The first time I read Luisa May Alcott’s Little Women, I was twelve. I burrowed the book from a friend of mine and read through it in less than a week. Those were the good old days when I could spend hours every day with a book in my hands.
Little Women was first published in 1868, and its timeless portrayal of sisterhood, growth, and the complexities of womanhood has captivated generations ever since. Set during the Civil War era in New England, the novel revolves around the lives of the four March sisters – Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy – as they navigate the challenges of adolescence and womanhood. Among them, Amy March stands out as a character who often polarizes opinions, eliciting mixed feelings from readers and prompting discussions on her likability.
I have two sisters of my own, and if I were to choose a character to match each of us, we would match the March sisters in order of age. None of us are Beth, we’re not sweet enough. But I can easily see my older sister in Meg, my younger sister in Amy, and myself in Jo. Although that last one might be a reflection of my own ego.
Amy March, the Least Likeable Sister
Amy March, the youngest of the four sisters, is a vibrant and ambitious young woman who yearns for refinement, elegance, and a life of luxury. She’s probably the one we understand the least based solely on the book. My theory? This is due to her relationship with Jo, but more on that later. Her growth and maturity arc takes time, and she starts off as a young girl with moments of pettiness and self-centeredness.In comparison with her sisters, she can come across as shallow and materialistic. She is also often the foil for Jo’s character, who is the heroine of the story. This dynamic creates further division among readers who strongly support Jo, including myself.
Amy March in the 2019 Movie
In the 2019 movie adaptation of Little Women, directed by Greta Gerwig, Amy March is portrayed with a fresh perspective that adds depth and complexity to her character. Florence Pugh emphasizes the character's strong sense of self-awareness, making her more relatable and sympathetic to modern audiences.
Unlike some earlier adaptations, which tended to simplify Amy's character as the "spoiled" or "vain" sister, the 2019 film delves into her motivations and explores the circumstances that shape her behavior. This portrayal highlights the complexity of her relationship with her sisters and the internal struggles she faces as she seeks both personal growth and societal acceptance. The movie emphasizes Amy's talent and passion for painting, showcasing her as a creative and ambitious individual. This aspect of her character is given more prominence, reflecting her desire for self-expression and asserting her artistic dreams as an essential part of her identity. It allows her to become as creative an individual as Jo, bridging the gap between the two characters.The 2019 adaptation pays considerable attention to the dynamic between Amy and Jo, emphasizing their sibling rivalry, love, and eventual reconciliation. This sisterly bond is explored in a more nuanced and emotional manner, allowing the audience to understand the complexities of their relationship. Now older, and hopefully wiser, I realize that Amy and Jo are simply wildly different people, with different ideals and aspirations.
The movie highlights the challenges faced by women during the 19th century and the limited opportunities they had for personal and professional growth. Amy's character is portrayed as someone who, despite societal restrictions, is determined to carve her own path and challenge traditional gender roles. This empowerment theme adds a modern touch to Amy's character and resonates with contemporary audiences. We see this theme played out by Meg and Jo as well. Meg chooses to marry instead of pursuing a career on the stage, and Jo pushes on with her writing despite the gender-related challenges she faces.Florence Pugh's compelling performance and the film's focus on sisterhood, individuality, and the complexities of womanhood contribute to making Amy a relatable and engaging character, appealing to both fans of the classic novel and newcomers alike.
Character Growth and Development
The film uses a non-linear narrative to juxtapose Amy's experiences as a child with her adulthood, creating a more comprehensive picture of her character. As a child, Amy is often perceived as spoiled and vain, especially in contrast to her sister Jo. However, as an adult, the movie delves into the reasons behind her actions, shedding light on her struggles, dreams, and the challenges she faces as a woman in the 19th century.Throughout the film, Amy shows moments of self-awareness and a willingness to learn from her mistakes. She confronts her impulsive decisions and recklessness, recognizing their consequences and striving to do better. This growth is exemplified in her relationship with Laurie, where she prioritizes her own happiness and refuses to marry him solely for financial security, demonstrating a newfound sense of independence.
In the book, Jo is our narrator, and her complicated relationship with Amy colors our view of Amy as readers. We don’t get to see her point of view, and we barely get to see her as an adult.
As Amy grows and matures throughout the film, these relationships serve as catalysts for her personal development and transformation.
