Little Women (2019) will not be my favourite film adaptation. However, in the months after watching it I have been able to appreciate why it is such a powerful film, and it is not thanks to Timothée Chalamet. Louisa May Alcott concludes her novel with unsatisfying endings through these climactic marriages. Greta Gerwig reveals that dislike towards these marriages and acknowledges that marriages are not necessarily romantic. Sure, Gerwig could have changed the ending with this adaptation, but there is significance in not marrying Jo and Laurie just to please audiences. After reading so much Jane Austen in my teenage years I was familiar with the idea of a happy ending. Yet, it is those novels that have no romantic climactic ending, but the ones that understand and appreciate circumstances outside of romance that resonate with me more. Alcott and Gerwig are correct, some myths surrounding marriage are unrealistic, and that they are always romantic is one they are debunking well.
What is the ending of Little Women? Well, the ambitious heroine Jo marries the unromantic Friedrich Bhaer. Her best friend Laurie chooses to marry Jo’s least favourite sister Amy instead. Previous adaptations have romanticised these unsatisfying endings by making the characters more suited to their eventual partners rather than basing it off their personalities. Gerwig presents these marriages differently because neither of them are based on pure romance. Alcott and Gerwig have made these relationships about practicality. In this adaptation there is a constant reminds of the economics that reinforces both marriages thereby making their endings about seditious feminine ambition. These choices are deliberate by Alcott and Gerwig.
After the release of the second volume, Alcott vanquished any hopes that Laurie would inevitably marry Jo, but she transforms the endings for all the women. Alcott questions why the only aim of a woman’s life is to marry and especially for love. Jo was never meant to marry someone but publishes considered the book to be unsaleable if not, so Friedrich Bhaer remedied that ‘problem’ and Laurie was thrown to Amy. Still, having Jo marry anyone is still not satisfying for readers, the structure of the novel works to have to want Jo and Laurie together. The first volume of the book, in turn, the flashbacks of the film, works as a remembrance of youth, idealism, and comfort. The second volume of the book, and the present moments of the film, realise each of the women transforming from girls to adults by leaving home. Alcott recognises the realities of marriage and the realities of how children will inevitably become adults and leave the home.
Jo and Amy are the only characters who truly realise the tragedy that exists in Little Women. These women are close at the beginning of the novel but are pulled apart by the disappointing men that are presented to them. Their father barely exists. John Brook cannot provide for Meg. Laurie just wounds up in Europe making a fool of himself after Jo rejects him. Bhaer is bland and only exists to serve as an ending for Jo. Now, with such amazing prospects, the women are still required to finance their lives in their own economy. Ultimately, marriage is the primary mean they are encouraged to achieve financial stability. These women must marry one of the undeserving men presented in the book. By the end of the book their love is transformed into a product that must be sold to enrich a man’s life in exchange for money.
The economic value of marriage resonates the most with Amy in Gerwig’s adaptation. Amy does not need to exert herself in this arena, she will always get what she wants, so she will naturally find someone. She is aware of her situation just as much as Jo is:
“I’m just a woman. And 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”.
Laurie rebukes her assessment of marriage. Amy still manages to fall in love with Laurie, after all he is a wealthy man, her own family’s survival is therefore ensured. Meanwhile, Jo is constantly reminding everyone that she will not marry anyone, but still marries Bhaer. These marriages, ergo, are in no way romantic even if the ending seems to be a happy one. Gerwig amplifies the economic propositions associated with marriage through the gleeful ending everyone finds themselves in. As audience members, she makes sure we are still aware of the economics of marriage. These matches are economical first and emotional second.
Similar to Alcott the publisher in Little Women makes it clear the no one will purchase Jo’s book if the heroine remains unmarried. Jo sells her heroine into marriage knowing she will make money out of it. This is about exchanging autonomy for money rather than love. These marriages, in opposition to what is perpetuated by the narrator, are business transactions. They all have limited choices and must use their own set of skills to find methods of survival in their society. Gerwig’s presentation of these unromantic marriages is what makes their endings satisfying to me. There is a logic to them, they are realistic and they are not fairy tales selling the audience a desirable ending.