Little Women Book vs Movie Review

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (1869)

Little Women directed by Greta Gerwig (2019)

This won a book vs movie poll I posted, make sure you subscribe so you can participate in future polls and subscriber months! The theme of the poll had been Timothee Chalamet vs Nicolas Cage and this just furthered by love of Timothee. I had been impressed with him in years past, but the last couple months I have watched quite a few of his movies and seeing them all in close proximity has just really made me fully realize how amazing he is! His performance as Laurie was fantastic here.

This video will be about the ’19 adaptation, but in the next day or two I will release a follow-up video where I share my thoughts on the other major adaptations: 1933 with Kathrine Hepburn as Jo; 1949 with June Allyson as Jo; 1994 where Winona Ryder plays Jo. That video will also be a part two to this one in that I will delve a bit more into certain aspects of the story that I won’t be getting into in this video. So be sure to check it out once it is released!

Book setting

This book was published in two parts, the first in 1868, and the second in 1869. Within the story, there is a three-year gap between the events of the two books.

In the first half, the civil war is still happening and the March family (who live in the north) father is at war serving as a reverend. The family had become poor before his leaving, and we learn, “Mr. March lost his property in trying to help an unfortunate friend…” So it seems his kindness and generosity is how he lost their money.

The four daughters all struggle with this lower income and this is a big theme in the first half of the book. In the second half, the war is now over and we then see what each of the March sisters are up to now that they are getting older.

The book is very episodic, with each chapter focusing on a different lesson one of the sisters learn. There is the overarching plot, but some chapters could be seen as stand-alone stories to some extent.

From here on out I will be getting into the plot details which means there will be spoilers!

Meg

Meg is the oldest sister and struggles with not having finer things, because she is old enough to better remember what it was like to be rich. We get a story in both book and movie where she goes to spend a weekend with rich friends and while there, some of the other girls doll her up. Laurie, the neighbor boy who is friends with the March family, is disappointed to see her all taken up in the fancy outfit. She also drinks and Laurie is ashamed at how she behaves, but she and Laurie make up before the night is through. On one hand, Laurie was pretty judgmental and rude, and why not let Meg have her fun for one night? But I also like that these characters help keep each other inline and aren’t afraid to call each other out at times.

In the book, Meg had also overheard someone saying that the March family was only friendly with Laurie and his grandfather in order to benefit from the Lawrence money. This of course is untrue, and Meg is embarrassed that people think that of them. This detail isn’t in the movie.

In both, she ends up falling in love with Laurie’s tutor, John Brooke, and the two are engaged by the end of the first half of the book. I thought the movie actually made their relationship feel stronger. In the book, John has a crush on Meg, but we hardly see them interact so when he tells her he loves her I was just like, what? You have hardly talked to her at all! I get that was normal for the time, but I liked that the movie showed the two of them interacting more and made their love more believable.

In the second half of the book, we hear about some of the marital challenges Meg experiences which are also shown in the movie. Both show her buying the expensive fabric, even though she knows they are too poor for it. In the book we also get a story about how she had told him he can bring a friend over whenever he likes, but the one time he does, she had a stressful day and was unprepared for a guest and the whole thing goes poorly. We also have a chapter once their twins are born, where we hear how Meg spends all of her time with the babies, and so John ends up spending a lot of time at his firnds house. Both end up feeling neglected, and Meg’s mother helps her solve the issue by telling her she doesn’t need to spend literally all of her time with her kids and that she still needs to cultivate her life outside of being a mother.

I enjoyed hearing about Meg’s marriage and thought the book shares wise advice in those aspects. I liked how we see when they are first married, they have these idyllic thoughts on their life and they can’t imagine arguing with each other. John also sees Meg as such a frugal person who can make do with being poor and she doens’t mind, but of course in time they do argue, and Meg spends a lot on fabric showing that she does have a desire for nice things. But even when they see the realness of the other, they communicate and love each other and accept each other and that love and acceptance makes their relationship even stronger.

