September 10, 2021 | OPINION | By Emma Logan | Photo by Emmaline Hawley
American women have connected to the March sisters since 1869, brought to life in Louisa May Alcott’s novel “Little Women.” The story details the transitions from childhood to post-civil war womanhood for the four sisters: Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy. Each sister displays unique experiences, characteristics, and approaches to the trials of adolescence, prompting the question, “which March sister am I?”
Meg is the oldest sister, a responsible, kind, gentle, loving, and morally vigorous figure. Josephine (Jo) is the protagonist of the novel and the second oldest . She is a writer, a tomboy, and resistant to the limitations of being female. Beth, the third sister, is quiet and virtuous. She tries to please others and adores music and her piano. Amy, the youngest, is an artist who enjoys visual beauty and has a weakness for pretty possessions. She is prone to pouting, throwing fits, and exhibiting vanity.
On the surface, each sister –– except Amy –– embodies qualities that make them worthy of being role models for centuries of young women. Among dedicated fans of the work, Jo is seen as the sole independent feminist, Meg as the feminine motherly figure, and Beth as the quiet peacemaker. Amy, however, is essentially depicted as a spoiled brat. This narrative is consistent in the first five film adaptations of the book, released between 1917 and 1994.
Unsurprisingly, it feels like 90% of young women who connect with these characters on the screen self-identify as being closest to Jo, Meg, or Beth.
No one wants to be an Amy.
That is, no one wanted to be an Amy until Greta Gerwig’s film remake came out in December of 2019. Upon the release of Gerwig’s interpretation, fans of the March sisters realized that, in reality, we are all Amys.
A turning point in the story is Amy’s acceptance of a trip to Europe during early adulthood to briefly study art and find a rich husband. Juxtaposed with Jo’s declination of a proposal to live independently in New York, readers often view Amy’s move as a vain and lazy acceptance of 1800s gender roles.
However, Greta Gerwig’s adaptation dismantled this interpretation in a single empowering and humbling scene, whose writing and directing genius is only rivalled by Florence Pugh’s Oscar nominated performance.
Amy is told by her family friend, Theodore Laurence, not to marry a rich man if she doesn’t love him. To the shock of viewers, Amy’s incredibly eloquent response reveals her motivation to be one of true ambition and rooted in a sense of responsibility to care for her family. This moment changes the way Amy is viewed for the rest of the movie and changes her defining characteristic from vanity to realism.
“Don’t sit there and tell me that marriage isn’t an economic proposition, because it is,” Amy says, “It may not be for you but it most certainly is for me.”
This is the first time in any interpretation of the classic story that depicts Amy’s desire to marry rich as an ambitious, admirable, and a caring act for her family, which consists almost entirely of women. When looked at from this perspective, Amy’s adult character arc proves less selfish than Jo’s, whose own motivation is rooted almost entirely in her own want to be remembered.
Given this small but incredibly significant shift in the way we view one of the most influential characters of American literature, I will update the description of Amy March.
Amy is the youngest March sister, an artist who is realistic about her economic and social position as a middle-class woman of the 1800s. She is given to fits of loving her family and understanding that it is her responsibility to ensure their long-term health and well-being. She is an emotional child who develops into a poised and graceful young woman.
We should all strive to be like Amy.