What is some support for the theme of words vs. actions in the novel March, by Geraldine Brooks?

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susan3smith eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Brooks' retelling of Little Women from John March's, the father's, point of view, the focus seems to be more on the conflict between the ideal and reality than between thoughts and actions. In this novel, we see March's idealistic ideas of going to war to fight for equality falter as he faces the cruel realities of war and slavery. Despite March's best intentions, his actions seem to backfire and cause even more suffering. A case in point is March's attempt to teach the slave girl Prudence to read, and when he is found out, her mother is whipped, and he is forced to watch as punishment. Another example is when March tries to help Canning and the workers on his plantation against the Confederate soldiers. The results are tragic: Canning is killed, most of the others on the plantation are killed, and March winds up in a Union hospital. These experiences seem to typify the results of March's actions. The world is too cruel and too savage for March's actions to make a difference.

However, you might find some support for your focus in the way John March treats Marmee. Even though he professes belief in equality, he treats his wife as an inferior. One of my favorite scenes is when she stands up to Aunt March and John March when they want to suppress her feminist ideas and abolitionist efforts. She calls her husband a hypocrite for not allowing her to express her opinions. Through Marmee, we see someone whose actions with the underground railroad do result in some good.

The vignettes about Emerson might also be a way of supporting your topic. A prolific writer and renowned speaker, Emerson, in the novel, was hesitant to speak out against slavery. It was Marmee who finally goaded him into publicly condemning the practice. It might be a stretch, but you might use Canning, who maintains that slavery is a practice that is good for the slaves and that it actually teaches slaves to be better people, but who in practice is quite cruel and severely punishes slaves who try to better themselves through education. March is at first taken in by Canning's seemingly noble words of being like a father to his slaves, but soon learns that these words only mask Canning's desire to maintain his power over his slaves. I am including a few links below that might help you find more evidence.

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