This aspect brought to mind-what personality trait do we love about our significant other, and if we realized that wasn’t quite the truth would we still love them? Like he finds out Meg does mind more than he thought about not having nice things, but this doesn’t make him no longer love her. This realization if anything, helped him to truly love the real her, rather than being attached to the idea he had of her, you know? But it also shows that when you are young and in love, you think you can put up with anything and will be buoyed by that love. But in time, that love changes, and maybe those things you thought you wouldn’t mind suddenly are a bigger deal. Jo claims this will happen between her and Laurie but Laurie is so lovesick he says that won’t happen. I think Jo is right though and over time they would have resented each other to some degree.

Beth

Beth is the second youngest and is so shy that she does stay at home school and has Jo teach her. She is also very musical and can play piano. My favorite detail of her in the book was that she loved cast off toys and treated them tenderly. She would take discarded dolls and cared for them as if they were real and would take them out to walks and tuck them in at night.

At one point, Marmee (the mom), has to go to Washington when the husband is sick. During this time, she asks the girls to be sure and visit the poor family the Hummels. Beth is the only one that remembers and when she tells the others they need to go, the others are lazy and/or selfish and make excuses why they can’t go. Beth goes on her own and turns out the baby had scarlet fever and in the book the baby dies in her arms. She returns home and Jo finds her crying in a closet. In the movie, while she was gone is when Mr. Lawrence sends her a piano, and so she goes to thank him and he points out that she is burning up and the baby dies after she has left. In the book is was sadder to find her in the closet crying and for her to have had a baby die while she held it would be so horrible.

Anyway, in both, Beth gets scarlet fever. She recovers, however forever after this she is weaker than she had been. Part way through the second half, she is getting weaker and weaker, before ultimately dying. Beth doesn’t do much in the second half, and I think I would have preferred her to have died after getting sick the first time.

Beth has always been a character I find a bit bland because she is just so good. That makes her not have much dimension at times. However, she is based on Alcott’s real-life sister who passed away, so I think that explains why she was written as someone whose only fault was being unbearably shy. The movie does their best with her, but yeah, in general I find her to be the least interesting sister. She doesn’t experience any change through the course of the story, so maybe that is my problem too. Whereas the others all have great arcs.

But I wanted to share a bittersweet passage about Beth which reads, “There are many Beths in the world, shy and quiet, sitting in corners till needed, and living for others so cheerfully that no one sees the sacrifices till the little cricket on the hearth stops chirping, and the sweet, sunshiny presence vanishes, leaving silence and shadow behind.”

Amy

I’m saving Jo for last, because she has the most to talk about, but Amy may be my favorite sister. She starts out very vain and the most selfish of the four. When Beth is sick, Amy is at risk to get sick and so she is sent to stay with Aunt March. While there in the book, she has a turning point where she wants to focus on being a better person. In the book Laurie also visits her daily while there as a way to keep up her spirits while she is lonely.

In the movie, she doesn’t have a moment at Aunt March’s where she wants to be a better person. But Aunt March does impress upon her the importance of marrying someone rich for the sake of her family.

Book Amy stays true to her word and as she grows, she becomes a very amicable, kind person who takes the high road. We get multiple stories that prove this but unfortunately these scenes were not in the movie. One scene involves Amy getting Jo to go with her to make house calls. Amy is very pleasant, whereas Jo misbehaves (in Amy’s opinion) in various ways. At one point, Jo snubs a well-off man she doesn’t like but is friendly with another guy who is poor. We read a conversation between Amy and Jo where Amy begins,

“You gave him a cool nod, and just now you bowed and smiled in the politest way to Tommy Chamberlain, whose father keeps a grocery store. If you had just reversed the nod and the bow, it would have been right,” said Amy reprovingly.

