Little Women, based on the novel by Louisa May Alcott, is a tale of how human relations and love among family members, especially sisters can overcome any loss of luxury during hard times. It is also a story about the river of time and how it changes people and families in common and great ways. The March family is riding out the holidays without their father, who enlisted in the army during the Civil War. Jo (for Josephine) is the character of most focus. The novel explores the characters in more individual detail as they beset each other, in a manner very hard if not impossible to capture on film.
Jo is accompanied by her three sisters, Meg, Amy, and Beth in a world of sophisticated make believe, as Jo writes plays and stories for the amusement of herself and her sisters. The 1949 film version withholds better junctures among characters, as well as more tightly woven writing. For while Jo is watching her mysterious neighbor, who is cute and about her age, she comments to her sisters, "Maybe he has a secret. A tragic European secret." No, that is just bad writing. At least, for that portion of the 1994 film.
The elder March girls who are out, attend their next door neighbor's (the Laurence's) holiday ball. The young ladies, Meg and Jo, do not have the finest of attire, but they are well suited enough to come and enjoy themselves among the ennobled guests of the Laurence's, a family comprised of the elderly James and his grandson; Theodore, who was born in Europe, and had recently come from there...hence Jo's wistful reflection on her neighbor's terms of secret.
At the ball, Jo meets Theodore, nicknamed Laurie, and they get along famously. When Meg sprains her ankle it becomes apparent, the March family has a true friend in Laurie as he has Meg and Jo driven home in his own carriage. Laurie becomes the girls' playmate and they have great fun, horsing around with him in the winter yard.
Jo works for her wealthy aunt to supplement her family's meager income. Beth is caught crying, by Jo, after one of Jo's reading sessions with Aunt March. Beth tells Jo, that she was struck at school for bringing limes to class. Limes were in great fashion among the school-children and anyone without a lime was a loser. So, Beth was caught with the excoriated limes, and corporeally punished, for her efforts to engage in a harmless schoolyard right of passage.
Marmee, the girls' mother, is incensed at the injustice toward her youngest daughter, especially after hearing that the school teacher, Mr. Davis, stated educating girls is as purposeful as educating female cats. The direct battle over the line of womens' rights is not touched upon so bluntly in the original novel. Marmee writes, Mr. Davis a letter denouncing physical punishment and pulls Beth from school. The book version held more that Marmee's protection was due to more psychological and emotional reasonings, even politic, for what would become of the good natured and popular Beth among her classmates, after her teacher humiliated her so?
Within Alcott's novel, Beth studied writing, drawing and math. She particularly loved to draw. The 1994 film version does not reflect her artistic temperament as much as it places a forward light on girls' education. It is implied by Jo and Marmee that Beth will receive homeschooling to further learn Latin.
Over time the girls grow up to learn what the meaning is for themselves in their own lives and who they would be best paired with for husbands. And in accordance to one of the most cliched storylines in all of English literature, Jo works as a governess and exhibits her love for writing and an inner craving for immortality by composing fake and unknowing vignettes of world's and people she does not understand but seems to find romantic. Jo learns the true story is that of her own life. She writes of her world as she truly best knows how to portray it; and this is the published story to truly make an impact. (Which makes the Bronte sisters all the more prodigious.)
The original book, brings to life very detailed themes among the world of siblings and how a person's home life is markedly different from yet feeds back/to their school and work life. This truth relates to the higher perspective revealing how fragile the average human identity is to the whims of fortune. The 1949 film repeatedly focused on what was to become of the girls financially with a father at war, minimal current income and questionable future propriety. The girls' survival via marriage is commented on considerably by other characters within the film. The 1994 version is starkly "feminist" in places and the language flows from a colloquial version of what was spoken at the time to colloquial modern. The original book version is a personal favorite though one cannot decide if it is sugary sweet (at least in parts) in a realistic manner or no.