Post Script: How ‘Little Women’ speaks to us


by Frances Edstrom, columnist

I took my 13-year-old granddaughter to see the newest “Little Women” at the local movie theater. I loved it, even with the poetic license taken by the screenplay that deviated from the original novel by Louisa May Alcott.

At home later, I happened to read a few reviews of the film, and was dismayed to find that it is almost an impossibility for media critics to describe the film as not feminist enough or too feminist. And, a couple critics decried the fact that it was about white women of privilege.

Of course it is about white women. Alcott was white and her novel is based on her family and experiences, which, 150 years ago in Massachusetts, were overwhelmingly white. That’s like calling Maya Angelou or James Baldwin’s writing too black.

When I first read the book, snuggled in my top bunk in a room I shared with my sister, connected by a door to a room shared by another two sisters, I related to it not because it was about a family of four white girls in Massachusetts, where I lived, but because the emotional experiences of the girls were so real to me, reading it nearly a century after it was written.

When I saw it in the movie theater the other day with my granddaughter, it again resonated with me. However, I wonder why it is that in 1868 and in 1968 readers could understand by the written words that Amy had to marry someone rich in order to support the family, but in 2019, it has to be spelled out in neon letters? Have readers and viewers become less intelligent and sensitive to implication?

The film, and story, also resonated with my granddaughter. We laughed in the same places, cried in the same places. On the way home, I told her about my younger self sobbing when Beth dies, and my sister saying, rudely, “What are you crying about?”
My granddaughter asked, “But when your sister read the book, did she cry at that part?” “Of course,” I said.

Good literature speaks to us because it reflects the passion of the human condition. It doesn’t speak to us over the centuries because it is mirroring the political passions of the present day. That denies the work’s validity and place in history.

Good literature is neither feminist nor misogynist. It’s neither black nor white. Good literature examines the universal human reactions to this life we all share.


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