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

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.

  • Beth Perishes

    Novel: Beth’s sickness is attributed to her having a weak heart after coming down with a serious case of scarlet fever in her teens. Though they were incredibly close, Jo suspects Beth is “lovesick” over Laurie, which is incorrect.

    1994: This adaptation suggests that Beth may suffer from a mental affliction. There’s a storm on the night she passes. Jo is the first one to see her after she passes and lies in bed with her.

    2019: Beth’s passing appears to be a surprise to everyone but her in this adaptation. Her sickness is, as in the book, attributed to her having a weak heart in the aftermath of a terrible bout of scarlet fever. When she is still living, Jo falls asleep in bed beside her. When Jo wakes, Beth is gone. She runs downstairs to find Marmee crying.

  • Amy Falls Through The Ice

    Novel: Amy is sad and frustrated that Jo won’t forgive her for burning her manuscript. When Jo and Laurie head to the lake to go ice skating, Amy follows. Jo chooses not to warn Amy about a thin patch of ice, and Amy falls in the icy water. Laurie then rescues her, and Jo later confesses her inaction to Marmee and admonishes herself for her behavior.

    1994: Unlike in the book, both Jo and Laurie hear Amy announce her presence when she gets to the lake, but Jo tells him to ignore her. Amy lets out a blood-curdling scream when she falls in. Jo heads straight to the water to save Amy, but Laurie insists she use a branch to do so.

    2019: In this adaptation, Amy shouts Jo’s name when she falls in, but it is otherwise quite similar to the 1994 portrayal.

  • Professor Bhaer Proposes To Jo

    Novel: Laurie expresses a bit of jealousy toward Bhaer when he arrives in town for a few days for “business purposes” before leaving for California. Though he is not particularly romantic, he and Jo decide to wed while shopping for gifts for her family.

    1994: In this adaptation, as in the book, Bhaer is middle-aged and German. However, unlike in the source material, he is also charming and handsome. The audience sees their relationship blossom much more than we do in 2019. Though they begin as friends, Jo expresses her growing feelings about him to her sisters. The two have a sweet, deep bond.

    2019: This Bhaer is younger and even more attractive than he has previously been. And when he arrives in town, he is not only unexpected but also entirely unknown to the March family. Though he and Jo have not really courted, he charms everyone, and the family insists that they have a love connection and Jo should not let him leave. The end of the film has two divergent paths. In one, she marries Bhaer and opens a school. In the other, she lets him go and focuses on getting her novel published.