The 'Little Women' Movie Ending Calls Out The Book's Trite Conclusion

Though it’s far from the first time Louisa May Alcott’s classic
novel has been adapted for the screen,
Greta Gerwig’s take on Little Women
is sure to surprise viewers
who were expecting a straight retelling of the lives of Jo March
and her family. While the story retains many of the same beats as
the novel, Gerwig’s version tells them out of order, pulling out
key scenes to act as framing devices. The resulting film opens up
Alcott’s original ending to wider, perhaps more modern
interpretations. It’s a welcome remix of an old story that, while
best known for re-examining gender roles, still maintained some
old-fashioned thinking in its ending. Spoilers ahead for

the ending of Greta Gerwig’s Little Women

adaptation!

The story of Little Women remains intact: The film is still
about the four March sisters, Meg (Emma Watson), Jo (Saoirse
Ronan), Amy (Florence Pugh), and Beth (Eliza Scanlen), and their
mother, Marmee (Laura Dern). Each of the sisters is still unique in
her hopes and desires for her future, and each struggles to carve
out a space for herself in a time that was less conducive to the
idea that women could do such a thing. It’s a classic coming-of-age
story with thoroughly modern themes of independence, solidarity,
and love.

That said, Alcott’s story was still very much a product of its
time, and nowhere was that more evident than in the book’s ending.
Jo, who spends much of the novel resisting the advances of her best
friend Laurie, rejects his inevitable marriage proposal. She tells
him she doesn’t want to become a wife, and is dead-set on becoming
a writer. She’s defined by her stubborn independence, which she
cherishes and protects fiercely… that is, until towards the end
of the novel, when she meets Professor Bhaer, a German academic who
ends up winning her over and ultimately marrying her. She ends up
giving up her dreams of being a writer and instead goes to teach at
an all boys school, following in Bhaer’s footsteps.

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Jo’s independence and determination made her something of a
radical figure at a time when women were expected to be obedient
and deferential to men. She was an example of a different way to
approach life as a woman, and to have her simply be married off at
the end of her struggles to a man who didn’t even really understand
her work diminished the book’s impact, or at least acted as a
frustrating footnote for fans who have long cherished Alcott’s
classic.

While the film doesn’t completely reinvent the ending and still
sees Jo marrying Professor Bhaer (who’s French in this version), it
does cleverly call out the disappointing nature of the book’s
ending while suggesting that Alcott compromised at the behest of
her publishers. It achieves this by remixing the order of events:
the film begins with Jo already in New York City pitching her story
to publishers, which in turn frames the rest of the film as part of
that pitch. This carries on throughout the story, right up to the
originally baffling ending that saw Jo suddenly falling in love and
willing to give up her dreams for the professor. Right before that
happens, the film cuts back to Jo in New York City with her
publisher, who tells her that the women in her book must end up
married or dead by the end of the story. Ultimately relenting to
the mandate, Jo obliges.

It’s a subtle subversion of the original ending; one that
doesn’t do away with it entirely, but is still able to frame it as
a strange, almost ridiculous demand placed on female characters in
literature. It parallels with Alcott’s own story, which saw the
author dealing with what were likely similar mandates in trying to
sell her story. Jo acts as something of a stand-in for Alcott,
which is something Little Women director Gerwig acknowledges and
relates to. Speaking with the LA Times, Gerwig said of the opening,
“I lifted 90% of the dialogue straight from the book, but there was
something about the language, her hesitancy,
her willingness to change the work to get the money
… all of
that, I just knew through and through.” She continued, “I felt it
could be me talking to a studio head. It has been me talking to a
studio head.”

In this way, Gerwig’s interpretation of Alcott’s ending pulls it
into the modern day, giving it a relatable feeling to anybody who’s
ever tried to “break in” to any kind of creative endeavor. Alcott
choosing to marry off her protagonist is reframed as an
understandable, calculated compromise to get the work published and
keep herself afloat something that generations of readers, even if
they hated that ending, are likely thankful for.

Source: FS – All – Entertainment – News 2
The 'Little Women' Movie Ending Calls Out The Book's Trite Conclusion