Final thoughts on Jo March…

quatre_filles_du_docteur_march_1933_little_women_7.jpgWith our closing up of Little Women and its three film adaptations, I was trying to figure out which actress best portrayed the beloved firecracker.  Definitely not 1949’s June Allyson.  She’s chatty, annoying, and her cheesy smile hurts me.  In my opinion Winona Ryder is a better contender, though she seems fragile and nervous for the most part.  She can definitely carry the role of the tortured artist, and she conveys Jo’s fitfulness for change and growth.  Katharine Hepburn would have to be the winner though.  Physically she is more like Alcott’s Jo March, and she carries the headstrong spirit better than Ryder.  My only complaint is that Hepburn’s “Christopher Columbus!” is really exaggerated and made me wince after the 5th time I heard it.  But it’s forgivable since she best represented the Jo that readers know and love.

While I was thinking about the character of Jo March, something hit me that I hadn’t even thought of earlier.  But no, it couldn’t be true…could it?  Is it even right to ask this about one of America’s favorite characters?  But I can’t shake it.  Is Jo a proto-lesbian of the 19th century?  It seems presumptuous and maybe insulting, calling a woman a lesbian because she is strong and independent.  She energetically takes of the role of the man of the family while her father is away.  She says several times that she wishes she were a man.  She hates acting girly or dressing so.  Jo loves her sisters and wishes that they could all just stay together and love one another, and not need anyone else.  She expresses her wish to marry Meg so that they could stay together.  I’m not insinuating incest here, though how interesting and twisted that would be, but for most of the book Jo doesn’t even entertain the notion of romantic love and is ambivalent to men and reacts strongly against advances.  When Jo married Professor Bhaer, it seemed more like a matching of intellectual passion rather than passionate love.  It is also suspect (and a bit strange) that he is old enough to be her father.  It seems that Jo has found a father figure to discuss literature with, and she’s taken care of the problem of what will become of her. 

Since there isn’t any hard-hitting evidence of her loving women romantically, then perhaps she still fits outside of traditional molds as an asexual woman that strongly identifies with the masculine side of the spectrum.  I have not read any of the sequels, but it would be interesting to see if any of this held weight in a broader portrait of her married life.  I’d love to hear opinions on this.

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