“No, it wouldn’t,” returned Jo, “I neither like, respect, nor admire Tudor [despite his prominence]. Tommy is poor and bashful and good and very clever. I think well of him, and like to show that I do…”

 Amy smiled and was mollified at once, saying with a maternal air, “Women should learn to be agreeable, particularly poor ones, for they have no other way of repaying the kindnesses they receive. If you’d remember that, and practice it, you’d be better liked than I am, because there is more of you.”

“I’m a crotchety old thing, and always shall be, but I’m willing to own that you are right, only it’s easier for me to risk my life for a person than to be pleasant to him when I don’t feel like it. It’s a great misfortune to have such strong likes and dislikes, isn’t it?”

“It’s a greater not to be able to hide them. I don’t mind saying that I don’t approve of Tudor any more than you do, but I’m not called upon to tell him so. Neither are you, and there is no use in making yourself disagreeable because he is.”

I admire Jo for not caring about class and stature, but I agree with Amy about having the dignity and maturity not to feel the need to wear your dislike on your sleeve. You can still be respectable and try and get to know the person and if you still don’t like them, it will benefit yourself in the long run to continue to be polite regardless.

She also ends that by saying just because the other person is disagreeable, doesn’t mean you therefore need to be disagreeable back. I love this too and it comes up later when Amy is treated rudely by some other girls. When Jo hears how Amy handled the situation by taking the high road, we read,

 “Because they are mean is no reason why I should be. I hate such things, and though I think I’ve a right to be hurt, I don’t intend to show it. They will feel that more than angry speeches or huffy actions, won’t they, Marmee?” “That’s the right spirit, my dear. A kiss for a blow is always best, though it’s not very easy to give it sometimes…”

I know women especially are often taught to turn the other cheek and not make a fuss, and I get tired of that message and think there is a time when a person needs to put their foot down and call someone out. But I strongly agree that you shouldn’t let another person determine the kind of person you will be. Just because someone is rude to you doesn’t mean you should lower your own standards or morals by being rude back. I don’t want to give anyone that much power over who I am, so I decide how I will be as a person and stick to it despite the actions of others.

Yet another scene that isn’t in the movie is while doing house calls, they stop to see Aunt March. While there, Jo is rude and stubborn with her comments, saying she hates when people do her favors and has no interest wasting time learning French, whereas Amy is very likeable. Because of this, Aunt March has Amy be the one chosen to go to Europe. In the movie, it seems Aunt March picks Amy simply because she prefers Amy and it seems very unfair. But in the book, it makes sense and you can see that Jo shot herself in the foot.

Also small change, but in the book it isn’t Aunt March that goes to Europe, but she is there when they make house calls and encourages the other lady to take Amy even though their first choice had been Jo.

While in Europe, Amy is courted by a man named Fred Vaughn and she writes that if he proposes she will say yes because he is very rich and even though she doesn’t love him, she likes him well enough.

More happens with Amy, but before getting to that, we will move on to Jo.

Jo and Laurie

Jo is the second oldest and is the author insert. She is a writer and a tomboy who wishes she had been born a man. She is the first to befriend Laurie, the neighbor boy who is the same age as her. Their first scene together in book and movie is so sweet and fun, they meet during a dance, in a back room where they both are hiding. They connect right away and later in the book, Jo hears that he is sick and she goes to visit him. This solidifies their bond, and it makes Mr. Lawrence see how much Laurie benefits from hanging out with the March sisters.

In the movie, Jo comes to his house with her whole family when Amy is there getting help with her hurt hand. I didn’t get why Amy went to see Laurie after getting in trouble at school, but I assume it was just to have more scenes showing the bond between Laurie and Amy, but yeah in the book after Amy got in trouble at school she didn’t stop at Laurie’s house.

Laurie and Jo become best friends, but as time goes on, Laurie reveals that he is in love with Jo. She had suspected he might propose to her, but she tells him she cannot love him in that way and that they would make a terrible couple. He is heartbroken over this, and in the book, it is Mr. Lawrence who suggest they go to Europe, so Laurie can recover from his heartbreak.