Amy's relationship with her sister Jo is at the heart of her character arc. Initially, their rivalry and jealousy create tension between them, but as they mature, they begin to understand and appreciate each other's strengths and vulnerabilities. Jo's unwavering support and encouragement of Amy's artistic talents help Amy find validation and confidence in her pursuits. The confrontation between the sisters allows Amy to express her insecurities and feelings of inferiority, leading to a deeper understanding and forgiveness and a crucial moment in Amy’s character growth. Through their reconciliation, Amy learns the value of forgiveness, empathy, and sisterly love, contributing significantly to her redemption. This is probably my favorite dynamic between the sisters. It’s beautiful in its complexity, and incredibly realistic. A sibling relationship may be one of the strongest relationships you can have. As an aspiring writer, a relationship that survives the burning of a manuscript is one worth having.Her relationship with Laurie is complex and evolves over time. While their initial interactions are marked by playful banter and a bit of rivalry, their time spent together in Europe brings about a more profound connection. The emotional journey they share ultimately leads to mutual understanding, respect, and a lasting friendship, enriching Amy's character and contributing to her redemption. This is also one relationship that we understand better through the movie. In the novel, Laurie leaves brokenhearted and returns married to Amy. For the reader, it’s as jarring and incomprehensible as it is for Jo, but the movie allows us to see their relationship deepen in Europe, so by the time we learn of their marriage, it makes sense.
Amy's bond with her sister Beth is characterized by genuine affection and compassion. Her empathy for Beth's fragile health and her willingness to be a loving companion during her illness demonstrate her growth beyond her earlier self-centered tendencies. Beth's kind and gentle nature also influence Amy positively, helping her cultivate more compassion and understanding toward others. Her eventual passing is a significant emotional moment for Amy, reinforcing the importance of cherishing loved ones and living a meaningful life.
Through these connections, Amy experiences personal growth, gains insight into her own desires and limitations, and learns the value of forgiveness, love, and independence. Her interactions with these characters provide valuable lessons that contribute to her transformation from a young, impulsive girl to a mature and self-aware woman, making her character journey an essential and resonant aspect of the film's exploration of sisterhood and personal growth.
Amy's character in some earlier adaptations of Little Women was often reduced to a one-dimensional portrayal, overshadowed by her more charismatic and relatable sisters. However, the 2019 movie defies these stereotypes by delving into the intricacies of Amy's personality and highlighting her ambitions, vulnerabilities, and struggles. This subversion offers a refreshing perspective, encouraging viewers to challenge preconceived notions and look beyond superficial judgments.Her rejection of Laurie's marriage proposal solely for financial reasons challenges traditional gender norms prevalent in her time. By asserting her desire for love and emotional fulfillment in marriage, she advocates for the importance of equality and mutual respect in relationships.
Amy's relationship with her sisters, particularly Jo, exemplifies the complexities of sisterly love. The movie portrays both moments of rivalry and profound understanding between the siblings, showcasing the depth and resilience of sisterhood. How three sisters can take three completely different paths and respect each other’s choices. Amy's journey of redemption strengthens the bond between the March sisters, emphasizing the significance of support, forgiveness, and empathy within family relationships.
Her character arc reflects the reality of human imperfections. She is, perhaps, the most complex and realistic character in the book. Marmee is unfailingly kind and patient, Beth maybe even more so, Meg is flawed, but it rarely overrides her better judgment and Jo is made even more inspiring by her flaws. But by acknowledging her own flaws and mistakes, Amy embraces her humanity. The traits in the book that make Jo a great heroine are seen differently in Amy. They're both stubborn, but Jo is allowed to be steadfast while Amy is obstinate. They’re both ambitious, but Jo is allowed to be brave while Amy is materialistic. Likewise, they’re both creative, but Jo is allowed to be a writer while Amy’s art is simply a hobby. Again, this fact speaks to the biased idea that the reader has of Amy, seeing her only through Jo’s eyes.Who’s responsible for Amy’s redemption? I think most of the praise for that should go to Greta Gerwig, for her screenplay and direction and Florence Pugh for her portrayal of Amy. I would likewise praise Saoirse Ronan for her portrayal of Jo’s relationship with Amy. However, I also think some of the praise should go to Luisa May Alcott, she didn’t write a one-dimensional character, she simply wrote her through the eyes of an unreliable narrator. Had I realized that at twelve, maybe I would have been kinder to Amy at the time. But just like her, I grow through mistakes.