Little Women (1994)

Movie: Directed by Gillian Armstrong.

Inciting Event: While skulking a ball, Jo finally meets the neighbor boy Laurie, with whom she immediately hits it off.

This is a coming-of-age story that is specifically about the protagonist’s relationship with and resistance to the idea of change. Although she doesn’t know it—and, indeed, it isn’t even immediately clear to viewers—Laurie is the harbinger of that change. His relationship with her and her sisters is the throughline that charts their evolution from children to adults.

First Plot Point: There isn’t a super-obvious First Plot Point here. I had to think about it for a while to identify it before finally realizing it’s the scene in which Jo convinces her sisters to let Laurie join their secret dramatic society. She says, “Laurie was admitted as an equal into our society.” From this moment on, he’s not just their neighbor friend, but their “brother.” Their relationship with him—and symbolically their futures as women—thrust them directly into the Second Act’s confrontation with the difficult changes of growing up.

First Pinch Point: Laurie goes to college, leaving a morose Jo behind. He ironically promises, “Nothing is going to change, Jo.” But it’s clear everything is already changing.

There is no personal antagonist in this story. The antagonistic force is Time itself—and the inevitable changes that Jo fears and resists.

Also neatly grouped within this section are the frightening telegraph with word of their father’s injury—and then Beth’s subsequent contraction of scarlet fever, which as Jo later says, changed everything forever even though they did not yet realize it.

Midpoint: The girls’ father returns home for Christmas. Meg and Mr. Brooke get engaged. Laurie indicates his willingness to embrace the future (“Isn’t it wonderful, Jo?”), but she is melancholy. She has reached a Moment of Truth where she must accept, however reluctantly, that “change comes as surely as the seasons and twice as quick.” This is also a clear turning point as the story then jumps four years into the future where everything has changed—except Jo.

Second Pinch Point: Laurie proposes to Jo, but she turns him down. Amy goes to Europe with Aunt March (a trip Jo herself had been counting on). Confronted with the inevitability of Laurie and her sisters all changing around her, Jo is still unable to find a way to move forward as an adult. At her mother’s suggestion, she goes to New York City to try to find herself.

Third Plot Point: Jo returns home for Beth’s death.

Third Plot Points often feature death, either literally or symbolically. Here, it is not only featured literally, but also to powerful thematic effect. Jo is forced, finally and forever, to face and accept that life is nothing but change, always and inevitably pointing the way to the final great change of death. In mourning her beloved sister, she revisits the past with finality by writing a book about their childhood.

Meanwhile, in Laurie’s brief subplot, he falls in love with Amy and marries her in the aftermath of Beth’s and Aunt March’s deaths.

Climax: Laurie and Amy return, and Jo accepts their marriage happily. Professor Bhaer, with whom she fell in love in New York, brings her the proofs of her manuscript and, after a brief misunderstanding about her relationship to Laurie, asks her to marry him.

Climactic Moment: Jo agrees to marry Professor Bhaer and run a school with him. Finally, she steps forward into the future, able to embrace the necessary changes of life.

Resolution: They kiss in the rain.

Notes: Jo follows a Positive Change Arc, which is very nicely done. It doesn’t so much pose the Lie/Truth as opposing ideologies, but rather allows her to experience the Lie as little more than a resistance to the often painful but ultimately liberating Truth of growing up.

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