What “Little Women” Taught Me About Feminism and Relationships

Little Women is a novel that tells a story about the weaknesses and strengths found in every woman. Published in 1898 by Louisa May Alcott, it follows four sisters (Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy) as they come of age. I think its charm has withstood the test of time because every character’s storyline feels relatable and real. No matter which character you relate to, she simultaneously pushes you to better yourself, and she reminds you you’re not alone in your trials. The novel accurately sketches out the essence of what it’s like to be a woman in any decade or century.

The new adaptation directed by Greta Gerwig in 2019 is a critically acclaimed masterpiece with a 95% Rotten Tomatoes score.The screenplay creatively captures grown-up Jo’s intense feelings of nostalgia and her longing for simple, happier days of her past. And the new adaptation acts as a reminder that the hardships attached to coming growing up are at best transformative or at least for the better.

THE MODERN TWIST

The film’s ending introduces a new plot point with a modern twist that echoes the current sentiments of career women across the United States. When the main character, Jo March, meets with the publisher of her new book, we watch a new plot point unfold as she negotiates a better business deal for herself. She walks away from his office as the owner of her copyright and with upfront pay.

She gives another nod to single career women when she asks why the heroine must always end up married at the end of popular stories. These details about business deals, owning art, and frustration over society’s obsession with romance are reminiscent of the author’s (Louisa May Alcott’s) personal life, but are not included in the original telling of Jo’s story.

SPOILER ALERT!!! The movie stays true to Jo’s personal story, and she does marry Friedrich, the professor. Even though she gets married, the final shot of the film focuses on the printing of her new book – with her new husband nowhere to be seen.

WHY IT MATTERS

The new plot point distinctly directs itself toward 21st century females, and it struck me as very on-brand for Jo. She’s an iconically independent and career-driven heroine. Her character advocates for fair treatment, fights for what she wants out of life, and feels immensely proud when her dream of being an author comes to fruition.

Even though it’s not a universal truth, many women in my life (myself included) struggle with career advancement at first. They learn the hard way that success and a fair deal doesn’t happen just by being kind, loyal, or talented. There comes a time when you have to speak up and ask for what you want. Watching a timeless and respected heroine learn and act upon this lesson was relatable and inspiring.

Jo’s passion and talent are undeniable, but this twist matters because it glosses over a key part of Jo’s success: Friedrich.

No, a woman doesn’t need a man to be successful, but women do need deep relationships.

No, a woman doesn't need a man to be successful, but women do need deep relationships. Click To Tweet

Jo’s conversation about owning her work might not have happened if she hadn’t met Friedrich earlier in the story. He was bold enough to give her the first honest critique of her writing, and he was the person who told her to write what she knows. These conversations with Friedrich played a crucial role in Jo’s transformation and success as an author.

This sharp distinction in their relationship not only makes Jo’s rejection of her previous love interest make more sense, but it’s also one of the most beautiful moments in the story.

Deep relationship transformed her into a better version of herself.

I’ve always loved Friedrich and Jo’s story, but maybe my own experience with deep relationships in recent years has heightened my awareness to their importance.

My husband processes the world very differently than I do. For the past two years, he has acted as a driving force behind my achievements and bravery. He, like Friedrich, is the first to critique my work or my actions honestly. He, like Friedrich, is always the first to provide encouragement through all of the bold or hard actions I’ve taken since marrying him.

Because of his prodding, I finally stopped talking about my passion projects and started creating them instead. With his encouragement, I stopped making excuses and ended up advancing my career. After opening myself up to his hard questions in vulnerable moments, I’ve faced the darkest parts of myself head on instead of justifying them. Deep relationship is currently transforming me into a better version of myself.

Could I have done all of that on my own? Possibly. But not without some other form of deep relationship and a lot more time.

CONCLUSION

In the end, this twist related well to any modern working woman, and it will definitely inspire younger women just starting out. But a timeless element of the story was overshadowed by our culture’s modern obsession with working women.

In the closing scene, Jo stands in the print shop alone. Would Friedrich’s presence in the final shot have muffled Jo’s triumph? No. His presence would have amplified it.

Modern culture often swings away from stories of inequality and hurt feelings to a narrative that reveres independence over commitment. While romance and marriage are not a necessary part of a fulfilling life, the sacrifice we make for committed relationships is often worth the risk.

I want to empower women to chase their dreams. I want them to believe that life doesn’t start after they find a man. Their lives are full, rich, and happening right now. This sentiment is a huge reason why the story of Little Women rings so true for me. Yet, as humanity is pressured to advance, sometimes I fear the sacredness, beauty, and benefits of a committed marriage might be lost on the altar of empowerment and independence. Human success and sacrificial commitment to relationships shouldn’t be mutually exclusive.

Jo lives this out, finding inspiration and encouragement in deep relationships throughout the movie – from her sisters, her parents, and even through the man she ultimately rejects. So, why undermine the influence of her future husband as she catapults into the best version of herself? I understand the possible motive, but I don’t necessarily agree.

If you’re an advocate and fan of this story, you’ll still walk away thrilled. This movie is beautiful, and, for the most part, it does justice to the story. Friedrich and Jo’s relationship is still depicted in a sweet and whimsical way. And Jo’s courage in all of life will inspire even the most cynical viewer.

Watch for all of these themes in the new adaptation of the film and, at the same time, discover which character reminds you of your own struggles, joys, and transformation.

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