The Civil War
The American Civil War lasted four years (1861–1865), the bloodiest conflict in U.S. history, which claimed 600,000 American lives, more than all wars fought between 1865 and 2007 added together. It broke out between northern states, the Union, and the southern states, the Confederacy, when the South seceded from the Union. The causes of the war were complex and involved political, economic, and social issues. The southern states had increasingly tried to separate themselves from the North since the Revolutionary War, a movement that escalated sharply after 1820 when the newly formed western territories began to deal with the question of slavery and faced being admitted to the Union as either slave or free states. The concern about keeping the number of states even on both sides was coupled with increasingly vocal objection by abolitionists in the North, which caused the South to be even more eager to have equal representation in Congress.
When Abraham Lincoln was elected in 1860, South Carolina seceded from the Union, followed by Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas. The war began on April 12, 1861, when P. G. I. Beauregard led an attack on Fort Sumter, South Carolina. Soon after, Arkansas, North Carolina, Virginia, and Tennessee joined the other Confederate states. Jefferson Davis (1808–1889), a U.S. senator, became president of the Confederacy. Robert E. Lee became commander of the...
(The entire section is 688 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of this article. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!
Brooks wrote March after imagining what happened to the absent father in Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel Little Women during his experiences as a chaplain among the Union forces during the Civil War. She borrowed plot details and scenes from the first novel as she created a story for Mr. March, who does not have a voice in Alcott’s novel. Brooks’s novel is darker in tone and presents a more complex study of its main character.
Both novels begin with a letter from Mr. March to his family. In Alcott’s novel, the March daughters are gathered around Marmee as she reads the letter, and in Brooks’s, March is writing it from a remote military camp. Part One of Alcott’s novel ends with March’s return home after a serious illness, focusing on his appreciation of his daughters’ development into womanhood. The rest of the novel continues the story of that development as the March daughters successfully overcome their individual character flaws.
Brooks includes March’s homecoming, but this version is much more ambiguous than the first. Marmee’s voice at the end of March reinforces the link to the previous work but also emphasizes the darker vision of the latter as she learns of and must come to accept the radical changes in her husband. Brook refuses easy solutions or lessons; she focuses on the horrors of war and its effects on those who participate in it. In all, Alcott’s...
(The entire section is 439 words.)
Topics for Further Study
Read Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage and compare its theme of bravery and cowardice to that in March. Does Brooks raise any new points about what defines these terms and the effect that the acknowledgement of cowardice has on an individual? Write a comparison and contrast paper on the two novels, focusing on the authors’ treatment of this subject.
The flashbacks in the novel would be difficult to depict in film. How would you solve this problem? Write a section of the novel that includes a scene from the present and one from the past as a screenplay, noting how you would make a smooth transition between the parts.
Research the subject of race relations in the North during the Civil War. How did attitudes towards blacks compare with those in the South. Did those attitudes change significantly immediately after the war? Present a PowerPoint presentation on your findings.
Write a short story that focuses on the March family five years after the end of the novel. How do you envision March dealing with his guilt? Would he and Marmee be able to regain the strong relationship they once had?
(The entire section is 193 words.)
What Do I Read Next?
Brooks takes the absent father from Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women (1868) and creates his story in March, focusing on his Civil War experiences. Alcott’s work chronicles the lives of his wife and children in Concord, Massachusetts, as they wait for March to come home.
Brooks’s historical novel Year of Wonders (2001) imagines the devastation of the plague on an English town in the seventeenth century and on a young housemaid’s struggles to survive.
Stephen Crane’s classic novel The Red Badge of Courage, originally published in 1894, documents the horror of the Civil War and examines the complex ways that the participants responded to it. In his characterization of Henry Fleming, a young Union soldier, Crane explores questions of honor, cowardice, and humanity.
Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain (1997) presents the tale of a Confederate soldier named Inman, his turncoat journey home from the Civil War battlefields, and his bittersweet reunion with the woman who has waited for him. The novel cuts back and forth between Inman’s difficult journey that tests his physical as well as his emotional strength and Ada’s tale of her own struggles to survive on a farm without a man to help her.
The Odyssey, an ancient Greek epic attributed to Homer, relates the adventures of its main character Odysseus as he travels home after fighting in the Trojan War. His journey is a...
(The entire section is 265 words.)
Bibliography and Further Reading
Block, Marta Segal, Review of March, in Booklist, Vol. 101, No. 11, February 1, 2005, p. 938.
Brooks, Geraldine, March, Penguin Books, 2006.
Mallon, Thomas, “Pictures from a Peculiar Institution,” in New York Times Book Review, March 27, 2005, p. 11.
Review of March, in Economist, Vol. 374, No. 8419, March 26, 2005, p. 84.
Review of March, in Kirkus Reviews, Vol. 73, No. 1, January 1, 2005, p. 5.
Review of March, in Publishers Weekly, Vol. 251, No. 51, December 20, 2004, p. 34.
Sama, Anita, “‘Little Women’ from Father’s Point of View,” in USA Today, March 17, 2005, p. 04d.
Schwarz, Christina, “Finds and Flops,” in Atlantic Monthly, Vol. 295, No. 3, April 2005, p. 115.
Shealy, Daniel, Review of March, in New England Quarterly, Vol. 79, No. 1, March 2006, pp. 164, 165.
Bial, Raymond, The Underground Railroad, Houghton Mifflin, 1999. Stirring photographs accompany eye-witness accounts of the perilous journeys taken on the Underground Railroad, the term for a series of sites that operated as safe havens for slaves escaping to freedom in the North.
Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative, Vintage, 1986. In this trilogy that was adapted by Foote and Ken...
(The entire section is 305 words.)
Bibliography (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Alcott, Louisa May. Louisa May Alcott: Her Life, Letters, and Journals. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Library, 2009. Originally published in the nineteenth century, this reprint of Alcott’s letters and journals provides deeper insight into the personality of Alcott, whose Little Women serves as the starting point for Brooks’s novel March.
Brooks, Geraldine. March. New York: Perennial, 2006. This edition of the novel includes interviews with the author, informational features, and an article by Brooks titled “Little Facts.”
_______. “Orpheus at the Plough: The Father of Little Women.” The New Yorker, January, 2005. Offers a biographical study of A. Bronson Alcott, the father of Louisa May Alcott and the father figure who inspired Brooks to create the story of Mr. March.
Hubbard, Stacy Carson. “The Understory of Little Women.” Michigan Quarterly Review 45, no. 4 (October, 2006): 722-726. An analysis of Brooks’s book in the light of Little Women, highlighting the two main sources of conflict in the original novel and how Brooks resolves these conflicts.
(The entire section is 162 words.)