Wednesday, January 31, 2018

March by Geraldine Brooks

While Little Women has become so many people's favorites, I have failed to recognize its high value when I read it few years ago. It was difficult for me to relate with the story, that it just flowed to the end without deeper influence. It felt like an old blanket; comfortable, but nothing else.

Only after I read March, did I realize the reason. March was inspired by Little Women; telling the historical events of the 19th century American Civil War from the point of view of the missing father of Meg, Jo, Amy, and Beth. However, to me, March felt more realistic than Little Women because Brooks made March and Marmee true persons with their weaknesses and struggles; while in Little Women they were like Mr & Mrs. Santa Claus—too good to be true!

March was actually inspired by Amos Bronson Alcott—Louisa May Alcott’s father—who was a teacher and abolitionist. But instead of teacher, Brooks made March a chaplain. As we already read in Little Women, March left Concord, Massachusetts to serve in the Civil War as soldier’s chaplain. In his letters to home, he told everything but the real horror and brutality in the battlefield, for he didn’t want to add burden on Marmee and the children. Then he caught a severe illness and was brought to hospital, where Marmee immediately went to nurse her husband. Then and there she learned for the first time the damage war had wrought into her husband.

I don’t think Brooks wrote March (and won Pulitzer Prize in 2006) only as a fanfiction or to reminisce over one of the best-loved classics. She focused on the warfare; how it has touched every family and changed the veterans’ personal lives. To do that, picking March as the central figure is ideal, since his absence in Little Women gave Brooks rooms to explore the influence of war to men, and kind of recreating the story—if not one of the characters—of the best-loved classic. Moreover, Alcott’s history as an abolitionist might have given Brooks more rooms to write about racism and slavery.

I loved how March discusses about cowardice. I remember one episode of Downton Abbey (TV series) where Mrs. Patmore was troubled when her nephew’s name was excluded from war memorial given to the village because he was shot for cowardice in WW I. I remember being shuddered while watching that scene, as I thought how easy it was for us—who have never been in the war, or perhaps been in the war but not in that specific moment—to label others with “coward”. While survival is human instinct, is it really disgraceful when one selfishly saves oneself instead of risking life for saving others? I mean, morally it is not right, it is not ideal. Still, not everyone is blessed with bravery. And having just several seconds to make decision at a critical moment, sometimes there are a lot of things one must consider (one’s family, for instance). It is really not easy to be brave to accept death. And I think it’s enough that one must account his actions to God, without having to face society’s sanction for the rest of his (and his family) life too. So I won’t blame March for doing (or not doing, in this case) what he supposed to do in the battlefield. And I can relate with his guilt afterwards; how he must bear the burden alone; how it changed his life forever. I was glad that Marmee and Grace Clement never blamed him. And it was kind of Marmee too to try to understand his relationship with Grace.

War… there are things that only those who participated in it can relate to. I am glad I have finally been able to read this magnificent book. Pulitzer Prize or not, it is the kind of book that opens your mind and change your perspective.

5 of 5


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