Not-So-Little Women: Evolving Currents of Feminist Thought in Film Adaptations of Little Women




Elliott, Caelan

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The novel Little Women (1868) by Louisa May Alcott has spawned countless film and television adaptations, but none are more popular and beloved today than the 1994 film written by Robin Swicord and the 2019 film by Greta Gerwig, adaptations which shed light on the evolution of feminist thought over the past 150 years. After providing an overview of the waves of feminism, this paper compares the novel and both films in the following main areas: female education, ambition, and career, and female commitment to domesticity. Little Women (1994) reflects the more mild third-wave feminism of the 80s and 90s, while Little Women (2019) contains changes to plot and dialogue that portray the more extreme second-wave feminism, disregarding the postfeminist perspective that celebrates the fulfillment many women find in marriage, motherhood, and domestic work and the strength they display in these roles. I argue that Gerwig’s access to Alcott’s journals may have motivated her to more accurately represent the limitations of women during Alcott’s time, but that Gerwig’s disregard of other parts of the journals highlighting Alcott’s appreciation for domesticity indicates that Gerwig was also creating a work that caters to a twenty-first century audience’s desire for a more radical feminist activism.



Little Women, Feminism, Louisa Alcott