While in Europe, in the book Laurie writes to Jo asking once more if there is any chance she will ever change her mind, and she write shim saying no. The movie doesn’t have this letter exchange.

Laurie and Amy

Amy and Laurie meet up while in Europe, but initially Amy is disappointed at how he is behaving. In the movie, she knows that Jo turned him down but in the book, she doesn’t realize this til later while being with him when she puts two and two together and realizes that this is why he behaving the way he is. But even when she knows why he is behaving in this way, she still chastises him for doing so. He retorts she would be the same if she had been spurned, but she replies, no I would, “If I couldn’t be loved I would at least be respected.” Which is another great Amy line! This is in both book and movie and I loved it. So she calls him out for being lazy and a mess and ruining everything he has going for him. He takes this to heart and does decide to improve.

In both we also have a scene where she tells him she will marry Fred if he asks, explaining that even though she doesn’t love him, he is rich. Laurie kind of makes her feel bad that she values money and the movie adds a monologue Amy gives where she says, “…as a woman I have no way to make money, not enough to earn a living and support my family. Even if I had my own money, which I don’t, it would belong to my husband the minute we were married. If we had children they would belong to him, not me. They would be his property. So don’t sit there and tell me that marriage isn’t an economic proposition, because it is. It may not be for you but it most certainly is for me.”

Apparently, Meryl Streep, who plays Aunt March, talked to Gerwig about how audiences needed to fully understand how little power women had at the time and Gerwig wrote up this monologue not long before they shot the scene.

In the movie, Laurie later implies that he is interested in Amy, but she shuts him down saying she will not be second to Jo essentially. She also says she has been in love with him since they met and couldn’t bear to be his “second best” option. However, after Beth dies the two of them travel home together, and on the trip they both realize they truly love each other and she isn’t a second choice for Laurie but that he truly loves her and the two marry.

In the book, it is never implied that Amy has a crush on Laurie, and in the book she says no to Fred Vaughan because she realizes she wants to love her husband. This realization does come thanks to her talk with Laurie, but the two have no obvious romantic interest in each other yet. Once Beth dies, Laurie comes back to be with her and then the two write back home that they are engaged. They end up getting married on their way back to America.

I actually really like the Amy and Laurie pairing and I think they are a better romantic match than Jo and Laurie would have been.

Jo and Laurie pt2

In the book, Jo knew in advance that Amy and Laurie were engaged, whereas in the movie, when Laurie returns, he tells her they are married and Jo is blindsided.

And prior to this information in the movie, Jo admits to her mom that she is lonely and while she isn’t in love with Laurie, she has more interest in being loved than she had when he initially proposed. She tells her mom that if he asked her again, she would say yes and she even writes him a letter telling him she made a mistake in turning him down. She puts it in their secret mailbox, but when she sees he has married Amy, she rips up the letter before he finds it.

In the book, when Jo finds out through their letter that they are engaged, Marmee says she was worried Jo would be upset to learn Laurie loves someone else to which Jo replies, “Now, Mother, did you really think I could be so silly and selfish, after I’d refused his love, when it was freshest, if not best?”

“I knew you were sincere then, Jo, but lately I have thought that if he came back, and asked again, you might perhaps, feel like giving another answer. Forgive me, dear, I can’t help seeing that you are very lonely, and sometimes there is a hungry look in your eyes that goes to my heart. So I fancied that your boy might fill the empty place if he tried now.”

“No, Mother, it is better as it is, and I’m glad Amy has learned to love him. But you are right in one thing. I am lonely, and perhaps if Teddy had tried again, I might have said ‘Yes’, not because I love him any more, but because I care more to be loved than when he went away.”

In the book he had written her while in Europe giving her a second chance even, but she was wrapped up in Beth and said no. But in the book, she does not write him a letter saying she wants to be with him and so it wasn’t quite as dramatic as it is in the movie when Laurie and Amy return home and surprise everyone with their marriage.

