Greta Gerwig’s Little Women, based on Louisa May Alcott’s 1868 novel of the same name, doesn’t seem to be an adaptation that would end differently from the various film, television, radio, stage, and web series that have been produced over the years , However, the 2019 version – which already stands out from a simple adjustment as it wiggles back and forth over time – blurs the established end of the book and leaves it open for interpretation.
As it turns out, Gerwig’s attitude more closely corresponds to Alcott’s original vision for the novel. The book is semi-autobiographical: Alcott based the characters on her own family, advocating Jo March. However, the end of the book is very different from Alcott’s own experience. A closer look at Alcott’s life and the differences between her characters’ intentions in the film and those in the books make it clear why Gerwig’s choice is a correct and updated homage to the author’s legacy.
(Ed. Note: This article contains spoilers for the end of Little Women (2019) and for the book that has been coming out for 141 years.)
The end that lovers of the book remember is still largely visible in the film. In the novel, Jo, who spends most of the book insisting that she will never marry, finds a kindred spirit in the slightly disheveled middle-aged Professor Bhaer. This happens after she rejects Laurie’s proposal – much to the dismay of those who hoped that Jo and Laurie would meet after the first volume ended.
However, Alcott never wanted Jo to get married.
Photo: Wilson Webb / Sony Pictures
“Jo should have been a literary bachelor,” Alcott wrote to a friend after the first book was published, “but so many enthusiastic young women loudly asked me to marry Laurie or someone I didn’t dare to go out of perversity and canned funny match for her. ”
The second volume of Little Women introduced Professor Bhaer, which was specially developed by Alcott to annoy Laurie / Jo shippers, but at the same time satisfy the audience who wanted Jo to be married to someone. It is intentionally a strange game, especially since Bhaer does not play a typical romantic leading role. Jo / Bhaer mating is less about how dreamy Bhaer is than how strange he is in general. This underscores the fact that marriage is Jos’s decision and nobody else – not that of her parents, not of society, and above all not glowing Laurie / Jo fans.
Through the relationship with Bhaer, Alcott found a way to give in to her fandom and maintain Jo’s agency. In the penultimate chapter of the book, aptly titled “Under the Umbrella”, the professor visits the March House, where he and Jo finally confess their feelings for each other. Then they share a kiss under an umbrella – and in public, which was deliciously scandalous at the time (and in keeping with Jo’s character). The last chapter sees her married and happy, but with one big limitation: Jo has given up her writing career to head a school and become a mother.
Gerwig’s film adaptation follows a similar path. Bhaer (Louis Garrel) visits the house in March, tells Jo (Saoirse Ronan) that he will go to California to secure a job, and then sets off. But before Jo walks behind him, the film returns to a scene in which Jo is sitting in front of her publisher and showing her almost finished manuscript of Little Women between them. They go back and forth and consider whether their main hero – a representative of Jo herself – should get married. The film returns to the “past”, the March House, where the Jo family helps to find Professor Bhaer. The two confess their love for each other and kiss under an umbrella.
Then it goes back to the publisher, who declares the scene to be a masterpiece and says that he will title the chapter “Under the roof”. They argue a bit more about royalties and copyright until they finally agree and the book is set to be published.
The final part of the film alternates between the last chapter of the book – a happy gathering of all extended families at the new school in March to celebrate the harvest – and scenes in which Jo watches her book be printed. The family scenes are lively and cheerful and have the same golden hue as the scenes that are firmly anchored in the girls’ past. The scenes we learn form the book Jo is writing. But Gerwig ends her adaptation when Jo opens her finished novel and has achieved her goal of being a professional writer.
The selection does not necessarily mean that these scenes are mutually exclusive. Modern women undoubtedly have loving families and successful careers at the same time. The scene is ambiguous for a reason, so the viewer can decide which path makes more sense for Jo. But the fact that the family moment could be a fictional epilogue and the true end of Jo’s story would be a quiet moment basking in her published manuscript, the rights that all belong to her, is a justification for Alcott – deliberately by Gerwig written.
“I felt like if I could give Louisa an end that she actually wanted for Jo 150 years later, then maybe we got somewhere,” said Gerwig in an interview with Variety.
Jo’s end was always designed to shake things up. Both Alcott and Gerwig take care not to take Jo’s unconventional path as the “right” one; The other March sisters are painted in the same loving light, and none of their ways are elevated. Nevertheless, Jo Alcott’s deputy and Alcott never married. Still, she couldn’t leave Jo unmarried because, to be honest, she wanted to make a profit by supporting her whole family with small women royalties (and finally releasing two sequels that focused on Jo’s children).
In 1868, Alcott emphasized that Jo was not interested in social conventions – yet remained popular and profitable – that he opted for an older, poorer, foreign love interest.
In 2019, however, a single woman can pursue her career goals. Gerwig bravely makes the choice that Alcott couldn’t afford.