Much has been made of how Greta Gerwig’s new Little Women “redeems” and “rehabilitates” and “rebrands” the character of Amy, the youngest of the March sisters and titular diminutive women. For years, Amy was written off as a brat, but “Gerwig and Florence Pugh … have breathed fresh humor and boldness into the character,” the Ringer asserted. This is the version of the story that finally “gives Amy March her due,” an Atlantic headline exalted. “The real deal is that Amy is wild fucking fun,” Vulture declared in its Amy defense. The internet loves 2019 Amy, and with Pugh’s nod for best supporting actress, now the Oscars do too.
Go ahead and enlist in the Amy army if you must, but first I just want to remind everyone of one tiny little thing: It’s actually quite all right to go on hating Amy. Just because she’s been “rehabilitated” doesn’t mean you have to like her. This whole redemption narrative just makes me want to dig in my heels. Of the March sisters, which one always did get everything she wanted, or, as Jo put it in the movie, had “a talent for getting out of the hard parts of life”? Amy herself would be positively smug to see her character getting a reconsideration and image overhaul.
I will acknowledge that Gerwig and Pugh did admirable work in bringing out the character’s subtleties, but I have decided nonetheless to retain my righteous, tween-born rage at Amy’s spoiled guts. I think a lot of you are conveniently forgetting a lot of the shit Amy pulls in Little Women. I get that she grows and matures over the course of the novel and by the end is no longer the kid (side-eye at Pugh portraying a 12-year-old, by the way) who fritters away her family’s money on pickled limes and laughs uproariously when Meg burns her hair and constantly negs Jo about her looks. But that doesn’t absolve her greatest sins: I am not over her burning Jo’s manuscript or stealing Jo’s trip to Europe, and as long as I live, I will never get over her marrying Laurie.
Yes, in the end, this is mostly about Laurie. Maybe this is something only a ride-or-die Jo girl would say, but I think there’s a way in which the 2019 version of Little Women, in its haste to redeem Amy, gives short shrift to the story’s original main character. It overrescues Amy. You’re supposed to be a little heartbroken that Jo and Laurie don’t end up together and, what’s more, that he has the nerve to marry Amy, of all people, and she the nerve to marry him. It’s supposed to be tragic and pull at your heartstrings. But it feels like Gerwig skips much of that and moves straight to Amy adulation and Amy/Laurie endgame. In this version, did anyone watching even bat an eye at Jo’s rejection of Laurie’s proposal, when Amy and Laurie’s relationship was already essentially set up as destined? The deck seems decidedly stacked in Amy’s favor: Jo and Laurie never so much as kiss during the movie, even during the pivotal proposal scene—in marked contrast to the 1994 version of the movie, whose kiss between Winona Ryder and Christian Bale has a cult following all its own. (Two words: saliva strand.)
In Gerwig’s film, Pugh as Amy flirts with Laurie from the time she’s a young girl, even offering to make him a cast of her feet. (Amy, you self-centered monster.) I think the single thing about the movie that bothered me most came during the fateful Parisian garden chat that precedes Amy and Laurie’s romance, when she tells him, “I have been second to Jo my whole life in everything, and I will not be the person you settle for just because you cannot have her. I won’t do it, not when, not when I’ve spent my entire life loving you.” The book features no such dialogue or implication. These choices, among others, render Amy and Laurie’s coupling inevitable in a way that rudely erases one of the best parts of the story: how gutting Jo’s rejection of Laurie is, and how surprising but perversely right it is, then, that he eventually ends up with a different March sister altogether.
I know Jo forgives Amy for all this, but I also know that somewhere deep inside, she’ll always hold onto it, the fact that Amy married her best friend and boy next door. Anyone who’s ever had or met a real-life sister knows: These are complicated relationships, defined by love, yes, but also patterns, wounds, and grudges so deeply ingrained in their psyches that they can never truly let go of them. This is what makes the Jo-Laurie-Amy triangle so good! There’s baggage there that can never be forgotten. Jo hating Amy a little bit, even as she claims it’s all water under the bridge, is what makes their adult relationship so rich and compelling. Therefore, I, too, must hate Amy a little bit on Jo’s behalf. She stole Laurie. She didn’t, really, and Jo didn’t want him anyway, but on some level, you have to admit it: She kind of did.
In practice, my insistence on hating Amy probably doesn’t look all that different from others celebrating how deliciously hateable she is. For some reason, it’s been decided that a character who is objectively annoying is worth celebrating for the very reasons that make her annoying. The internet loves to reclaim a villain and call her an antihero and collapse altogether the thin line between love and hate. I don’t know what it is about me that refuses to play along. For centuries now, everyone seemed to agree on Amy’s atrociousness. Why is it that just as conventional wisdom has come around on Amy, I feel the need to come out so strongly in favor of hating her? It’s childish. It’s petulant. It’s totally something Amy would do.