Spent one evening this week watching Little Women and bawling my eyes out. I’ve seen the movie a dozen times, but this time it seemed especially sad.
The March women are strong characters for sure, but Jo March is our heroine. She’s smart, spunky and determined. Her inner conflicts are relatable. She’s not the pretty sister, the gentle spirit or the sensible one. Jo is the wild card, and that makes her role model material.
But I had a hard time rooting for the heroine this time. I watched Jo refuse Teddy’s proposal. Then she went to New York to spread her wings and came home just in time to say goodbye to her dying sister Beth. The most heartbreaking moment for me is when Beth says how much she loved being home, but hated being left behind.
We praise Jo for her refusal to settle or allow other people to determine her course in life, but don’t think I would ever make the choices she made. I wouldn’t refuse Teddy — They love each other and they’re best friends. Why say no? I wouldn’t leave Beth behind either. While Jo was gone, Beth felt abandoned and useless — That’s heavy stuff.
Jo would argue with me on this. Her decision to leave home works in the end. In New York she learns what it means to be a writer. She falls in love with a German philosophy professor and ultimately publishes a novel. Her dreams are realized and she gets to come home to Concord, start a school and be with the family (sans Beth) she loves so much. If she stayed behind, none of that could happen. Jo is loving and generous but she doesn’t live her life for other people.
So I wonder how the story would go if I called the shots in Little Women. If I married Teddy and stayed home, would we be happy? Would it feel like settling? Would I be stifled? Would I resent him?
And then I wonder where I would be if Jo called the shots in my life?
Jo makes me nervous because I can’t imagine making those choices without knowing for certain that good things would come out of it. I couldn’t break Teddy’s heart, because there’s no way to know he will fall in love with Amy and be fine. I couldn’t let Beth down because the guilt of her slow, sad death would haunt me. I’m not Jo because I care more about the feelings of others than the dreams collecting dust in the back of my heart.
Mostly I worry that bravery is the key difference between Jo and myself. I don’t know if I’m wrong or if she is. Maybe neither of us are wrong or we both are. She’s living for herself and I’m living for others.
But what if we lived for the one who is writing our story in the first place? I wonder how our dreams would change.