How did the minor characters help emphasize the theme of the story in March by Geraldine Brooks?

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One example of a minor character who helps reinforce the central theme of the inequality between the genders is Prudence, the small black girl that Grace convinces the eighteen-year-old March to teach in Chapter 2. What is so important about Prudence is that the act of instructing her is considered both wrong and illegal, so much so that March is forced to watch Grace being cruelly whipped for being responsible for Prudence's education, and he himself is thrown out of Clement's house for his role in teaching Prudence. Prudence is forced to watch Grace being whipped in order to deter her from learning how to read. March is horrified by this, and revolts against the way that black women are not allowed to be educated.

However, what the character of Prudence helps to establish is the way that March instinctively believes that it is the job of man to educate woman. This imbalance of power, for all of his ideals of equality, is something that permeates his character so deeply it becomes an intrinsic part of his marriage to Marmee. Note for example what she says to March in one of her many tirades:

You stifle me! You crush me! You preach emancipation, and yet you enslave me, in the most fundamental way.

To further her argument, elsewhere, in a wonderful play on words of the title of the book that this book is based upon, she describes herself as March's "belittled woman," stating that his control of her "degrades" her. The character of Prudence is therefore important in establishing the beliefs of March and of society at large at this time, that it was woman's place to be instructed by man, and introduces the theme of inequality that is developed through the ragings of Marmee as she battles for equality, first and foremost in her marriage.

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