Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (Book & Movie Review)

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott is known by many to be an American classic.  The novel, which takes place during the American Civil War, is about a family of a mother and four sisters.  Because their family has fallen on hard times and their father is off fighting in the war, the story is about these young girls coping with poverty and the hardships of life with only each other and their mother there to guide them.  Beloved by many, the novel can be seen as a comedy, romance, tragedy, and drama because the story contains aspects of a number of different genres and is based on real life.

I grew up loving this book and loving the 1994 version of the movie even more.  I am not sure which came first for me, the book or the movie, but both hold a deep significance and are very sentimental for me.  Even though I had read the book only once, there were scenes in the book that I remembered very clearly when I read the book this second time.  For example, I very clearly recall the day where the girls and Laurie are discussing their dreams for the future, calling them “castles in the air”.  I remembered so clearly that Mr. Laurence had brought them breakfast on Christmas morning as a reward for them taking their own breakfast to the poor that I thought it was in the movie.  I will say that the book and movie has taken on a different significance to me now I have experienced love, a family, and hardships that come with life.  Spoiler Alert: There was one scene in the movie where Hannah is sprinkling petals on all of the things that Beth especially loved.  Hannah pauses and then sprinkles petals on her dolls.  Now, this scene means more because it points out how sad it was that a family had lost a girl who was so innocent and young that she was still playing with dolls.  Having said that, I imagine that my review is somewhat biased because of how emotional I am about the novel and film.

When I first read this book, I was impressed with the characters in this book and how fun and courageous they are.  Now, I am even more impressed because I can see that the characters are developed to the point that everything from their mannerisms to their speech patterns are consistent with who they are.  Not only are the characteristics of the girls consistent, but they are also distinct so that I know before they are identified which girl is talking by listening to the way they are talking. In doing a bit of research, I have learned that Alcott based these characters on herself and on her own three sisters.  I am sure that the fact that these girls are based on real “little women” only helps to give the characters the extra dimension that often seems to be lacking in other novels.  I also read that many people credit Alcott’s book as being the inspiration for the American Girl Dolls and their backstories.  The thought of having these strong and courageous girls was simply rarely written of before Alcott wrote her novel, Little Women.

One interesting difference that I noticed between the book and the movie is that, while Jo does have a big role in the book, the 1994 version of the movie made me feel that Jo was the center of the story and this does not seem to be the case in the book.  In the movie, Jo, played by Winona Ryder, is the narrator and so it makes sense that we would jump to that conclusion, but I felt that Alcott gives all four of the girls an equal part of the story.   Another interesting difference is that the movie made the March family out to be activists and transcendentalists, etc. where the book did not hint at this.  Perhaps, it is a natural leap to think that these strong-minded girls must come from a family of beliefs that are different from other families, but Alcott does not express this in the novel.  I really wonder why the filmmaker decided to make these changes.

I really do love this movie as it is filled with some great actors and some great acting.  I will say this: I have not seen the series Homeland or much of Claire Danes’ more recent work, but of her earlier works (Little Women, My So-Called-Life, and Romeo and Juliet) I can say that she is not a pretty crier.  Watch the movie and you will see what I mean.  And, the scene where Laurie, played by a 24-year-old Christian Bale, professes his love to Jo is so great but a true fan of this movie will tell you that what you really remember about the scene is that, when they separated from their passionate kiss, they had some spit lingering between the two of them (Awesome!).  I discovered that there are in total five versions of this film, the 1994 version being the most recent: the fourth is a made-for-tv movie (1978) that I found on Hulu starring Meredith Baxter (Family Ties), Susan Dey (The Partridge Family), Eve Plumb (The Brady Bunch), and last but not least William Shatner as Friedrich Baer.  The movie is bad and boring but I had to see Shatner in action so I fast-forwarded and I was not disappointed (give that man a prize for one of the worst German accents).  Needless to say, the book is well beloved or it would not have spawned so many mediocre to great films.

I really like this book and really enjoy the movies that it has inspired.  I listened to the book and very much appreciated the narrator, as she was able to accurately differentiate and match her voice to the distinct characters found within the book.  I recommend the book especially to young girls or to moms who read to their children as it does show how honesty, loyalty, courage, love and family are important aspects of well-rounded “little women”.

Little Women Purchase Links: 1978 DVD, 1994 DVD, 1994 Amazon Streaming RentalFree Kindle Book, Audiobook ($0.99 with purchase of Free Kindle Edition)

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