Most of us are quite familiar with the plot of Little Women. We’ve read the book (perhaps a few times), we’ve seen the movies (definitely a few times), and we’ve spent hours comparing ourselves to the four main characters. So if you went to see the most recent adaptation of Little Women, written and directed by Greta Gerwig, you’d be forgiven for thinking there wouldn’t be any surprises before the movie started. But you would be wrong.
One of the big differences in Greta’s Little Women is the ending. It’s not like the ending of the book, nor is it like the ending of the 1994 adaptation. It might actually be a bit shocking for people who have grown up loving the story of Little Women, but there’s a very good reason for the changes. Here’s why Greta Gerwig’s Little Women ending is so startling — but in a good way! (And yes, we’re including a spoiler alert. The book may be old, but the movie is new!)
Here’s what happens in the newest Little Women ending.
While the overarching story of Greta’s Little Women is the same, its presentation couldn’t be more different from the other adaptations we’ve seen. Most notably, the story is not told chronologically — the familiar scenes are all there (Jo meeting Laurie, Amy and the limes, Meg flirting with John Brooke, Beth and the piano), but the story jumps around between the first half and second half.
While a bit startling (and probably pretty confusing for people who aren’t as familiar with the story beats), this non-linear storytelling provides a fresh take on the classic. This is probably most evident when it comes to Beth’s death. The film cuts between Beth’s first illness (from which she recovers) and her second (from which she doesn’t) and the audience experiences both extreme joy and sorrow over the course of only a few minutes.
At the end of the movie, we see Jo discussing the publication of her book, Little Women. She’s finally written the story of her and her sisters. Her publisher likes it, except for the ending. He insists that the protagonist needs to get married, but Jo pushes back. “She doesn’t marry anyone,” she says. Her publisher won’t accept that, though, saying that the book’s protagonist needs to either marry Laurie or Bhaer.
After some brilliant negotiating, Jo finally relents and says that the protagonist can marry the professor. We see a very rushed scene of Jo rushing to the train station to stop Bhaer from leaving her and they all live happily ever after. “We can call the chapter ‘Under the Umbrella,’” the publisher says (a nod to the chapter of the same name in the actual book Little Women).
But the way it’s presented makes it pretty clear — in Greta’s Little Women, Jo doesn’t marry Bhaer. She doesn’t marry anyone — and that’s exactly what she’s been saying throughout the film. In her book, her counterpart can get married as long as it means the book gets published and Jo gets paid. But in the movie’s reality, it really seems like Jo is still single.
The Little Women ending is actually a nod to the true story of author Louisa May Alcott.
As you almost certainly already know, Little Women (the book) was based on Louisa May Alcott’s life with her three sisters. And in real life, Louisa never married. She remained unmarried until her death in 1888. We can assume, however, that Louisa was probably encouraged to add a happy ending (including marriage for Jo) to her book.
As the movie comes to an end, we see the true happy ending for Jo, and it isn’t marriage. It’s watching her book be published. That is what constitutes Jo’s happy ending, and honestly? It’s pretty perfect.