19 May, 2020

#RTWrites :: 5 Reasons Why ‘Little Women’ Is Still An Iconic Contemporary Women’s Fiction Novel - @RT_writes

Hello, dear RT Writes readers!

I know I have been AWOL for the last month for reasons that have to do with Covid – 19, my own mental health and just plain sucky but awesome life! I apologize for the same. I hope you’ll stick with me and my column because it’s about to get weirdly awesome from now on.

In the spirit of weird and awesome, I have to confess something. I did not like Timothee Chalamet. Something about him (his nose, I think) rubbed me the wrong way. Possibly because he looks a LOT like my abusive and confusive ex (especially the nose, I think!) It’s the main reason I did not watch Little Women yet.

But…but…a few days ago, I randomly chanced upon an Instagram meme where one fan account showcased THIS scene from Greta Gerwig’s Little Women. I re-watched it at least ten times and fell more in love with everything about Little Women as I did so.

Notice Laurie being so careful with Amy. Notice his eyes changing to awareness and then sharpening into regretful interest as all he does is untie her painting smock.

THAT IS MASTERCLASS work, right there.

I ended up watching the new Little Women and everything everyone has said about the movie and the book is on the money. It. Is. Perfection. Even annoying Timothee Chalamet is perfect as Laurie.
But, I don’t want to gush about Laurie here – let’s talk about Little Women and how the novel has aged so magnificently while not being dated.

Meg March

Meg March, the beauteous one, can be compared easily to Jane Bennett. She is the eldest daughter, a nester to the core and still manages to display quiet courage where needed. Especially, when she clashes swords with her more tempestuous and headstrong younger sister – Jo.

Meg March chooses domesticity and the love of a good man over career ambitions. In the latest movie adaptation,  Meg is shown as tired and a little helpless over the Brooks’ financial situation. She wants pretty things and is secretly ashamed of it and resents her husband for not being a better provider. Her love, it seems, has limits.

But, it is still this love that is Meg’s guiding force. Her dreams of keeping house and being a good wife and mother, like she’s seen Marmee be are no less important than her sister’s ambitions. That to me, is a hallmark of true feminism – a movement where ALL women and ALL choices are accepted and respected.

That is where Alcott shines her finest!

Marmee March

I’m just going to say this so it gets out of the way. Laura Dern is a freaking goofball genius. Period. Period. Period.

Marmee, for me, was always the unshakeable moral epicenter of Little Women. She was priest and psychiatrist and she was perfect in a way that warmed my little woman heart when I first read it. Marmee tries to be charitable, to be good in order to set a good example for her daughters. She is sacrificial and generous, often at the cost of self.

Alcott created the perfect Mom in Marmee – gold standard of motherhood.

But, Gerwig’s Marmee – oh, she is flawed! When she tries to do good, it is to assuage her white privilege guilt and because she thinks doing good will balance the anger inside her. She asks the impossible of her daughters and, at the same time, teaches them to be independent.

I’ve never loved Marmee more than when she allows Jo to make all her own choices, regardless of whether they are good or bad.

That, to me, is the gold standard of motherhood.

Beth March

Yes, Beth gets a tragic end. Yes, Beth dies. Yes, it is incredibly, unspeakably sad because, of all people, Beth doesn’t deserve it. For Beth models herself the most on her mother – like any good, impressionable daughter would want to do. And Beth actually does it because she is a *good* person.

Old Man Laurence’s and Beth’s relationship is the gentlest evolution of them all – for both of them. And using music as the connector is again a stroke in amazing storytelling but where Alcott does Beth full justice is when she doesn’t change Beth radically.

Beth is still gentle. She is still shy, she might play the piano like a rockstar and move old man Laurence to tears but their communication is still largely non-verbal.

But, Beth is no pushover. She pushes Jo when Jo is at her lowest, and she accepts her fate with the stoicism few soldiers show. Juxtaposing this sister against fiery Jo and flaky Amy and still having them be completely and forever united is, once again, why Little Women is such a feminist work.

Aunt March

Aunt March is undeniably one of the anti-heroes of Little Women. Of course, the Civil War is the most villainous of them all. But Aunt March is a harridan, a stickler for the old ways of being – and bewildered by how happy the Marches are in their apparent middle-classness.

The contempt and affection she doles out to the March girls is so spot on when it comes to old and opinionated relatives who have so much *more*.

Meryl Streep as Aunt March brings her essential Streepness to the screen – as she does EVERYWHERE. But, what I particularly adored about her and what resonated with me was the fact that Aunt March is a pragmatist – she is the one who puts the idea of saving her family in Amy’s head.

She is the one who accurately deduces Jo for what she is – a dreamer who will do great or fail miserably.

And, in the movie at least, Aunt March shares a close and cherished relationship with Marmee, which belies the contempt she holds her brother in.

She is a character to be respected for her strong convictions but mostly because, dammit, Meryl Streep!

Amy March

Amy March’s growth arc in the book and both movies is the most astonishing of them all. Because Amy makes full of the two Ps of amazing character building – Potential and Pragmatism.

Amy loves Laurie like Laurie loves Jo, but she doesn’t waste her life pining for him. She tries to better her circumstances and provide for her family by marrying a suitably, rich man. She loves Laurie like Laurie loves Jo but she calls him out on all his depravity and bad behavior.

And she does this knowing he will never like her for herself. Her sister is too big a sun to not cast a shadow.

Amy’s petty and jealous – like most little sisters are – but she is the mirror of all that Jo can’t stand about being femininity. And she is remarkably witty – be it as Kirsten Dunst or Florence Pugh. It’s not easy being the lesser-liked sister – a la Lydia Bennett.

But, when Amy talks about lost opportunities and how she won’t be a good artist with her lips tight and her eyes lost, oh she is divine.

Amy is the least like Jo and yet, the most like Jo, in that she is stubborn and strong-willed and a dreamer but also feminine enough to know when to bend, and so it is no surprise that Laurie ends up falling for her.

I do declare that Amy March is who I’d like to be when I grow up.

In Conclusion

I am actually not going to talk about how amazing, fabulous, spirited, generous and all-around fricking everything Josephine March is – she is the very definition of a sorted Manic Pixie Dream Girl. (Another reason why Alcott is brilliant EVEN NOW), and she falls for the oddest man – who tells her the unpleasant truth – instead of dependable lout Laurie who’d worship the ground she walked on and never help her grow.

But, for me, Jo March represents all that I want to be in a writer, a storyteller – she keeps trying and never gives up, she knows the worth of her own story and its power. And she is damned good at it.

Just like I hope to be, one day.

Have you read or watched Little Women? Who is your favorite March character? Do share your answers in the comments below.

Stay safe and indoors, peeps.

Writer Gal