In Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel, Little Women, the main character Jo March demonstrates a fluid, open understanding of femininity and masculinity, and the novel explores how they are performed in men and women alike. Though the novel has been beloved for generations, there is a glaring absence in conversations about the book centered on Jo’s masculinity, gender and gender identity. The most common interpretation of the masculine Jo March is that she is a tomboy who behaves masculinity to escape the expectations and confinement of womanhood. However, I argue that the tomboy argument is not adequate for fully understanding Jo March because tomboyism is defined through the adoption of masculine behaviors and activities, whereas Little Women exhibits evidence that Jo identifies as male, or that Jo’s expressions of masculinity are not entirely adequately described as motivated by a desire to be free of feminine constraints. Jo’s relationship to femininity and masculinity is not a “one versus the other situation,” and her gender identity is not simply a rejection of the constraints of womanhood. Jo March is a character who does not easily fit in one category or another, but rather opens up questions about the relationship of those categories. In addition to the scholarly gap about these topics in the novel, no scholarship to date has explored the film adaptations and how they interpret this aspect of the novel. Film adaptations are special because they reach a wider audience, and as the novel continues to age, more people will rely on the films for their knowledge of this literary work. Therefore, this research explored how the 1933 and 1949 adaptations address the novel’s views on gender. I found that these films both favor the tomboy interpretation of Jo March. Therefore, I concluded that the queerest version of Little Women is the original.
English Language and Literature
Baker, Megan, "Queering Little Women" (2021). Honors Projects. 53.