Who is Pearl in The March?

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Pearl is the daughter of John Jamieson who fathered her by a female slave. Despite her mixed-race background, however, Pearl is able to pass for white. Not only that, but her elfin appearance gives her the opportunity to serve as a drummer-boy in the Union Army.

In her capacity as a soldier, she joins the eponymous march of the title, General Sherman's (in)famous march of 62,000 troops through Georgia and the Carolinas. During that march, Pearl matures considerably; indeed, the march can be seen in some respects as a metaphor for her transition from childhood to adulthood. On the march, she acquires vital nursing skills and learns how to read and write. She also finds time to fall in love with an Irish American by the name of Stephen Walsh.

The love between two people of such different racial backgrounds appears to point toward a more hopeful future after the war is finally over. Yet one should bear in mind that as Pearl passes for white, her relationship with Stephen isn't quite as ground-breaking as it seems.

Nevertheless, Pearl represents the moral center of the story, acting as a reminder to the other characters that race is not, and should not, be a guide to the evaluation of character. As someone of mixed-race parentage, Pearl is uniquely placed to rise above her circumstances to gain a broad perspective of race relations in America at this crucial period in her history.

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