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 Little Women 

Theme: Two Economies

For: Wren, Belle, Gracie, and Ava                                             

Writer-director, Greta Gerwig, brought her fresh new version of Louisa May Alcott’s beloved story Little Women to theaters on Christmas Day 2019. Skipping to and fro between past and present, New York and Paris, the story of the March sisters from Concord, Massachusetts is skillfully written, beautifully filmed and heartrendingly acted. Receiving six Academy Award Nominations, including Best Picture, Best Actress, and Best Supporting Actress, Little Women has delighted critics and audiences alike.

Two Economies

The first use of the word economy (15thc.) which is now archaic meant “the management of household or private affairs and especially expenses”.  The word itself is derived from two Greek words, oikos (house) and nemein (to manage).1  Little Women is at heart a study of two economies, two households: the Christian household of Father March and the Worldly household of his sister, “Aunt” March.

The coming of age tale of the four March sisters: Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy, is about choices and the consequences those choices bring. Mythic in scope, Little Women harkens back to mankind’s primal story in Eden, its loss, its restoration and its renewal.

Father March

Father March does not actually appear until three quarters of the movie is over. However, his presence is always felt through his beloved wife, Marmee, the girl’s mother.  Father March is a clergyman and has lived a self-sacrificial way of life, loving God and loving others; freely giving what he has to those in need. 
Marmee beautifully models this when returning home Christmas Day from Mrs. Hummel’s. Heartbroken over what she has witnessed, she asks her girls if they would give their Christmas breakfast to the poor woman with five children. The girls comply with their mother, and in one of the film’s most touching scenes march off to the Hummel’s cold shack and feed the hungry babies. 

Returning home they discover a glorious feast has been prepared for them by their wealthy neighbor, Mr. Laurence, and his nephew Laurie who witnessed their sacrifice. Thus early in the movie, the economy of Father March’s household is demonstrated . . . 

Give, and it will be given to you, good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, they will pour into your lap.  For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return.                                              

(Luke 6:38)    

Aunt March

Juxtaposed to the Christmas feast scene is Jo’s visit to read for her Aunt March. The elderly spinster lives alone in a mansion and uses bribery to indebt her nieces to herself.  Self-preservation by means of money is her philosophy. She considers her brother foolish for giving away his money to free other men and is determined to conform one of his daughters to her image in order to “save” the family. Alone, proud, empty and vain, she sits with her wealth unable to love, dance, or be part of a family. She exemplifies the world’s economy run by the god of mammon and is the epitome of incurvatus in se (life curved inward on self).

Into the World

War always means separation from the father. With Father March away, the girls’ idyllic childhood comes to an end and they experience deprivation for the first time. Three of the sisters, Meg, Jo, and Amy leave their father’s household and go into the world.

Meg enters the debutant world of the wealthy and connected, assuming a false identity so she can be “Daisy” for one night. Jo travels to New York City and sells her writings anonymously, not wanting her mother to know what she has written because it’s short and spicy, just what the world wants. Amy ends up in Paris with Aunt March in search of a wealthy husband as a purely economic transaction. She has become her Aunt’s protégé. 

Only Beth remains behind assuming Marmee’s place and feeding the poor and blessing the neighbor. On that snowy Christmas when her sisters were fantasizing about what they wanted to have and to be, Beth’s only expressed desire was for the family to be together in this household. She is, as Amy says later, “the best of them all”.2

The Way Home

A heart weakened by scarlet fever and loneliness in the end proves too much for Beth, and she succumbs to death.  She is the sacrificial lamb. It is her illness and death which brings the others home.

Before she dies she asks Jo to write something for her, “Do what Marmee taught us to do; do it for someone else”.  Jo leaves her lonely world of selfish ambition and writes from her heart, penning Little Women, a story beloved by women for generations.  Amy refuses to marry for money and returns from Paris accompanied by and restored to her first love of long ago, Laurie.  Meg, who has continued to covet worldly goods in her humble circumstances, sells the expensive fabric she bought for herself and is repentant to her husband. 

All three sisters have found the world’s economy to be a harsh, unloving, and lonely household to live in. Returning to their father’s house, they could never conceive of what lies ahead.

A Great Inheritance

What the sisters could not secure by worldly means, they receive by grace. Jo inherits Plumfield from Aunt March and the name of the mansion is not insignificant. The informal definition of plum is; a highly desirable attainment, accomplishment, or acquisition, typically a job.

Plumfield, the cold, empty household of Aunt March is transformed into a school, a field of learning for the left out girls and boys alike.  Every sister is happily married and along with her spouse is engaged in teaching, using their unique special gift.  The vocation the world tried to pervert and corrupt in each one of them is now released as a blessing for the betterment of others. The March household has become fruitful and multiplied (Genesis1:28), bringing in and making a home for the orphan (Laurie), the widower (Mr.Laurence), and the alien (Professor Bhaer).3

Give, and it will be given to you, good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, they will pour into your lap. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return.

(Luke 6:38)4


1. Merriam-Webster Dictionary

2. James 1:27 “This is pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father, to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world”.

Elizabeth (Beth) means consecrated to God.

3. Deuteronomy 10:17-19 “For the Lord your God is the God of gods and the Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God who does not show partiality, nor take a bribe. He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows his love for the alien by giving him food and clothing. So show your love for the alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.

4. Luke 6:38 brings to a conclusion Jesus’ seminal teaching on the Beatitudes in the Gospel of Luke. For further study see Chapter Four of The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard.

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