BY JUDY CARMACK BROSS
Finding out whether you loved Meg, Jo, Beth, or Amy best as a child is like a literary Myers-Briggs Type-Indicator test. And with Greta Gerwig’s Little Women now breaking the box office, that question is back in pop culture, with some now grown-up fans reaffirming or even transferring their childhood loyalties.
A fiercely independent Jo—although she’s still our clear winner—might find youngest sister Amy to be no longer the sister to hate but a fighter and creative talent who has become a feisty rival for viewer affections. Or perhaps growing up has found practical Meg a more relatable figure.
We asked some of our favorite people, including mothers and daughters who have seen the movie together since its Christmas release, which sister captured their imagination in 2020. Others, who haven’t seen the new film starring Saoirse Ronan as Jo and Florence Pugh as Amy, recalled their enchantment as a child. (And a few friends who said they would take the intrepid Nancy Drew over the March sisters any day.)
Lucy and Daphne Bulley, about the same age as the sisters in earlier scenes, saw the movie in the theater with their photographer mother, Suzette, as well as younger brother, Allan, and father, Ally.
Lucy’s choice: “Amy is my favorite sister because she just seems to get it. She marries up, not because she’s a gold digger but because she understands that money drives the world, and marriage is an ‘economic proposition.’ This portrayal of Amy as a mature and conscientious woman is a very refreshing take on the original film.” Sister Daphne Daphne also admired Amy’s determination.
Suzette answered, “When Jo stands up to her editor and insists that she keep the rights to her book, that made her my choice. I liked many of the things that Marmee, the mother, said too. My son, Allan, expressed that he was sorry that Beth was so sick, and my husband loved the movie.”
Linda Andrews, Professor of English at the University of Illinois at Chicago and former Tribune reporter, explained, “Jo’s pragmatism, for instance, cutting her hair for money so her mother could go to the bedside of her ailing father, and dedication to her writing when each page had to be recopied, and an editor who wanted a traditional ending, remind us of the strength women needed to make their way in the world, then and now.”
Judy Block took all her granddaughters, ranging from ninth grade down to second, to see the film together and reported that everyone was spellbound throughout: “Nothing really changes, does it? You have a family of four young women, and there are naturally tensions. That’s certainly not unfamiliar. I think they all love one another but in an unusual way. For me, particularly what Jo struggles with as she seeks her own way, is not unfamiliar as well. There’s lots of today in this movie about yesterday.”
Chicago’s wise social historian Celia Hilliard told us, “I have not seen the movie, but I did read the book when I was a girl. I still have the copy I was given as a birthday gift.”
She continued, “Jo was my favorite sister, and the part of the story I loved best was her romantic friendship with the spirited young Laurie. He was a burst of fresh air in a household beset by so much sorrow. I loved their light-hearted encounters, their sparring, and their deep affection, and I was so disappointed when Jo abandoned him to that silly Amy and took up with a man, I suspected at the time, to be about the age of her father. I am still baffled.”
Mary Ann Childers, media consultant and former newscaster, shared, “I loved reading Little Women, and so did my late mother, an avid reader, who introduced me to the book. It sparked a lot of conversation in our house about women’s roles, strength, and courage. Jo was definitely my favorite character. Although I did want her to have a happy ending!”
“Both my sisters loved the book too. And one just sent me the Washington Post article that reveals a very different take on Alcott and the narrative,” she added. “Who knew?”
“Reading was one of my top pastimes as a child and spurred my desire to be an English Literature major,” said Elizabeth Pruett.
“My memories of the book were of reading with a window into time past, yet of young women facing similar rites of passage to mine, my sister, and my peers. I look forward to seeing the film and how great literature is still relevant today.”
Elizabeth Richter, Classic Chicago columnist and former consultant, said, “I saw the movie with my daughter, Lauren, and dear friend Mary Carr. We wept together at the sad parts and cheered at the happy parts! I thought it was very well done. I don’t think I’d seen any of the earlier versions. I was very impressed with Gerwig’s interpretation and loved the bookending with Jo’s literary success. I’d read the book once upon a time and liked it, but don’t recall it being a favorite. Meryl Streep was, of course, perfect as Aunt March, Laura Dern the perfect Marmee.”
This correspondent, even as a child, longed one day to be Marmee. She was always the character I cared for most. I read the book again and again and never forgot her. She really knew how to keep a family together, didn’t mind the clutter of art projects and theatrical props all over her house, and did what she could for others in her community. Many years ago I chose my future grandmother name to be Marmee because I so admired her. Laura Dern was the perfect choice for the mother’s role—flexible, devoted, independent—a role model for her girls.
I saw Little Women with my own daughter Alice York, a perceptive writer and yoga and meditation instructor. Here are her feelings: “Reading the book while growing up and seeing the 1994 version starring Susan Sarandon and Winona Ryder, I always admired Jo. Talented and free and unafraid to speak her mind. Twenty-five years later, seeing this latest incarnation of the story, I once again felt struck by Jo’s vitality, her convictions, and honesty in her approach to life.”
We couldn’t resist one rebuttal from a Nancy Drew fan, legendary media consultant Janet Diederichs, photographed above at a recent roaring twenties party: “As a kid I was an avid reader and lucky to have an aunt who was a librarian at the Lake Forest Public Library where she let me wander the stacks. The Little Women characters just didn’t appeal to me the way Nancy Drew did. Her attraction to mysteries and her energy in finding answers drove me through all the sequels. Her collaboration with a boy sidekick was another touch I liked.”
We would love to know your favorite, too, and will note them in an upcoming issue. If you’d rather share another literary figure you loved as a child, we welcome that!
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