Jo

I have gotten into Jo as a character already but to get into some of her storyline a bit more-as said she is a writer and at one point, she goes to New York to be a governess. While there, she writes a story to be published and the editor cuts out any moral she had put in the story and tells her to write more and make it spicy, and saying people don’t want morals in their stories.

She starts writing sensational stories, each one more lurid than the next but has them published without her name because she isn’t proud of writing something like this. In the place she lives there is a man named Fredrik Bhaer, a German man in his 40’s whom she bonds with and respects. In the movie (where he is much younger), he says he would like to read some of her writing and so she shows him the stories she has been doing. He tells her they are no good and she is capable of writing better than this trash. She is offended and storms off. They don’t get the chance to reconcile, because she then goes home because Beth is dying.

In the book, he sees a newspaper with a story similar to hers and makes a comment about how he doesn’t like them. The way Jo reacts, and grabs at the paper to see if it was one of her stories or not, Baeher puts two and two together and realizes that is the writing she does. He then goes on about why he doesn’t like those types of stories without directly criticzing her and Jo realizes he is right. She goes back and forth mentally on if she should stop writing them and give up the money she needs from it. We read,

“I can’t help wishing sometimes, that Mother and Father hadn’t been so particular about such things.” Ah, Jo, instead of wishing that, thank God that ‘Father and Mother were particular’, and pity from your heart those who have no such guardians to hedge them round with principles which may seem like prison walls to impatient youth, but which will prove sure foundations to build character upon in womanhood.

In the book, she tries making money writing children’s stories, but ultimately stops writing. In the movie, she just stops, and doesn’t start again until Beth asks her to write something for her. In the book, Marmee is the one that suggests Jo write something for the fun of it again and not think about the money.

In both, she ends up writing about her life and her sisters which of course ends up becoming Little Women.

Jo and Beaher

Later in the book, Bhaer visits where Jo lives and he spends time with her and her family. When weeks pass, and it is time for him to leave, she goes into town to see him and admits she loves him and he says he loves her. He still needs to go west though, so for the next year or so they are apart while they take care of what they each have going on. Aunt March gives her her mansion when she dies, and Jo and Bhaer turn it into a school for boys and have sons of their own.

Jo not marrying Laurie has always been a surprise for readers, and her ending up with this older man (in the book he is in his 40’s whereas Jo is in her early to mid 20’s) she meets partway through seemed a bit disappointing. Before part two of Little Women was released, Alcott would get letters from girls asking about part two and a quote from her reads, “Girls write to ask who the little women will marry, as if that was the only end and aim of a woman’s life…I won’t marry Jo to Laurie to please anyone.”

“In real life Alcott never married and she herself didn’t want Jo to be paired up with anyone. “Alcott originally intended for her story to end with Jo as a “literary spinster,” much like Alcott herself. But Alcott’s publishers insisted that Jo had to marry someone, that the book would be unsaleable otherwise. And so, although “much afflicted” by their demands, Alcott wrote to her friend, she had concocted a solution “out of perversity.” She invented dour and dictatorial Friedrich Bhaer as a “funny match” for Jo. Laurie she disposed of by marrying him off to Amy.”

Gerwig’s Little Women has the perfect ending which manages to stay true to the book ending, while also being true to what Alcott wanted for Jo. Near the end, as Jo is interacting with Bhaer when he comes to visit, and all of her family is telling her to go after him and proclaim her love-we then cut to Jo talking to the publisher about how this new book she is working on will end. Saoirse Ronan has gone from playing Jo, to now playing Alcott, or at least some combination of the two.

The publisher tells her she must marry Jo off, otherwise her book can’t be published despite her argument that getting married would make no sense considering the character has spent the whole book saying she will never marry. She concedes and puts in a very cheesy ending where Jo and Bhaer proclaim their love. One they agree on this, the then tries to by the copywright of the book from her, but she says she wants to be the owner of her story.

This ending shows how Alcott had no choice but to marry the characters off, but she was still able to rebel in her own way by not marrying them off in the way readers expected or wanted.

