I cheated. I looked at Wikipedia after reading a few chapters. I wanted to know if Jo and Laurie got married.
Imagine my surprise when I read that Amy, instead of Jo, married Laurie. That Jo turned Laurie down. Laurie’s love for Jo is evident from very early on in the book. They are absolute best friends, and he soon seems to get romantic on her. Although the girls remain (perhaps unnaturally) innocent all through their teens, Laurie’s feelings for Jo turn up very quickly.
Jo is the one who brought Laurie into the March family. Jo is the one who snuck Laurie into the meeting of the March Sisters’ Secret Society. Jo is the one who censured Laurie without hesitation, and expressed her love for him without reservation.
So why don’t they get married? In a moment of intense realism, Mrs. March says that their personalities would be too much in conflict, which makes sense. If the goal of every marriage is perfect domestic harmony, then having two personalities who ignite one another would be bad. Yet it is that very ignition which, in just about any other story, would fire up a love marriage. The two passionate personalities marry and have a loud house full of loud kids. But this isn’t that kind of romance story.
I think the answer lies in the fact that marriage in that time meant something different for women than it does today. Today, women maintain careers, independence, even their own original last names. But then, to choose a man was to choose a life. Each man offered a very different kind of life.
To Jo, Laurie offered a life of high society. He was born at the top of the economic totem pole. His future is set from the first, and he does not try to fight it, does not run off to Germany to become a musician instead of going to college. He makes conventional friends, has conventional adventures–in short, he is a conventional man. The only uncommon thing about Laurie is his love for Jo.
Jo, in contrast, is determinedly unconventional. She is a tomboy who never abandons her nickname even after marriage. She is always more comfortable surrounded by men or children than by women, except her sisters. She feels a drive for independence that trumps any shame at working as a governess or publishing silly stories.
If Jo had married Laurie, she would have had to become conventional. She would have had to take her place in Society as Mrs. Laurence, to throw parties and act like she enjoyed the company of stupid people. She would have had to act against her nature, and would never have had anything resembling independence again.
Jo tells Laurie that she has tried to change him, and it didn’t work. That Laurie must change is a given in the novel, but what Jo would have needed from him he simply would have been unable to give. He could fight his nature, but he could not change it as utterly as she would have needed it to be changed. Amy, however, could be happy with him after he adapted. She liked society, liked fine things and fine people.
Jo’s eventual husband is as unconventional as she herself. He’s a foreigner, first of all. He gave up everything to look after his dead sister’s children, he throws dignity to the wind and pretends to be an elephant when it’s asked of him, and he is as willing to teach a servant’s little daughter as he is to teach paying society girls. He doesn’t need to be made into anything new, which is good because Jo’s busy making herself. And he is as happy to enter Jo’s world as Laurie was many years ago, but at a level Laurie’s position in society would never have allowed. Jo runs the school, and her Professor helps her. No one can take away from Jo’s story.