I have a confession to make. If I had a choice between being either Jo or Amy in Louisa May Alcott’s novel “Little Women,” (no one want to be Beth, for obvious reasons. And sweet Meg is as compelling as oatmeal. And has twins. In the era before disposable diapers.) … Anyway, if the choice is between Jo or Amy I want to be Amy.
Oh, I know. Shame on me. After all, Jo is the obvious heroine of the book. Of the four March sisters she is the most spirited, talented, and ambitious. She doesn’t give a hoot about frilly clothes (one of her dresses has a burn mark on the back), or hair (she cuts and sells hers to help the family financially), or boys (being something of a tomboy). In short, she is a proto-feminist. A character girls aspire to. Or should.
I read and reread “Little Women,” never failing to laugh, cry, and shake my head in recognition of the sisters’ emotions, flaws, and foibles. And never fail to wanna be Amy.
Jo takes center stage in the story and I cheer for her all the way. I commend her bravery and originality, relate to her desire and struggle to be a writer, and am moved by her anger, jealousy, joy, and profound love and grief for Beth. She is always true to herself, even when she turns down Laurie’s proposal—Laurie, the rich, handsome, eminently likeable boy next door who adores her. Who gets her.
Most readers think this is admirable. Me, I’m thinking, What is she, nuts?
(Jo’s and Laurie’s gender-bender names remind me of the female characters in Proust’s “Remembrance of Things Past” whose names are the feminine version of male names, e.g. Albertine).
Amy, with whom Jo is frequently at odds (mirroring Alcott’s relationship with her younger sister), is pretty (if vain), a talented artist (if distracted by the acquisition of limes in the schoolroom), well-mannered (earning her a trip to Europe with Aunt March, a trip Jo desperately wanted to go on), and she marries Laurie. What’s not to like?
Admittedly, Amy makes few waves and appears to be destined for a life of convention and accommodation. And perhaps that disqualifies her for heroine status. But hey, so what? If you think about it, Jo’s marriage to Professor Bhaer isn’t exactly what she envisioned for her life. Sure, she publishes a book before they marry. But helping her husband run a school for young boys (as described in Alcott’s sequel, “Little Men”) doesn’t leave her much time or energy or quietude to write another one. (Alcott herself never married). Just sayin’.
And—let me repeat—Amy marries Laurie.
So sue me. I wanna be Amy and I’m sticking to it. I also love schmaltzy movies like “The Sound of Music” and have both Barry Manilow and Neil Diamond on my iPod playlist. So there.