Little Women and Moral Dessert
by Maggie Dunn
Greta Gerwig’s 2019 adaptation of L.M. Alcott’s classic children’s novel Little Women relies on the comfort of traditional and home-cooked dishes to create a nostalgic atmosphere. Much like its source material, a coming-of-age story of four sisters during the American Civil War, food in this adaptation is used both to comfort the characters and to form conversations on morality and religion. Perhaps the most prominent feature of food and feasting in Little Women comes within the first thirty minutes of the film. It is Christmas morning, and the March family is lower-middle class and often struggles with money. The sisters are presented with a surprise: a modest yet elegant meal of pears, peaches, eggs, and sweet bread. When their mother tells them that a neighbor of theirs is in need, the girls decide to give away their longed-for Christmas breakfast in order to help a hungry family.
When the March sisters return home, they are met with a new feast in their dining room: hams, cakes, sweets, and towers of pink ice cream. After seeing their good deeds, their neighbor Mr. Lawrence has rewarded the girls with a feast. Beneath this cozy Christmas breakfast scene lies a moral: in giving, one will receive tenfold. In this way, food acts as a moral reward reminiscent of the Christian heaven. This Christmas breakfast, taking place in their childhood, teaches the March sisters the Christian value of selflessness, later leading to Beth’s ultimate sacrifice of her life in order to assist these same less fortunate neighbors.
Little Women. Dir. Greta Gerwig. Columbia Pictures, 2019.