9 little things I learned from ‘Little Women’

Life’s biggest disappointment is realizing that Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women doesn’t end the way Moe from The Simpsons says it does. (“They were no longer little girls. They were—SOB—little women.”)

But it’s still a masterpiece. I have a lot of feelings about Little Women, and most of them end with me thinking (spoiler alert) it was very weird for Amy to marry Laurie when ALL OF US ARE AWARE that he’d rather be with Jo. (We will obviously get to this, but if I didn’t let off a little steam this whole paragraph might have been written in all caps.) Also, I had a crush on the Professor as a child—in the version where he’s played by William Shatner—so I’m sure that says something, too.

Basically, the moral of the story here is that Little Women helped some of us cultivate an identity. I like to think I was like Jo: unabashed, older, brazen, and very smart. In reality, I was . . . hey, you know what? This is my column and I’m going to say I was like Jo. Is it true? No. Well, kind of. I mean, I’m smart and I cut my own hair. But I don’t think I’d have turned my house into a school. Would Laurie have been into that? Who knows. He ended up with Amy. (As I said, we’re going to talk about it.)

In fact, we’re going to talk about all of it. Here are just a few things we can take away from 1994’s Little Women (a movie that happened 20 years ago, which is absolutely insane).

1.”Laurie” is short for “Theodore,” not “Lawrence” or “Laura”

Honestly out of ANY NICKNAME IN THE WORLD, they went with “Laurie.” This was very confusing for a nine-year-old reading this book for the first time, and I pitied the copywriters for so obviously screwing their jobs up. “Hello,” I thought to myself, “You are referring to ‘Laurie’ as a ‘he’ when our next door neighbor’s name is ‘Laurie’ and she is a woman.” Then, my Mom corrected me, and I was even more confused. (Although it might have been a little early for me to really grasp gender studies.)

Seriously. “Laurie,” short for Theodore. Why don’t I go around and tell everyone right now that “Marjorie” is short for “Anne.” (Because I will. You guys want me to?)

2. Laurie will always love Jo, and everybody knows it

This is like in Pride and Prejudice when that weird Bennett cousin-man marries Elizabeth’s friend Charlotte and she’s like, “I guess I gotta take what I can get.” And it’s like, “NO! Noooooo!!” But it’s too late because the book was written a century ago.

Anyway, I digress. Laurie is in love with Jo. Laurie will always be in love with Jo. Jo is not down with Laurie, so Laurie marries Jo’s sister because he wants to be close to Jo f-o-r-e-v-e-r. I mean, that’s how I see it and I might be very wrong. (But I’m not.) Truly, Laurie is a mess about one thousand times over. Amy can do better than Laurie. Why? Because he asks her to marry him to get close to Jo. Then he asks her to wait for him. Then, sure, he goes to Europe to be with her following Beth’s death, but, no. No way. Guys, I’m sorry. I can’t get on board the Laurie-Amy train, and I don’t think I want to.

The lesson here: Laurie and Amy are very polarizing as a couple. Seriously, this would be like if Kanye married Kim because he wanted to be with Kourtney and couldn’t. This is basically the 19th-century (fictional) equivalent of that.

3. And for the record: Laurie is the KING of the “Friend Zone” (which isn’t a real thing, FYI)

Well now that we’re being honest, let’s just admit that this guy was the worst. We should celebrate Jo choosing the professor—and we’ll get to THAT, don’t you dare worry—because at least he was as into Jo as she was into him. Laurie always expected more from Jo. They couldn’t just be friends. And he didn’t get it. Laurie was seriously the founding father of the “Nice Guys” club (aka, you know, the “Nice Guys Who Aren’t Actually Very Nice At All” club). He may as well have walked through Europe shouting, “NOT ALL MEN!” because he was always the victim. It was always somebody else’s fault that he was sad, and by the time he does get it together in the end, it’s been years. And then it’s still like, “Okay, but dude; you married my sister?”

4. Beth’s death means we’re not allowed to romanticize the Victorian era

I mean, there are a LOT of reasons not to romanticize the Victorian era (enter, in no particular order: death and disease, complete lack of women’s rights, an even worse class system, no toilets as we know them now, etc.) but this takes the cake, easily. Have any of you guys had Scarlet Fever? Me neither. But thanks to this book/movie and The Velveteen Rabbit, I was convinced I was going to get Scarlet Fever and my parents would have to throw out all my toys. (Because that’s what they do, apparently. That’s why The Velveteen Rabbit is so, so, so, so heartbreaking. And also why I think all stuffed animals are real.)

