Merry Christmas Eve, to all who celebrate, and a happy holiday season! It is currently one in the morning, and I am churning out a dedication blog post and subsequent Instagram update for all of my followers, because I can’t get enough of the movie Little Women released in 2019. Having read the book a few years back, this newest adaptation is a wonderful twist on Lousia May Alcott’s original novel, while still staying true to the most essential plot points and themes. I decided to give it another watch on account of some advice I recently came across: that to choose one thing for yourself, one avenue of self-care, is critical during the craziness of the winter months. Particularly if the holidays have not been merry in the past, or if they continue to be disheartening to this day. The same as my last blog update, I’d remind you to choose you, too. Surprisingly enough, writing in the middle of the night is my form of kindness to myself. I knew I wouldn’t be able to go to sleep with these thoughts swirling in my head. The life of a writer is never a boring one– that much is certain.
From a biased lens, I admit, I was most impressed with the portrayal of Jo. Her conflict with independence and love, family and friends. She is real and raw, courageous and strong-willed and fearless. She feels DEEPLY and this is not seen as a curse as the plot unfolds. In fact, her own mother says to her in a beautiful moment of compassion: “I am angry nearly every day of my life, but with nearly 40 years of effort, I’m learning to not let it get the better or me…” Then, when Jo replies that she will “do the same,” her mother answers, “I hope you’ll do a great deal better than me. There are some natures too noble to curb.” Even in a later scene, when Jo cuts her hair to help find more money for the family, her sister Amy just holds her and lets her cry. There are no “it’s just hair” comments. No “get over it” or “this is nothing compared to (insert past issue here)” statements. The familial bond between her mother and sisters are well-developed and flow nicely.
For most readers and writers out there, the written word is a way to escape and explore. This very notion is highlighted in Little Women as Jo begins to learn who she is, who she will give her heart to, what her dreams are and how far she is willing to go to achieve them. She’s ambitious and I love it, the way she throws herself into writing. Even so, it causes turmoil with Amy (“the only thing you care about is your writing”), and additional crises inside herself as she grapples with her call to tell stories versus taking care of her family versus finding someone to marry. Layers upon layers upon layers. In some ways, although all of the sisters endure pain and heartache, Jo might have the heaviest load to carry. She’s restless and lonely, but “wants to be loved” instead of doing the loving, for she is afraid of losing her freedom more than anything. Watching it this second time, which I am determined to turn into a Christmas Eve tradition for myself, I felt kinship with her plight. How does one navigate a world in search of a dream, while also caring for family, and meeting impossible expectations from others? The latter, I believe, is the reason as to why she wrote her letter to Laurie in an attempt to win him back. Society expected her to marry, and she was lonely, so she stuck the envelope in the mailbox as a last-ditch effort. She wasn’t really listening to her heart.
Then… she learned of Laurie’s engagement to her sister.
Yeah, I wasn’t too happy with Amy on that front. Amy in general was a nuisance at times. She burned Jo’s novel because she was petty– folks, if you ever do that to the writer in your life, consider yourself banished. But anyway, I do agree that Laurie wasn’t right for Jo, and I enjoyed how Alcott played with that angle. Love, especially first love, is fickle.
My favorite, favorite part of the movie was the ending. HIGHLY unusual for me because I tend to hate them. But it was so clever, the way Gerwig and all those involved with directing/writing implied Jo’s connection to Alcott herself. In fact, it’s not clear cut, which makes conclusion poignant. Jo has finally found what she wants to write about– her sisters, her beloved family– but the publisher refuses to print without changing the ending. She relents: ‘”If I’m going to sell my heroine into marriage for money, I might as well get some of it.” Which begs the question: did she really get married in the end? According to the last few scenes, her second love interest returns, but no explicit mention of romance is mentioned. And Alcott herself was challenged about the ending to the book, leading to a revised chapter. When one considers that she too never married, the puzzle pieces begin to fit together. I choose to interpret Jo as opening her own school and following her dreams, friends and family by her side. But I think she knew herself too well. She knew she was “never going to marry” and that consistency is nice to see in literature that was picking away at societal norms about what writing should be about. Props to Jo!
Next, here are some parting quotes I’d like to share with you all, courtesy of the lovely Jo March and Louisa May Alcott!
“I intend to make my own way in this world.”
“Writing doesn’t confer importance; it reflects it.”
“Women. They have minds, and they have souls, as well as just hearts. And they’ve got ambition. And they’ve got talent as well as just beauty. And I’m so sick of people saying that love is just all a woman is fit for. I’m so sick of it. But I’m so lonely.”
And one from Meg: “Just because my dreams are different than yours, it doesn’t mean they’re unimportant.”
One last parting thought before I turn in for the night, if you happen to be a fellow writer: find what you want to say and write it as best as you can. No one can do it for you. If you follow what everyone else’s already done, if you simply write what “sells well” and give up your voice in the process, you will never be satisfied with your projects. Sit down with yourself this New Years and make a resolution to explore what you want to tell the world. Then, get to work. I believe in you, friend!