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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.

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  • Marmee Reads Mr. March’s Letter Home

    Novel: On Christmas Day, Marmee tells the girls that she has a letter from their father, which she will read aloud after dinner.

    1994: In this adaptation, the film opens on Marmee coming home and presenting a letter from Mr. March, which Amy reads aloud.

    2019: Marmee tells the girls that she has a letter from their father, which she reads aloud as they gather around her. It is not the opening scene in this version.

  • Beth Receives Her Piano

    Novel: Mr. Lawrence gifts Beth his piano, because she reminds him of his deceased granddaughter. Beth is so surprised and happy that she gives the kind gentleman a big hug.

    1994: In this version, the gift is given on Christmas Day, and all of her sisters are incredibly affectionate and happy for her.

    2019: This adaptation sees Beth come home to find that her sisters are standing in front of the piano she’s been gifted. While her sisters are ooing and awwing over the new instrument, Beth immediately heads to Mr. Lawrence’s home to thank him. It does not take place on Christmas.

  • Jo Burns Meg’s Hair Off

    Novel: Before a party in which eligible young men and women meet to dance and make connections, Jo uses a curling iron on Meg’s hair, and, to Meg’s horror, ends up burning off a lock.

    1994: In this adaptation, the hair begins smoking and making crackling sounds before Jo becomes aware of it and releases the curling iron. Jo notices it at the same time as everyone else, and tells Meg, “You shouldn’t have had me do it!”

    2019: This version also sees Jo curling Meg’s hair, but though Amy mentions a burning smell, no one is aware of what has occurred until Jo releases the curling iron to find that the curl came with it. Jo is immediately apologetic and offers to style Meg’s hair to hide the mistake.

  • Laurie Proposes To Jo

    Novel: Jo thinks of Laurie as a brother, a male version of herself, so his proposal feels like a betrayal of their friendship. She suggests he marry Meg or Beth, which would keep her family structure intact.

    1994: This version of Jo avoids change at any cost. She is not only deeply unhappy when Meg gets married, but also distressed when Laurie wishes to change their dynamic. Throughout the film, she always wishes to keep things just as they are.

    2019: When Laurie proposes, he and Jo squabble like siblings. She cares about his feelings, but is also disturbed and disappointed by his proposition. She tells him that she could never love him the way he wants her to.

  • 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.