My latest Netlix binge watching show has been the hit television series Friends. I was intrigued to find that Little Women by Louisa May Alcott was discussed in this specific episode (season 3, episode 13), as I knew that we were going to be reading it this semester. Joey is reading Rachel’s favorite book, Little Women, and Rachel is reading Joey’s favorite book, The Shining. There is one scene in particular where Joey and Rachel start telling each other spoilers of each book because Joey accidentally lets one slip and Rachel gets mad. One of the spoilers that Rachel tells Joey about Little Women is that Beth dies and Joey is absolutely shocked and devastated.
Joey is the more immature, and even childish if you will, character in Friends, so I find it ironic that he was the character that the producers picked to read Little Women, since it is considered children’s literature. When Rachel told Joey that Beth dies, his reaction showed the upmost surprise, devastation, and sadness. It is important that we see Joey’s reaction in this scene while other characters, Ross and Chandler, are present as well because they don’t have the same reaction. Their reaction is much more mature, as they don’t jump up in shock, and don’t show much emotion about the matter at all (perhaps because they already knew the plot, but I don’t think they would’ve had the same reaction as Joey under the circumstances anyways). Because Joey is the immature character that he is, I think that his reaction is comparable to how most child readers would react when discovering Beth’s death as well. It is significant that the other characters are there because it reinforces the idea that we can compare Joey’s reactions to those of the child audience. We expect that the children readers would feel that same surprise, devastation and sadness upon learning of her death. At the end of the episode, Joey has read up to the part where Beth has gotten really sick and approaches Rachel with worry and depressed feelings about it. He lays his head upon her chest and she caresses him to comfort him in this sad state. This scene is important when comparing Joey’s and a child reader’s reactions to a child’s death in this text of children’s literature because it is similar to how a mother would comfort her child when they are sad. It’s fascinating to see how Beth’s death in Little Women is embedded into our entertainment today.
This brings us to the discussion of death in “children’s literature”. According to Peter Hunt’s keyword essay on “Children’s Literature”, “If ‘children’ commonly connotes immaturity, and ‘literature’ commonly connotes sophistication in texts and reading, then the two terms may seem to be incompatible” (42). I find this interesting because death has been an issue that has appeared in multiple children’s literature texts that we have read for this course, and I think that death is a sophisticated issue. This contradicts Peter Hunt’s above thoughts on “children” and “literature” because we see how sophisticated ideas, like death, and the so called “immaturity” of children work together in Little Women, through Beth’s premature death. Joey’s character and this episode Friends also contradicts Peter Hunt’s words since he is an immature adult character, but reads sophisticated literature like The Shining. “’Children’s literature’ as a term carries with it complex emotional freight” (Hunt 47). Beth’s death is a prime example of this “complex emotional freight” in children’s literature that brings a roller coaster of emotions to the reader.