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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 579

Stonewall presents a portrait of Jackson for different reading and comprehension levels. On the one hand, the biography is a straightforward narrative of the life of Jackson, from his birth to his death only thirty-nine years later. The narrative is spiced with anecdotes and descriptions that help to explain who...

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Stonewall presents a portrait of Jackson for different reading and comprehension levels. On the one hand, the biography is a straightforward narrative of the life of Jackson, from his birth to his death only thirty-nine years later. The narrative is spiced with anecdotes and descriptions that help to explain who Jackson was and to humanize a man who became a legend in his own lifetime. If the book is viewed as merely a simple narrative, then the reader can enjoy the life of Jackson as a simple progression from birth to death. On the other hand, the biography offers enough insight into the complexity of Jackson’s character to challenge the reader to think critically about this figure. The reader is also stimulated to conduct further research in the other works that are suggested in the appended bibliography. It is this second level of presentation that makes Stonewall an outstanding biography from which young readers may learn.

Virtually all biographies of Jackson tend to focus on the adult Confederate general, merely listing as an aside the eccentricities that made Jackson so different from his peers. Fritz begins by offering to the reader factors that might have influenced Jackson. Yet she does not analyze for the reader; she simply intimates. The death of his parents was significant, to be sure, but so too was the financial embarrassment left by his financially unregimented father. Cummins Jackson certainly assisted Tom, but the hard-drinking and irreligious life led by the manipulative Cummins most assuredly affected the youth as well. It was also not a stable life, and the young Jackson sought stability through rules: first through the military and then through religion. While some of the self-imposed rules were odd, and while some were those of a religious zealot, all served to make him who he was. This early life is offered without comment, allowing readers to form their own opinions about Jackson.

Yet there was more to Jackson than external formative influences, as he was also incredibly ambitious. Again, Fritz is not intrusive with interpretation, she does not provide explanations. Fritz cites Jackson’s ambition by quoting from his letters to his sister Laura: Jackson wanted “to acquire a name” and “to distinguish” himself. According to his religious ideals, however, ambition was prideful and therefore sinful. He wrote in his notebook that he wanted “to eradicate ambition: to eradicate resentment; to produce humility.” War, to Jackson, was a vehicle to his end, that is, his chance to prove himself. War was the ultimate test of rules and ambition, and he relished the challenge. Jackson flourished in war, which showed him at his greatest. His soldiers worshiped “Old Jack,” yet they feared him. They laughed at his eccentricities, yet prided themselves on being called his foot cavalry. Jackson never asked his troops to do anything that he himself would not do. In so doing, he and his soldiers, as Old Jack and the Stonewall Brigade, became an integral part of the story of the American Civil War.

Even Jackson’s death made him all the greater; as Fritz notes, “perhaps this was exactly the right moment for Stonewall Jackson to leave the scene.” He died at the peak of his career, Chancellorsville being the true high-water mark of the Confederacy. His death left him as a legendary figure, one to whom generations of Southerners could point and say, “if only Jackson had been with Lee at Gettysburg.” Such is the stuff of legends.

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Critical Context