“We wouldn’t have to throw out your toys!” I remember my Mom saying. “And it’s the nineties! You’re not going to get it!”

BUT I WAS CONVINCED. And do you know what? If it had been the 1890s and not the 1990s and I had gotten Scarlet Fever, I would’ve died. Why? Because the health care system WASN’T A THING. Beth’s “medicine” was like, “drink fluids and sleep, I guess.” And then sweet, gentle, wonderful Beth DIES. She does not live! It’s horrible! Why would Louisa May Alcott do that to us? Why would Claire Danes sign up for this role? WHY WOULD THEY PUT US THROUGH THIS IN GENERAL. No thank you, 1870s. I’m through with you.

5. Jo is one of the most perfect lead characters in anything

And I say this because it’s the truth and I don’t mince words. She’s smart, she’s opinionated, she does not conform to social norms. SHE CUTS OFF ALL HER HAIR. (In a time when hair is like gold.) Then, after all that, she says “SCREW THIS” and becomes a writer.

Only she doesn’t REALLY say “screw this.” She sticks around to take care of her family. And then, when she finally gets a house, she turns it into a school to teach other little women to read! (Or men, but whatever. I feel like they always got all the resources they would ever need, anyway.) It’s beautiful and it’s lovely, and Jo is the best. Let’s all aspire to be Jo (or versions of Jo we’re comfortable with, obviously).

6. The Professor-Jo love story is actually so underrated

Because it is SO REAL. Like, they can’t be together at first, so does he pout? No! He lives his life. And she lives hers. And she starts writing the way he encouraged her to, and she sends him a copy, and it’s an affair of THE MIND. (Honestly the best kind of affair, let’s just put that out there immediately.) And then, after a hiatus, he comes over and thinks that Jo’s married Laurie. But does he throw a hissy fit? No. He’s heartbroken, and instead takes his heartbroken self away, thinking, “Valid. She has made a choice.” He respects her choice! And what comes from that? Oh, just THEIR OWN PERFECT UNION.

The Professor > Laurie, if I may be so bold. (And WHAT IF I had a crush on the accent. WHAT IF.)

7. Little Women is still eerily similar to many narratives today

What’s great and also a little messed up about Little Women is that it rings true so much, even now. Jo is a bonafide rebel, putting her academia and her dreams before getting married. And honestly? As much as we say women can do whatever they want, it’s the same in 2014. I, a single person, am still asked in the “What are you up to these days” line of questioning whether there’s a guy in my life. Then, when I say there is not, it’s a head-tilt and an, “Aw, you’ll find someone!” consolation. And, like, I know I will? But also: who cares? To some people, marriage may be a priority. Sure! I get it. That’s totally your choice and that’s awesome. Meg and Amy were all for getting married, but the rest of us are like Jo, and we’re OK being like Jo. But a lot of mainstream norms don’t agree. Women are still being shamed for everything from not having a boyfriend to being a bad mom because they’re using formula. The shame just looks a little different now, and that’s depressing as hell.

8. The amazingness of literal sisterhood

I think I’m forgetting one of the most important parts of the book/movie: SISTERHOOD FOREVER. These (little) women were all entirely different, but they were also total champions of each other’s choices, even when they didn’t get along or agree with them. Did they fight? For sure. Every family fights! But by the end, they’d all learned to “YGG” (you go, girl) like nobody’s business. Jo supported Amy’s marriage. Amy supported Jo’s school life. Meg had two kids everybody actually really cared for. Everyone loved Beth and Beth loved everyone (no, YOU’RE crying). It was great!

9. This might be one of the most underrated nineties movies ever

First, everyone is in it. Everyone. Kirsten Dunst, Claire Danes, Winona Ryder, Christian Bale . . . like, we’re probably in it, that’s how many people are in it. But on top of that, it promotes a similar message as Now and Then or The Babysitter’s Club ofgrowing as individuals separately while still championing one another. Why don’t we talk about it as much as we talk about other movies, then? I’m going with style. With lack of music. With lack of “nineties.” When you’re a kid, it’s not super easy to latch onto a period piece since you can’t 100% apply it to everything else. BUT! That being said, we can re-embrace it now and group it in with the other movies we grew up to/with, and get a real discussion going about why it’s still so important.

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