As everyone now knows, Greta Gerwig’s Barbie movie is raking in millions of dollars and a great deal of positive approbation for her imaginative take on how the doll, if it were to come to life in the real world, would confront male patriarchy in various ways, including a visit to the all-male board room of Mattel, the toy company which designed the doll. So far, even those who find fault with the premises and politics of the movie, saying it dishonestly represents a time of cultural prejudice which has already passed, applaud it for being extremely entertaining.
Although I have not seen the movie, and therefore am in no position to comment on either the merits of the film or Greta Gerwig’s talents as a filmmaker, I’m able to recall a comment of Ms. Gerwig’s from the past, one she made while her brilliant, entertaining version of Louisa May Alcott‘s Little Women was in theaters, involving the life and art of the 19th century writer Henry David Thoreau. Thoreau, who as many people are aware, wrote his iconic account of living apart from society in the woods surrounding Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts while he was writing his enlightening account of what he might learn from nature in the book that became Walden.
Gerwig’s comment was that Thoreau of course was able to live in the woods in his hut and explore nature in the insightful way he did largely because as a solitary bachelor he didn’t have a wife and children for whom he had to care. Upon reading this, one has to wonder if Louisa May Alcott, one of Gerwig’s heroines and someone who like Thoreau never married and never had children, might be subjected to the same standard for personal success by the filmmaker. That is, would she likewise expound on the idea that Alcott was able to give herself over to writing Little Women because she was without a family?
A certain issue that tends to underlay this misunderstanding is the mistaken confluence of solitude with loneliness. That is people tend to confuse the positive qualities embodied in solitude (i.e. the spiritual space, freedom, and capacity for personal integration which it gives one) with loneliness itself. Whereas the two things are inherently and radically different in that genuine solitude is often eagerly sought for entirely positive reasons, whereas loneliness is obviously something that people run from in fear as they tend to become more closely wrapped inside the shell of a protective cocoon while they desperately search for some sort of meaningful personal connection with others.
Thoreau not only embraced but likewise reveled in the benefits of solitude, something which he wrote about so insightfully. This would seem to mean that whether or not he had a family to raise during his sojourns to Walden Pond is really very much beside the point simply because it tends to minimize the nature of his solitary experiences at the idyllic setting of the Pond. Rather, what does seem to be most important is his passionate embrace of solitude as a significant doorway to a larger consciousness; something which Greta Gerwig didn’t really seem to understand in her minimizing of his experience.