Posted by: jeannineatkins | May 8, 2008

Little Women fans: Should Jo have left Amy under the Ice?

As students recently came into class, one spoke of a contingent of Little Women fans who think Jo should have skated away after Amy fell through the ice of a frozen river. And then Jo could have married Laurie. “Anyway, Laurie turned into a drunk and died young, so it worked out, “ she said.

Okay, I know Amy burned Jo’s manuscript. Which may be as bad as falling into very cold water. But I don’t know, I never really embraced the whole Laurie-Jo thing, and I kind of liked Mr. Bhaer, even though I know Louisa May Alcott, annoyed that her editor insisted that Jo needed to be married off, didn’t go out of her way to make him especially fetching.

I’ve written about May, Louisa’s real sister, who was the inspiration for Amy (note the twisted around letters) and admire the woman. She longed to be an artist in a period when that was even harder than becoming a woman writer. She left Concord, Massachusetts to spend years in Paris, France. Like Amy, she loved to flirt, but she didn’t marry until she was in her late thirties, knowing that marriage and children would likely be the end to a career in art.

I say Yay to the fictional Jo for getting over that burnt manuscript (and yay for the copiers and back-ups of our day) and hauling her little sister out of the Concord River. Other votes?



  1. I really really need to reread LITTLE WOMEN! I still own the copy my aunt gave to me when I was in 5th (or maybe it was 6th) grade. It’s been that long since I read it!

  2. Absolutely! I never have felt that she should have let her die there. A burnt manuscript can be rewritten and then it may even just turn out better, a life cannot be replaced.

  3. What Amy did burning Jo’s manuscript is one of the worst “sister” deeds ever! I have two younger sisters so could relate to Jo. No, I don’t think she should have let her die in the ice. Sister’s do terrible things to each other, usually out of jealousy and usually when they are young. It’s bad enough having a burned book, you don’t want to mess with “and I let my sister die” kind of karma. =)

  4. Debbi, you’ll laugh, you’ll cry! The movie is actually pretty good, too — though one of my students said she couldn’t stand Winona Ryder’s take on Jo ( a young Kirsten Dundst as Amy… my daughter, then quite young when I dragged her to it, was most taken with that river scene!)

  5. Spoken as the loving patient wonderful sister that you are!

  6. yeah, even a fictional sister. But the scene did add to the drama, which is what was so cool.
    Hoping to hear real baby news from you soon, Heidi!

  7. thanks.
    and good thing i’ll have a son and a daughter so hopefully they’ll be no book burning in our house. =)

  8. I could not stand Ryder’s Jo — and I love her otherwise.
    And I was always dissatisfied with Jo’s marriage. I didn’t know Alcott fought the ending.
    But yes, hooray for the fictional Jo getting over the burnt manuscript. I actually find that a pretty good lesson for myself — not only the people being more important than books part, but the point that even if one manuscript goes up in flames, there are other stories still to be written.

  9. I loved that book at 9 and wanted to be Jo — but when I tried to reread it a few years ago, I couldn’t. It struck me as overly sappy and cloying. Could just have been my mood, though. Maybe I should try again.

  10. I still love Little Women very much, and was thrilled to visit Orchard House years ago. When you read such a book at age 9, and then have to wait years and years till you’re an adult to visit the house, it really means that much more.
    I totally agree that Jo did the right thing to save Amy. Marrying Mr. Bhaer did seem like a compromise, though. I don’t think it would have hurt the story to let Jo remain single, do you?

