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How Greta Gerwig’s ‘Little Women’ Handled Important Moments Compared To The 1994 Film And The Novel

Updated January 28, 2020 1.2k views11 items

Little Women, a classic coming-of-age-story of a tight-knit, Civil War-era, Massachusetts family, has been a best-selling novel since it was first published in the mid-19th century. Louisa May Alcott’s enduring semi-autobiographical tale weaves together the stories of four sisters, and presents young women in a light rarely seen in that era. 

There have been several film and television adaptations of Alcott’s story, the most famous of which premiered to rave reviews in 1994 and 2019. While these two films have quite a bit in common with each other and the novel, they also have some pointed differences.

  • Mr. Laurence Gives The March Family A Christmas Breakfast

    Novel: Marmee visits a needy family on Christmas morning, and returns to ask her daughters if they will bring their beautiful Christmas breakfast to the hungry family. The girls agree. Later that evening, Mr. Laurence, who witnessed their act of compassion and generosity, gifts the family with a magnificent Christmas dinner.

    1994: The ‘94 adaptation goes into considerably more detail than the 2019 version. The March family used to be more affluent, and those days are best remembered by oldest sister, Meg, who misses them the most. This makes their big Christmas breakfast feel all the more special, and the sacrifice all the more meaningful.

    2019: The basic plot is the same, but there is less depth and backstory throughout. Laurence has a lovely breakfast plated for them as soon as they arrive back home from delivering their meal to the Hummel family.

  • Jo Cuts Her Hair

    Novel: This scene comes straight from the novel, and is in both film adaptations, down to Jo’s being told that she abandoned her “one beauty.”

    1994: The “one beauty” line sits very differently in this adaptation, as the actor is generally considered to be very beautiful.

    2019: While her sisters are upset at Jo’s decision to cut her hair, Marmee is visibly moved that her daughter would make such a sacrifice to pay for her journey to visit Mr. March.

  • Amy Burns Jo’s Book

    Novel: Having been sick for a while, Amy has cabin fever and wants to join Meg and Jo at the theater. Amy insists, but Jo absolutely refuses to bring her along. Amy burns Jo's manuscript in revenge, and a distraught Jo finds out the next day. Amy eventually regrets her decision but is not genuinely sorry for her actions. 

    1994: In this adaptation, Jo is frustrated that Amy is ignoring her schoolwork and says she should stay home and focus on that. After burning her sister’s manuscript, Amy apologizes with genuine remorse, unlike her behavior in the book and 2019 version.

    2019: Amy is reminded that she has been sick, and Marmee wants her to stay in and rest but is still extremely angry with Jo for refusing to let her tag along. Jo comes home that night to find that her manuscript is missing. Amy admits that she genuinely wanted to hurt Jo. She eventually apologizes for burning Jo’s manuscript, but it doesn’t seem genuine.

  • Professor Bhaer Critiques Jo's Work

    Novel: Bhaer is passive-aggressive in the book. He objects to her sensationalized stories then pretends he does not know it was she who wrote them.

    1994: The professor tells Jo she should write what she knows “from her soul.” He lets her know that he believes she is capable of more.

    2019: Bhaer is brutally honest with Jo, which she does not expect. He respects Jo and her work enough to be blunt and challenge her. She gets angry and dismisses him.