It’s the rare piece of classic literature in which a quartet of vibrant heroines are at the center of the story. But the heart of Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women” are the four March sisters.
Meg, the eldest, is sweet, beautiful and motherly. Jo, a nonconforming, creative and ambitious writer. Beth, a quiet and angelic pianist. And Amy, the youngest, is skilled at drawing as well as starting sisterly squabbles. As in real life, they each want different things, each have their own troubles and quirks.
Rather than presenting readers with just one main character to like or dislike, “Little Women” breathed life into four young women, their strengths and weaknesses a mirror for readers to find their own reflection. For more than a century, the question endures: “Which March sister are you?”
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Over the years, the beloved novel has been translated into over 50 languages, and adapted for the stage and screen numerous times. Its newest incarnation is a labor of love from Oscar-nominated writer-director Greta Gerwig.
In her “Little Women,” Gerwig fleshes out each sister more than previous movie versions. But from the start of her connection to the story, Jo has been her favorite character.
“It’s impossible for me to know now, did I love Jo because Jo was like me? Or did I love Jo and then I made myself like Jo?” Gerwig told the PBS NewsHour. “But you know, Jo wanted to be a writer. She was angry a lot. She was funny. She loved her sisters. She was ambitious. I was all of those things.”
But Gerwig said she saw herself in the other March sisters as well.
“I think that’s something about a book you grow up with, you see yourself in different characters at different points,” she said.
With Meg, Gerwig related to the sister’s passion for acting and her “burning desire to fit in with the fancy kids.”
“I understood that kind of wishing you could be accepted by that group of people,” she said.
Greta Gerwig explains why she compared her birth chart with the one belonging to Louisa May Alcott, the author of “Little Women,” as part of the research for her film. Video by PBS NewsHour
Gerwig appreciated Beth’s “love of the coziness of the sisters, of the family, of not wanting people to leave.”
And Amy, who is often dismissed by fans as the bratty youngest sister? Gerwig referenced a line in the book where Amy challenges the idea that she shouldn’t be vocal about her achievements.
“Basically she’s saying, ‘Oh, I see. It’s nice to have talents, but it’s not nice to tell everyone that you’ve got them,’” Gerwig said. “And then Jo says something like, ‘Yes, that’s right. Anymore than you’d wear all your bows and ribbons just to show folks you’ve got them.’”
Gerwig, with her new critically acclaimed movie opening on Christmas Day, relates to the ambitious, artistic girl with big dreams and desires — “and to be totally honest, her slight showing off,” the director said.