I grow up reading Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. It’s one of my all-time favorite series (yes, it has several installments!); for me, it just gets better every time I read it. It feels like I always learn something new about the universe. I don’t experience this kind of feeling often, I think… the last book to ever give me this feeling is Totto-chan: The Little Girl at The Window (Tetsuko Kuroyanagi). And I can’t recall anything else, honestly.
I don’t think I read the “original” copy, because mine is a graphic novel version (it has both narration and comic inside) crafted especially for children by a local publisher, and of course has been translated to Bahasa. While for the first sequel, Good Wives, I managed to get a copy that is quite close to the original one, even though it’s translated as well. And lucky me, for the two last sequels, Little Men and Jo’s Boys, I got the original copies (in a much, much, cheaper price as well…)! I’m still finishing them, so I don’t have much to say about them, but as far as I know, I’m enjoying every pages of it.
I think, it’s really understandable that as a teenager, almost everyone thinks that out of the four March sisters–Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy–they resonate the most with Jo. Well, I too, was a part of that almost everyone. And it wasn’t a hasty decision. We used to share the same fondness of literature, despise for traditionally feminine clothes, wish to defy almost all societal norms that require us to behave in such constructed manner that is not-so-like ourselves, hate of small talks, level of egocentricity, idealism, and the list can go on…
Jo March is obviously the main character of the whole installments, and I’m fully aware that she is crafted to represent, to embrace all the qualities many young women (especially, the target readers of the book) have, which they are not really comfortable in expressing vocally since most of them are against the traditional gender role. And as I know better about the author herself, she was also said to design Jo’s character mainly based on herself (well, all of these kinda make sense, right). But, what I didn’t really notice back then, is how Jo tended to overshadow the other March girls. How many of Jo’s antics were depicted as understandable and reasonable, and how it seemed like only Jo’s ideas matter, just because they are revolutionary, they are relatable for many people. If you only read Little Women, most likely, these are the image of the other March sisters that you have in mind: Meg, the one who choose to stick to the traditional gender role, the mature one who’s down to marry for the sake of love and be a good housewife; Beth, the quiet music prodigy who’s always selfless for everyone, the one who’s so weak that she seems like she’s about to die anytime; and Amy, the artistic yet childish one, the one who’s heard less compared to her sisters.
These judgements were swept off once I stumbled upon Greta Gerwig’s adaptation of Little Women (2019). Many praised it for being able to break down all the stigmas we used to have regarding the other March sisters. All of them are seen more humane, as their motives for doing what they believe in are presented really well. You can actually relate to everyone. Meg’s dream to settle down as a housewife matters too, because it’s her choice. And she owns up to every consequences that are born from the decision to solely marry out of love; she thrives from overcoming all the obstacles in her marriage with Brooke (this is depicted largely in the latter books as well). Beth is not just a “supporting character”, as she is a keen observer, she makes the family sticks together, and all of her decisions are based on very thoughtful considerations. And Amy–oh my God, she has a major character development! Contrary to the popular belief, Amy is actually one of the most mature sisters. She knows what she wants, and she’s willing to pursue it, but she realizes that she has to be realistic as well. She calculates everything, she blends well with the society (because she knows that it’s one of the way for her to be able to live comfortably, realistically), she’s basically the epitome of a balance between idealism and pragmatism (at least for me, haha). I love that here, every March sisters get their own spotlight. Because they all deserve it.
And that being said, I strangely relate to Amy more than Jo these days. Well, I think I’m both Jo and Amy, HAHA. It’s undeniable that Jo and I share many traits and quirks (it’s even funnier that we both pursue our passion in education, as Jo is shown running a school in the latter installments), but now I realize that I start to live my life more like Amy. Which is not a bad thing at all. I learn that doing small talks and trying to fit in the society isn’t the same as not being true to ourselves; it’s just how we put ourselves together, how we present ourselves in front of people. After all, we’ll always need other people, eh? I also learn about how we need to be more realistic at times to make all ends meet, but at the same time, we don’t wanna lose all the fun (of pursuing our dream) as well. Or to put it more bluntly, Amy reminds me of how we need money to be able to live comfortably HAHAHA.
I think, Amy is for my more realistic take on life, while Jo is for a part of myself who wants to stand up for everything I believe in, and for (how I wish I’ll always have) the burning passion in doing things. And both Amy and Jo are living their own happy, fulfilling, and overlapping lives (as they’ll always be sisters, and as Amy ended up marrying Jo’s bestest best friend Laurie), which is also one part of myself that longs for that kind of life.
Aaaand… It’s a bit unrelated, but while we’re at it, let’s also talk about Laurie! I’ve always had this interest towards the “best friend” trope (or maybe, the “childhood friend”, or the “best friends become lovers”, or whatever) in books and movies. So naturally, once I learn about the dynamics between Jo and Laurie, I have always been more than excited to see more developments from them. I truly root for them to be together romantically, as Laurie has consistently shown interests for Jo throughout the story. At some point, he even proposed to Jo, to which Jo said no.
I have to tell everyone that I was really upset about this. Like, heck, you guys are best friends, you understand each other the best, so you guys should’ve been compatible af! You guys can settle down into a long lasting relationship with the person you can give your absolute trust to, but you choose not to. And I really didn’t understand. As far as I remember, in Good Wives, Jo said that she denied the proposal because “Laurie and her are too similar in many things, so they don’t fit to be together”.
I still didn’t understand. I also didn’t understand why Laurie married Amy instead. I opposed their relationship, with the utmost distaste, back then (I sound like a hardcore fan, but I think I really did).
But I start to understand more of why they “just don’t fit to be together”, as I approach the end of the installments. Well, they sure feel it’s always nice to be around each other, but that only, doesn’t make them compatible for each other, in terms of romantic relationship. Sometimes what’s needed is a complementary role, which they don’t have in many things. Another good example would be this one. Jo has always been said to want someone who can always challenge her beliefs, while with Laurie, with whom she shares many same ideas, the relationship would be just lurking in her comfort zone. Which is the opposite of what she longs for. And even though them being strikingly similar, they still have disagreements upon many important things, some of which could affect how they pursue their marriage life. Or to put it shortly, just having different values in life.
Sooo I get over my heartbreak. And actually, seeing how Jo and Laurie interact as they progress in their own lives gives me another insight. Of how their love for each other is the kind of love that… transcends. Throughout their lives, they stay real close to each other and give supports in whichever way they prefer. They (or maybe, just Laurie, I don’t know) simply learn to choose what’s best for themselves, rather than submitting to a mere desire to be involved romantically. They (again, maybe only Laurie) learn that they have a choice in love. In the end, Jo married Professor Bhaer instead, which was a choice she made because she thought they can actually complement each other.
I learn a lot from this, too, as I have always been a hopeless romantic who dreams to live happily ever after with her best friend (HAHAHA). I learn that it’s okay to not end up with the person you enjoy being with the most, because you know yourself better. You know what or who can bring greater good for yourself, that can suit your needs more. I also learn that you can love someone in many ways, even the most unthinkable ones, and that you shouldn’t be only fixated to the idea of romantic love. That every kind of good love is worth celebrated. And this just shows how Jo’s character development is also my character development in… some ways (I truly can’t separate her from my coming of age journey, thus I can’t choose between Jo and Amy).
Yeah. Now I really think I’m both Jo and Amy. And I still really think that Little Women just gets better every time you think about it, for as I come to know each March sisters better, I learn about myself more.