Let’s Get Lit-erary: Book vs. Adaptation: ‘Little Women’ 

“Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott is a literary classic loved many readers. Biju compares this lengthy text with the recent 2019 film adaptation.

Daunted by the lengthy text, I’ve kept “Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott on my to-be-read list for years. I finally dove in last summer, determined to read the book before tackling the 2019 film adaptation.  

Was Timothée Chalamet the driving force behind my viewing of “Little Women”? Or did I watch the film with the altruistic intent to compare it to the book for this column? The world will never know.  

Stellar casting aside, Greta Gerwig brings a lot to consider with her adaptation of “Little Women” — an act that has been done no less than seven times, according to IMDB. This film comes hot on the heels of the 2017 PBS mini-series starring Maya Hawke.  

Though I loved the movie dearly, it did diverge from the structure of Alcott’s novel, which was understandable considering the time constraints. The most notable change was the shift to a nonlinear timeline.  

In the novel, readers get an uninterrupted view of Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy growing from childhood to womanhood. We see how their experiences shape them into the people they are by the end of the novel. The movie, in contrast, starts with Jo as an adult and alternates timelines, perhaps adding intrigue by holding back context. Yet, part of the raw, emotional journey that the novel offers only comes with that context.  

Not to mention, switching timelines can be confusing to viewers who haven’t encountered the text before. Though Gerwig slightly adjusts the lighting for each timeline, there is not much indication that anything else has changed. Even the actors remain the same. This may be nice for continuity’s sake, but confusion arises when you have fully-fledged adults playing adolescents.  

This is particularly seen with Florence Pugh’s portrayal of young and pouty Amy, jealous of her older sisters. There is something jarring about a grown woman throwing a temper tantrum. In one scene, Amy is in class with several other students — all portrayed by child actors. Pugh is the odd one out, and it does not go unnoticed.  

While the blurred timelines leave something to be desired, Gerwig brings about some truly phenomenal additions. Professor Bhaer, Jo’s love-interest, is no longer a middle-aged man, which is a relief.

Was Timothée Chalamet the driving force behind my viewing of “Little Women”? Or did I watch the film with the altruistic intent to compare it to the book for this column? The world will never know.

More importantly, the movie enhances Alcott’s feminist agenda, something that can come across as mild-mannered when being read in the 21st century.  

For example, Laurie insists that Amy choose to marry for love over wealth. Though the statement was offered with good intentions, Amy fumes at his delusion.  

“If I had my own money, which I don’t, that money would belong to my husband the moment we got married. And if we had children, they would be his, not mine. They would be his property, so don’t sit there and tell me that marriage isn’t an economic proposition. Because it is,” Amy retorts in an emboldened moment unique to the film.  

Gerwig also emphasizes Jo’s career as an author, which is somewhat put on hold in the novel. The title sequence at the movie’s start depicted a leatherbound copy of “Little Women” authored by Alcott. By the end of the movie, we see that same copy reappear. This time, it is penned by Jo March. Hence, she has made it as a novelist, telling the tale of the March sisters we have just seen unfold on-screen.  

The book is better, of course, offering many more life lessons and a stronger connection to each character. Yet, overall, the movie functions as an outstanding adaptation of Alcott’s work.  

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars 

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