PPRL: March, by Geraldine Brooks (winner, 2006)

I didn't set out to have a Southern-themed summer of reading to coincide with my recent traveling. It just sorta happened that way. The Road takes place partly in the very area I was in (there's even a reference to a 'See Rock City' sign!), and from one Civil War-era novel (The Killer Angels) I've gone on to another with March.

March is the retelling of The Little Women family's story, but from the perspective of the father. Not quite as feel-good as its inspiration though:

From a burlap sack the man drew out a braided leather whip almost as tall as he was. Then, moving to a spot about six feet from where Grace lay, he made a swift, running skip, raising the lash and bringing it down with a crack. The stroke peeled away a narrow strip of skin, which lifted on the whip, dangled for a moment, and then fell to the leaf-littered floor. A bright band of blood sprang up in its place. Her whole body quivered. 

Yap.

I'd be doing an injustice to Brooks though, if I were to scare anyone away based on that passage alone. It's a fantastic book. There's a beautiful rhythm to the writing and the novel is peopled by flawed, complex characters whose struggles are nuanced and often surprising. Racism and slavery are vividly portrayed and the battle scenes are described in unflinchingly graphic terms. And it all makes for a chilling and utterly absorbing read. Also: Little Women references!

So, who wants some discussion questions?! No one? Okay, here you go!

  • How is March's religiousness affected by his time in the war? How do the atrocities he faces challenge his belief in God?
  • Paper idea! Discuss the moral motive of March's vegetarianism. Compare his distaste for the eating of meat (flesh) with his horror at the selling of it (slavery). (Consider his disgust for the rough appraisal and use of both; slaughterhouses v. slave auction blocks, etc.)
  • Comment on the nature of self-deception in the novel. What are the lies the characters tell themselves to be able to "march" on?
  • Indeed, consider the various "marches" the protagonist undertakes, as peddler, chaplain, teacher, husband, lover, and so on. How is he "marching" under the orders or according to the (moral or literal) dictates of others? What is the bigger picture of his path through life? Where does it take him geographically, emotionally, morally...?