Having said that, the movie ending is very cheesy intentionally so, but the book relationship doesn’t feel lazy between Jo and Bhaer so it isn’t like Alcott just totally phoned it in when it got to the ending.

Final thoughts

Early in the book when Jo and Meg are getting ready for the dance we read, “…and Jo’s nineteen hairpins all seemed stuck straight into her head, which was not exactly comfortable, but, dear me, let us be elegant or die.” I thought this was hilarious! Some things never change and a girl choosing pain and beauty over comfort is one of them. (Of course, not all girls, but I know I have chosen the stylish look on occasion even if it meant being in pain lol).

I didn’t spend any time talking about Mr. March, who returns home at the halfway point but honestly he wasn’t in much of the book or movie so there isn’t too much to say about him.

I didn’t talk too much about the bond between Beth and Mr. Lawrence, but I thought their relationship was very sweet. And this is something I may touch on a bit more in my follow up video.

The club the girls have where they pretend to be men from Dickens books, and then Jo gets them to let Laurie join the group-this was so cute and funny in the book and the movie nails it!

Louisa May Alcott

I wanted to say a bit more about the author because she was an amazing woman! She helped with the Underground Railroad, she was a feminist who was the first woman to register to vote in Concord, she would run and advocated for other women to run as well citing the many benefits (of course for over a century more women were still not encouraged to run and it was even said that running would cause you to be infertile or even that it would make your uterus fall out! What?? Check out the book Marathon Woman by Kathrine Switzer if you want to hear about female runners in the 1960’s). She of course was a female author at a time when the field was dominated by men and she stayed single all of her life. I suspect she was queer in some way or other and is quoted as saying, “I am more than half-persuaded that I am a man’s soul put by some freak of nature into a woman’s body…. because I have fallen in love with so many pretty girls and never once the least bit with any man.”

Her father really had lost their family’s money, and it was on Louisa and her sisters to help support the family at a young age. As said, many things about Little Women reflect her own life.

She wrote sequels to Little Women, but none of the other books have been as famous as this one. It has stood the test of time, it gets adapted every few decades, and its story is still just as relevant.

Also fun fact-I am distantly related to her! We are cousins to some degree, and even if it is a distant relation, I still think that’s pretty neat.

Book vs Movie

I think this movie had a great cast, it looks amazing, and I love what Gerwig did with the script. This isn’t a remake where I was left wondering, “why did they feel to adapt this story yet again??” (i’m looking at your 2017 The Beguiled). Rather, it is clear why Gerwig wanted to adapt it and she made changes that help this adaptation stand apart, rather than just being one of many adaptations of the same work. I am fine with them including Amy’s crush on Laurie, and I initially didn’t like that Jo writes Laurie saying she will marry him because it made things too dramatic. But as time goes on, I am okay with that change and it is a way to further show how lonely Jo is despite her also wanting to be a free-spirited woman.

The book is one I have read before, and I do like it a lot and I highlighted a lot while reading. As said, there are sections with Amy in particular, in the second half that I loved and in general I think I found the second half more intriguing. We do get a chapter all about Meg’s twins and to be honest, I did not care what was happening with them lol. If we saw them when they were older, I would have liked that, but I don’t need to read about the goings on of a little kid. Beth also was pretty bland in the second half. If I ever feel the need to read this again (which I don’t think I will any time soon because I had already read this in 2021, and again now) there are chapters I would definitely skip over.

Whereas the movie has great pacing, the actors have great chemistry-I love the friendship between Laurie and Jo in the book and the movie captures it perfectly!-and I just loved every minute of it. There are a few scenes I could nitpick, but nonetheless, this is a fantastic movie and a beautiful adaptation. This might be controversial amongst fans of the book, but I have to say the movie wins! If you love the movie, I do think you should read the book though because there are even more stories and even more powerful lines and passages that you will be sure like me, you will want to highlight.

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