What 'Little Women' Is Really About

Rosanne Welch is a former high school English teacher, free-lance screenwriter and feminist from Los Angeles

While reading Kristine McKenna's article on "Little Women" ("Not So 'Little Women,' " Calendar, Dec. 27), I came to the only conclusion I could: Ms. McKenna doesn't have the soul of a writer.

While Louisa May Alcott's original story and this new film adaptation explore questions of feminism, civil rights and family values, the overall story of "Little Women" has always been of one writer's (Jo March) search for a voice. Any true writer, male or female, should be able to see that theme and identify with it. It's one of the reasons why the book became a classic and has continued to be a classic for readers and aspiring writers today.

McKenna totally missed this dramatic flow even though the current screenplay begins with Jo's desire to be a writer, builds through her various efforts and ends with her discovery of her true voice, evidenced by her first novel's publication. How much more could screenwriter Robin Swicord have done to illustrate this flow?

Instead of praising the film's artistic success (since box-office tallies were incomplete at the time), McKenna--while interviewing the film's trio of female creators--provides vitriolic commentary, most of it anti-feminist. True, the "Little Women" end up married. I find it sad that McKenna, whose research on transcendentalism helped her recognize it in the script, could be so woefully behind in her understanding of feminism. Gloria Steinem threw out that "fish and a bicycle" quote years ago.

True feminists today are humanists as well. We believe in everyone's right to equal treatment under the law. We also believe that families should nurture children so they grow up with a desire for working toward equality for all people. The character of Marmee, mother of the March girls, speaks eloquently against such things as being loved only for your decorative value and marrying for position instead of partnership. These are the values of a true feminist.

While we're discussing feminists, let's not forget that the word can be used to describe men as well, and that the men depicted in "Little Women" are all feminists in their own right: Meg's husband believes in having an educated wife who can hold her own in a political discussion; "Teddy" believes in having a woman for a best friend even after marriage, and Professor Bhaer believes in sharing a career with his wife. To the filmmakers' credit, all of these characters spring from the book to the screen with no loss of integrity. It's a pity McKenna made no note of that.

It is also a great pity that as we enter 1995, minority filmmakers are still not allowed to discuss their films on their artistic merits (and calling women, who are more than half the population, a "minority" is itself ridiculous).

Did it never occur to McKenna that these three women (four if you count Winona Ryder, who used her clout to initiate the project) wanted to remake "Little Women" simply because they identified with Jo's journey as a writer, not just as a woman? By focusing her vision on such a narrow aspect of the film, McKenna failed to see the bigger picture. Someone with the soul of a writer wouldn't have done that.

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