March (Penguin Books 2005)
Citation: Brooks, Geraldine. March. New York: Penguin Books, 2005.
Reading Level: Adult
Author Biography: Geraldine Brooks was born in Australia in the 1950s. She wrote for the Wall Street Journal and lived in the Middle East. Her first best selling book was “Year of Wonders” about the plague year of 1666 when the people of Derbyshire England sealed themselves off from the rest of the world. In 2005, Brooks won the Pulitzer Prize for “March.” Her most recent book is “People of the Book” about an Australian rare book expert working with a famous Jewish sacred manuscript in Serbia.
Plot Summary: The father of the March family of Louisa May Alcott’s classic book, “Little Women” is away, serving as a chaplain for Union soldiers during the Civil War. The story alternates between Mr. March’s war experiences and his memories of his earlier years when he was a traveling salesman in the South, when he met his wife, Marmee, and his relationships with his daughters, the Little Women. After a skirmish, March takes shelter in an old house and remembers that he was before, as a young man peddling goods throughout the South. Here, years before, he met a slave girl, Grace, and the two had kissed. The young March had attempted to teach slaves to read, and when their master learned this, he expelled March from the plantation and whipped the slaves. Later, March sent the money he had earned peddling goods to John Brown to help finance his rebellion. March met Marmee, who shared his anti-slavery sentiments. Civil War battles expose March to the harsh reality of war and the faults of the soldiers he encounters. March reports soldiers’ behavior to their colonel, and the colonel sends March to run a plantation in Mississippi. Here, March begins to teach slaves who remain on this plantation. A group of Confederate soldiers attack the plantation, March hides from them and the soldiers burn the plantation and take the slaves as hostages. March regrets his cowardice, pursues the raiders, gets badly injured, loses consciousness and later finds himself in a hospital in Washington, DC. At this point, Marmee leaves the Little Women in Concord, travels to the hospital to nurse her husband. Hers, she meets Grace and realizes that her husband has had some sort of relationship with this woman. She realizes that March has had some sort of secret life away from her, in spite of all of the letters he has sent her while he was away. March recovers, returns to Concord one year after he left and he is a very changed man.
1. What is the main theme of the book? The Civil War? Slavery? Men’s infidelity? Secrets?
2. Describe the character of March. Is he idealistic, noble, flawed, inconsistent, or what? What about his religion? What are his religious beliefs and how do they reflect his character?
3. What sort of wife would Marmee be? What about Grace? Would March be happier with Marmee or Grace?
4. What did you think of the letters in the story? What do they reveal and conceal?
5. Is this book a believable companion for Alcott’s “Little Women?” Is it fair game for an author to use the characters and story of an old classic and write a new story?
6. Did your understanding of the Civil War change or grow by reading this book?
7. Should March have enlisted or stayed home with his family?
8. March and Marmee probably thought they had a very close relationship. Is this true or not?
9. What do you think life would be like after March returned to Concord as the Civil War raged on for several more years?
Prepared By: Jack Edson
Date: August 2008