Little Women is a piece of literature that has had a profound effect on me for years; the release of the 2019 film only heightened my love for it and thus propelled me to write a literary analysis of Alcott's 1868 novel. It's strange that I haven't written a song about it yet, but I guess that my creativity was channeled into a much different sort of writing. Please enjoy "Relationships in Little Women," an essay in which I fervently defend the end game relationships of both Jo and Amy. This is the second part of a four part series. To read part one, please click here.
Amy, on the other hand, experiences a vastly different relationship with Laurie. Amy grows up with a childhood crush on Laurie, eventually leaving it behind to pursue her ambitions of greatness in Paris. She has always dreamed of an extravagant life; however, in Paris, she becomes disillusioned when she cannot accomplish her goals of becoming a great painter. Despite all of this, Amy has the responsibility to marry wealthy, for Meg marries poor, Jo ignores marriage for the larger part of her life, and Beth passes away. Laurie returns to Amy in Paris, and her childhood affection for him reemerges. At a ball, the same setting in which Laurie and Jo first meet, a more contrasting experience could not occur between the two meetings. Where Jo and Laurie avoid joining the formalities of the night, Amy and Laurie not only immerse themselves in the culture, but cause a scene. Laurie angers Amy by wasting his great potential and privilege gallivanting around Europe— she sees where she might fail, he could succeed (Alcott 496). Amy’s outburst due to her desire for Laurie’s improvement not only proves affection for him, but causes a certain palpable tension between the two. Amy sees Laurie after her reprimanding “flush up and fold his lips together as if he read and accepted the little lesson she had given him” (Alcott 528). Laurie matures for Amy. While he claims to have done the same for Jo, instead of completely changing himself for her approval, he improves upon his existing qualities for Amy. He does this all while being shy, something he never was with Jo. Amy learns to give up her attraction to wealth, and because of Amy, Laurie stops living wastefully. Jo was never willing to improve for Laurie, while Amy was. This tradeoff signals a partnership that does not exist in friendship, and lends itself to a blossoming romance (Shealy 375). Alcott emphasizes here the differences between platonic relationships and romances. Amy and Laurie’s contrasting experience in love and friendship from Jo and Laurie highlights the perfection of their union.
While Jo and Laurie are portrayed as symmetrical, Amy is portrayed as Laurie’s other half. They might not be identical to each other, but that is the exact reason they work as a married couple. Amy realizes she will never be a great painter, and “Laurie too understands that he will never be a great composer, and [readers] begin to understand that the two are quite similar” (Shealy 375). Laurie and Amy having alike experiences lends itself to a foundation to build their relationship on. If Jo and Laurie are friends because they are different incarnations of the same person, then Amy and Laurie are lovers because their similar incomplete experiences fit into each other. Because of this, they understand each other on a deeper level, and love each other completely. Laurie and Amy’s improvement of each other is paramount to their marriage. Jo assumes Laurie and Amy’s union is disastrous, but Laurie mentions that “[Amy and he] respect [themselves] and one another too much to ever tyrannize or quarrel” (Alcott 572). One of the core reasons Jo refuses Laurie is fear over arguments— Amy and Laurie do not experience this problem because instead of grappling for dominance in the relationship due to identity, they learn from each other and their respective pasts. Jo and Laurie’s lives are nearly exact to a certain point, and they can offer nothing to the other. This is not the case in Laurie and Amy’s relationship— Laurie goes so far as to deem Amy “[his] Dear Mentor” (529), further highlighting the idea that romantic relationships rely on a willingness by each member to better the halves that they bring to the table. Instead of being identical partners, Laurie can provide lessons to complete Amy’s standalone half, and vice versa. Amy and Laurie being portrayed as incomplete halves until the other comes to fulfill the empty spot emphasizes that Jo and Laurie could never love each other romantically.
Alcott’s own history provides reason for Jo’s rejection of Laurie and marriage with Professor Bhaer. Alcott herself remained unmarried until death, never seeing the point in marriage. Acocella explains that “Alcott never swerved in her decision not to marry” (4), proving that it was not undesirability on Alcott’s part but rather an active decision. The only person Alcott ever imagines marrying is close friend Walt Whitman, whom Laurie reflects, but it never comes to fruition. Despite this, “fans resist reasoning that Alcott herself didn’t marry Whitman… and therefore, that Jo should not marry Laurie” (Barker 197). Because readers so often insist that Jo and Laurie are the perfect match, they refuse to acknowledge the history behind the characters in Little Women— they ignore Alcott’s past in favor of their own desires that make little sense in the correct context. Additionally, Alcott does not just share romantic experiences with Jo: “In… accounts of Jo’s writing career, Alcott mirrors many of her own experiences” (Daly- Galeano 118). Besides being adverse to marriage, Alcott’s similarity to Jo in writing provides further proof that Jo acts as a self-insert character for Alcott. Often, readers fail to notice this connection and ignore Alcott’s purpose. The singular variance in the lives of Alcott and Jo is that Jo does eventually marry. This conclusion, however, was written in the second volume and at the behest of Alcott’s publisher; in the first volume, readers can see that Alcott’s intention for Jo to replicate herself is clear. Jo shouts: “I believe I will never marry. I’m happy as I am, and love my liberty too much to be in any hurry to give it up” (Alcott 469). This reflects Alcott almost perfectly, and supports the idea that Jo marrying Laurie would make little sense in the trajectory of Jo’s life, as Jo’s life matches Alcott’s. By writing Jo as herself, Alcott makes it clear that Jo could never marry Laurie.
Stay tuned for part three next week; thank you for reading!