The Vindication Of Amy March
So I just watched Greta Gerwig's Little Women again, this time with Pookie. I had read the abridged classic when I was little (do you remember those thick, square-shaped books that were everywhere in the 90s? They were illustrated, captured the story perfectly without losing its essence, even though the language was simple?) and I had briefly told Pookie that it was a story about four sisters.
After we were done, she was a hardcore Jo March fan. Oh, and she HATED Amy. She is at that age when non-traditional feminine characters hold a special appeal for girls. She loves George from Famous Five with her scowls and tomboyish ways and Jo is no different - quick-tempered, talented, almost wild, it's easy to see why Pookie and so many girls and women over the years see themselves in her.
I, however, was not one of them.
Why was I supposed to like Jo, I wondered. She is lovely to the ones she cares about - Meg, Beth, Marmee - and they love her for it. Oh, Jo is so talented. Oh, Jo writes so well. Oh, Jo is so great. For all that Amy is made out to be the spoilt brat of the family, I found that the Marches indulged Jo to the point that she took her talent, her awesomeness far too seriously. Her writing she treats as precious, sacred, somehow more important that whatever petty concerns her sisters had. And I felt like asking, "Kaun tu?" See, her ambition I could understand. Her sense of her own greatness however, seemed misplaced, a result of being told over and over by doting family members that you really are something else. Small surprise then that she was completely destroyed when the good professor pointed out that her writing could be better.
I know a little about thinking too much of yourself. I was a precocious young child, nose forever in a book. "She reads so much," my grandmother would remark, trying to sound exasperated and failing. It was a brag. Over and over I was told that I was intelligent, that I wrote well, that I was something special. Trouble was, I believed it and acquired a head so big, it completely escaped my notice that there wasn't quite as much in it as I'd assumed.
Which I could see happening to Jo through the book, with nobody, not one character from the ever-busy Marmee to the lovesick Laurie pulling her up for it. Her only opposition, the only person who refused to see Jo as perfect, was Amy.
The littlest March is shown having plenty of faults. From her childlike stubbornness to her flair for dramatic tantrums, to a downright bitchy strain - when Jo cuts off her hair Amy exclaims, "Oh Jo! Your only beauty!" Yes, it is difficult to like Amy. But what struck me through the book was that Amy was essentially a child for at least half the time frame the book covers. If Jo's disdain for Amy springs from the fact that she is excused her faults for being a child - then it is to be remembered that so are Jo's - and she's older than Amy. Jo also despises Amy's obvious liking for pretty, feminine things - which pissed me off, even then. What's wrong with liking dresses and boys and wanting to get married someday?
In fact, in an interview to The Atlantic, Greta Gerwig calls Amy practical - which she is - and suggests that her practicality would have made her realise that with Meg wed to a poor teacher, Jo turning down the rich Laurie and poor Beth dead, she was the only hope of improving the fortunes of the Marches. And without the amount of talent required to do it - she admits to being only "good" at art, not "great" - her only resort was to marry well.
Jo - immersed in her own ideals, her need to be great - somehow views Amy's practicality as something to roll her eyes at. She never treats her as a sister to be considered if not respected. Her affection is saved for Meg and Beth. For Amy, she has only disdain. And for a certain kind of child, the most grievous injury they can suffer is to their dignity. Is it really surprising then that Amy burned Jo's manuscript? Oh, it was an unspeakably brutal act, for sure, but one even Pookie eventually agreed was understandable, if not justifiable.
We are at an impasse now, she and I. It will be interesting to see what she thinks of the characters when she reads them in book form. Who knows, maybe she'll be the one rooting for Amy then. And me, contrary as ever, will find myself joining Team Jo.