  11. I love when you do this. 🙂
    Here’s my 2 cents. I barely remember the ice. (I tend to skip LW when I reread & go right to Jo’s Boys, I like the boys a lot, and I don’t have to read about Beth again–I’m a wimp!)What I do remember is, hello?! Jo never loved Laurie–not that way. She says it, and it’s true. The only reason she’s sad and blue about going away from him is that she had to hurt his feelings and that she is, natch, wondering if she WILL ever find the person that’s right for her. Luckily, for all the subsequent books, she does–Prof Bhaer.
    Myself, I always felt a little sorry for Amy, because although Laurie loved her, he WOULD have married Jo first, if she would have had him. That’s because Laurie was and is always just a tad on the immature side, which is another reason he was right for Amy & NOT Jo.
    There. The final word. 🙂

  12. I haven’t read LW in forever so this (great) discussion is sparking all sorts of memories. I remember being so sad that Jo and Laurie weren’t together but it clearly wasn’t what she wanted.
    And Jo saving Amy was a good decision; it’s always bad policy to let someone drown under the ice. 🙂
    I think I’ll try reading this again.

  13. You remind me of how readers can develop literary crushes whether the author intended them or not. I know my students hate the romantic hints filmmakers put between the main characters in Secret Garden and Bridge to Terabithia, but it doesn’t mean some of us didn’t have our crushes on, say, Dickon. (much cooler in my opinion that Laurie!). But it goes to show we don’t need to have the hints made bigger.

  14. Well some of it is pretty sappy. I think I just loved Jo enough to overlook that. Or wanted that sappiness in my life.

  15. The docents at Orchard House are so nice, too. They try to make you feel at home, which, for so many, is what they expect.
    I agree that I’d be perfectly happy if Jo remained single. The biographers find a few hints of romance in Alcott’s life, but I don’t see anything that would have been worth it for her to give up her independence, which in the mid 1800s, she would have pretty much had to. Her contemporary, Frances Burnett, stayed engaged for seven years before her first marriage, then once she earned money traveled .. a lot.. and overseas.

  16. I’m with you that Laurie was a buddy. And that Prof. Bhaer, why not — they did get to run that charming school full of boys.
    You would probably enjoy the musical that came out a few, oh, okay, maybe ten? more? years ago as they had your take on Amy and Laurie — they’re both depicted as fairly silly and thus a perfect match.
    Since my older sister got to be Jo when we played, I still have some longheld allegiance to Amy! She wasn’t totally an airhead!

  17. Oh, I think Amy was a lot smarter than Laurie! 🙂

  18. But Jo didn’t WANT to marry Laurie! I always liked ‘Little Men’ best, so I for sure vote for Mr. Bhaer. I always understood Jo’s choice — can’t see where the ‘kill Amy’ faction are coming from, myself.

  19. I was a big Little Men fan, too.
    I think the kill-Amy contigent may be small, and may be mostly college students approaching finals..

  20. yes, of course! (but thanks for clarifying!

  21. It was definitely a literary crush. 🙂

  22. That’s always my fear when I want to reread a childhood favorite.

  23. Meg Cabot did a very funny video about Jo leaving Amy to die beneath the ice.
    I don’t think she really should have, of course … but I also never understood why Jo and Laurie weren’t right for each other. Jo said they weren’t, but … until then they were best friends, and understood each other so well and, well–to me it’s best-friend-ness that the best romantic relationships are built upon.
    Mr. Bhaer was fine, and I liked and respected him and Jo’s decision both. But to my reading Jo and Laurie had the chemistry and the clicking with one another and all the rest,and too often when I hear folks say they didn’t belong together, it’s because they also assume that romance isn’t about friendship, but is something else entirely, which just isn’t my experience. (I married my best friend.)
    That Jo didn’t want to marry Laurie is reason enough not to, in the real world–if it feels wrong, it’s wrong. But I never understood, in the novel, just why she didn’t want to, or what was wrong or missing there. It seemed pretty perfect to me.

  24. I think maybe the match was perfec, just that LMA never saw much use in marrying friend or romantic hero. She thought her father was quite perfect, but also as a not an easy husband to her beloved mother (I’d agree with that second part). Of course it was an era when a husband still owned a woman’s property and LMA was intent on earning her own living. I think she saw any potentially attractive husband as also someone she might have to support, as she did her family, so, why bother? I do admire her for her determination, even if she in the end bowed to her editor’s wish, to show a heroine who could be happy without a wedding.
    Hope you are still giddy from KW West! thanks for your hopes for me to get there next time!

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