Spoilers ahead for Louisa May Alcott's Little Women and Greta Gerwig's upcoming film of the same name.
Greta Gerwig's Little Women film adaptation lands in theaters on Christmas Day, and it's stirred up major interest in the 1868 novel by Louisa May Alcott. If you've found yourself struggling to remember how Little Women ends, you're in luck, because I've got your quick-and-clean guide to the March sisters' fates at the end of the classic novel.
Little Women centers on the four March sisters — Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy — as they make ends meet with their mother, Marmee, while their father is off fighting for the Union in the Civil War. Readers know that each of the March girls has her own, radically different personality. Meg is calm and good-natured, much more of a mature woman than the family's headstrong tomboy, Jo, who dreams of becoming a writer. Kind, quiet Beth plays piano and tries her best, but she is often sickly and finds it difficult to see a place for herself in the world. Finally, there's the youngest March sister, Amy: a frivolous and flighty child who serves as the constant thorn in Jo's side.
Gerwig's new film casts Emma Watson (The Perks of Being a Wallflower), Saoirse Ronan (Lady Bird), Eliza Jane Scanlen (Sharp Objects), and Florence Pugh (Midsommar) as Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy, with Laura Dern (Star Wars: The Last Jedi) heading up the family as Marmee. The film changes the ending of Alcott's book — and for the better, some might say — by altering Jo's fate. You can read all about that change and the ending of the novel below. Here's how Little Women ends for each of the March girls:
Amy March Marries Theodore Laurence
Readers have long loved to hate on Amy March for her slights against Jo, from burning her older sister's manuscript to... stealing her man?
Although Laurie's feelings for Jo were obviously one-sided — "I don't know why I can't love you as you want me to," she tells him. "I've tried, but I can't change the feeling, and it would be a lie to say I do when I don't." — many Little Women readers throughout the years have found themselves yearning for the two to get together, only to be absolutely gobsmacked when Laurie returns home from Europe, newly wed to Amy.
The Laurences' married life isn't particularly easy, but they have Laurie's wealth to ease many of the burdens that other people in the March family face. They also have a lot in common, both being artistic and having traveled through Europe.
At the end of the novel, however, Amy's life is not all sunshine and rainbows. The Laurences' daughter, Bess, is a sickly child, very much like the aunt after whom she was named. The fear of losing Bess is so real that Amy applies her artistic abilities to memorializing her daughter while she's still living.
"I've begun to model a figure of baby," Amy tells her mother and sisters at the novel's end, "and Laurie says it is the best thing I've ever done. I think so, myself, and mean to do it in marble, so that, whatever happens, I may at least keep the image of my little angel."
Spoiler: Bess is alive and well in Alcott's later novels.
Beth March Dies Young
Beth escapes death once in Little Women, having contracted scarlet fever while doing charity work. Although she recovers, the disease leaves her frail, and her health soon begins a slow decline. Forever sweet and good, Beth makes her peace with dying young, and "trie[s] not to be a trouble," even when she is on her literal deathbed.
Alcott gives Beth a peaceful death on a spring night, and the next morning dawns eerily pleasantly. Readers are told that: "[A] bird sang blithely on a budding bough, close by, the snowdrops blossomed freshly at the window, and the spring sunshine streamed in like a benediction over the placid face upon the pillow, a face so full of painless peace that those who loved it best smiled through their tears, and thanked God that Beth was well at last."
Jo March Marries Friedrich Bhaer
"If the main character's a girl," a publisher tells Jo in the trailer for Gerwig's Little Women adaptation, "make sure she's married by the end."
Those words echo a message Alcott received, some 150 years ago, from her own readers, who pushed for Jo to marry at the end of Little Women. Jo does get married — to the much-older Friedrich Bhaer, a professor from Berlin, whom she meets in New York City — but even she doesn't seem comfortable with her feelings for him. The novel's narrator tells readers that Jo "was mortally afraid of being laughed at for surrendering, after her many and vehement declarations of independence."
At the close of Alcott's novel, the Bhaers have turned Plumfield — the estate left to Jo by her Aunt March — into a school for boys, where they later raise his two nephews and two sons of their own. She describes herself as being "far happier than I deserve," and observes that "in spite of these unromantic facts, I have nothing to complain of, and never was so jolly in my life."
Viewers of Gerwig's new Little Women film may come away with a different story for Jo altogether, however. The young writer's fate is suspended in uncertainty at the end of the movie, but, regardless of what has happened, the film makes it clear that Jo has gotten the last laugh.
Meg March Marries John Brooke
About halfway through the novel, the eldest of Marmee's daughters falls in love with John Brooke — tutor to the Marches' wealthy next-door-neighbor, Laurie — who escorts Marmee to Washington when Mr. March falls ill. The two wait for several years to marry, until Meg turns 20 and the impoverished Mr. Brooke has put away enough money to find them a secure home, called the Dovecote.
Marriage isn't easy for the Brookes, as Meg struggles to live up to the 19th century's expectations for young wives. Her loyalty to her husband prevents her from discussing many of her marital difficulties with her mother and sisters, and she spends the early days of her married life feeling inept and isolated.
All of that changes with the arrival of Daisy and Demi, however. The Brookes' twins bring their mother joy, and her knack for raising them — which comes from the long hours she spent working as a governess and helping to raise her own sisters — allows her to feel more accomplished in life. At the end of the novel, Meg declares herself to be "the happiest woman in the world."