel allows it to easily be adapted for contemporary settings. It's an evergreen story that connects directly to our most essential sensibilities, regardless of the era in which it’s told.
The magic of LITTLE WOMEN's character quartet comes from real-life inspiration. Alcott shaped the primary outlines of each based on herself and her own sisters. Meg was modeled after Anna Alcott; Amy, the March’s resident artist, was modeled after May Alcott, also a passionate artist. Beth was based on Lizzie Alcott, who, like the character she inspired, also suffered from scarlet fever. Lizzie passed away at 22 years old. Finally, Jo, who struggles to go along with society’s expectations of her, was based on Alcott herself.
Each character deals with familiar issues — love, work, responsibility, loss, and ambition — that have remained topical throughout more than a century. The obstacles they face, their witty humor and their charismatic personalities consistently invite readers to see themselves in either Meg, Jo, Beth or Amy. Alcott fosters a relationship between the novel and every new generation of readers. The best adaptations follow suit, and Gerwig's film is certainly among them.
A Special Tone
LITTLE WOMEN is a wild ride. As we discussed above, the novel chronicles the lives of the March sisters through inspirational highs and crushing lows. It features emotionally devastating moments, but it balances them with hilarity and vibrant interactions.
Handling such a tonal duality needed a special touch; Louisa May Alcott wrote with a delicate and knowing hand. "Little Women" doesn’t constrain its tone to one end of an emotional spectrum. Its bright and somber moments alike are detailed with an intimate perspective that fosters a close reading experience.
That touch gave the story the irreverent yet gripping tone for which it has become known and helped it emulate real life. In LADY BIRD, we've seen Greta Gerwig achieve something remarkably similar; LITTLE WOMEN is the ideal follow-up project.
A Striking Message
Louisa May Alcott was a strong advocate for women’s rights, and she wrote elements of her advocacy into the characters and situations of "Little Women." At the time of publication, the novel was a groundbreaking look at society’s sexist treatment of women. The novel delivers a poignant look at the obstacles women have to overcome in order to guide their own paths through life. When originally published, it upended expectations, as Jo gave voice to Alcott's own frustrations.
Greta Gerwig’s LITTLE WOMEN gives full voice to those ideas. Rather than suggesting that Alcott's concerns can be buried in the past, Gerwig's adaptation underlines the fact that they are as important now as they were when "Little Women" was written. The March sisters might not face exactly the same trials now as they did in the era of the American Civil War, but their struggles, and those of the little women of today, are still remarkably similar
LITTLE WOMEN opens on December 25. Tickets will be on sale soon!
All images courtesy of Sony Pictures.