Little Women | An independence story against society's expectations
It is not unusual for a classic piece of literature to be rediscovered and some stories never get old and are always accurate and modern, as more than one hundred years of adaptations show. Stories like Little Women.
Louisa May Alcott and her sisters
Written by American novelist Louisa May Alcott and published in two volumes dated 1868 and 1869, Little Women is a coming-of-age novel; “a book about girls” was the publisher’s request. Alcott never liked the idea, because she “never liked girls, or knew many, except [her] sisters“. And that’s what she wrote about.
It follows the lives of four sisters named Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy in their personal journey from childhood to womanhood. Alcott thought of this journey in a similar way as Emily Dickinson, with it being a suffering path of growth.
Little Women conveys four different unique points of view on the March family during the tough times of the American Civil War. With their father serving in the war, the four sisters have to help their family, now in poverty. “Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents” is the opening line of the book and it pictures March family’s status, and how the four sisters perceived it.
The first part of the book was a critical and commercial success, and the second part followed the trend. It was a new genre, a sentimental story based mostly on characters readers could sympathize with. And with readers wanting to know more about the March sisters, other books complete the saga: Little Men (1871) and Jo’s Boys (1886).
In 1880 Little Women was published as a single novel and it has been translated into numerous languages ever since, becoming an international phenomenon. Readaptations started with different editions of the book, mostly to make it into a children’s novel, and went on with movies and TV shows.
Jo is the main character of the story. She is a young woman struggling to make her temper fit in and adapt to the role she is supposed to fill in society; a role that is not made for such a boyish girl as she. Humor and creativity are her weapons as she fights her own family to control her stubborn personality. She wants to become a writer; that is why Jo is known to be a representation of Alcott herself. Jo wants her independence; she wants to control it, and she owns it even after falling in love with Professor Bhaer, whom she marries despite always refusing the idea of being a wife. As the strong, independent woman she is, Jo is one of the reasons why Little Women is so up-to-date. A person, someone girls can look up to.
More than a century of adaptations
Alexander Butler’s Little Women (1917), the first adaptation of Alcott’s book, was a movie, now lost. Since then almost every decade has its own movie adaptation, whether it is for cinema or television. The 1949 and the 1994 versions are the most famous.
But a more modern twist was taken in 2014. Produced by Cherrydale Productions and distributed by Pemberley Digital, The March Family Letters is a web series available on YouTube based on the famous novel. A new medium that created a real community with characters even having personal social media accounts.
In 2019 Greta Gerwig wrote and directed the 7th film adaptation of Little Women. The movie was successful, thanks to the cast (Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, Eliza Scanlen, Laura Dern, Timothée Chalamet, Meryl Streep) as well as the fresh and powerful storytelling of such a classic. The key that leads characters is finding their own identity. Every March sister seems to understand Jo’s ambition as they too go down the same road. They need to be just who they are, despite society and morality around them.