From Louisa May Alcott’s beloved classic Little Women, Geraldine Brooks has animated the character of the absent father, March, and crafted a story "filled with the ache of love and marriage and with the power of war upon the mind and heart of one unforgettable man" (Sue Monk Kidd). With"pitch-perfect writing" (USA Today), Brooks follows March as he leaves behind his family to aid the Union cause in the Civil War. His experiences will utterly change his marriage and challenge his most ardently held beliefs. A lushly written, wholly original tale steeped in the details of another time, March secures Geraldine Brooks’s place as a renowned author of historical fiction.
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This novel is based on an absent character in the novel Little Women. The book explores what the character of Mr. March was doing when the novel was taking place. In order to write this novel, the author needed to have a deep understanding of the source material. You will find allusions to Little Women in this book, but your understanding will not be hindered if you have not read that novel first. (This annotation contains a video)
Did you know that you can look up any word in the text of the book or the text of the questions and answers? Just click (or press on mobile devices) the word you want to define and hold until the blue text selector pops up. When you release, a define option will appear. Since it's so easy to look up words, make sure you use this feature frequently... Is there a word on this page you need to look up?
What is being foreshadowed in this sentence?
Did you notice the description in the highlighted passage? This is an example of imagery. Imagery is a detailed description that allows the reader to form a picture in his or her mind of the action or setting in a story. To learn more about imagery, watch the video clip below. (This annotation contains a video)
Calvinism follows five points which can be summed up using the acronym TULIP. You can read about those five points at the site below. This will provide invaluable insight into the characters who align with Calvinism as well as provide insight into March who does not subscribe to this thought. (This annotation contains a link)
What is the effect of this paragraph on the reader?
Hoecakes are a kind of cross between cornbread and pancakes. If you're interested in trying hoecakes, here is a recipe for you! (This annotation contains a link)
Which literary technique has the author been using since the start of this chapter?
March has already explained why he has an aversion to meat. His feelings about eating the flesh of an animal are shared nowadays by many vegetarians. How common do you think it was to find vegetarians in the mid 1800's?
What could be the harm in March remaining for a while with the Clements? Use what you know from your reading thus far to discuss why remaining instead of continuing on his sales journey could be a poor choice for March.
Samuel Morton wrote a book that espoused the theory that skull size indicated intelligence -- the bigger the skull, the bigger the brain, and therefore the more intelligent. He then went on to "rank order" people of different races based on their skull sizes. You can read excerpts of Morton's work below. It should be obvious in a very small amount of reading that this information would be considered extremely controversial and debated and debunked. (This annotation contains a link)
Using what you know of March so far, what do you think is his opinion of slavery?
It was not uncommon for it to be illegal for slaves to know how to read and write. Why would being literate be considered a problem from the white slave-owners' perspective?
What should March do -- should he help teach Prudence to read? Why or why not? Use what you know from reading this book so far to help you develop your response.
What is March afraid of?
Knowing that he has broken the law, and knowing how brutally slaves were treated, you can imagine how frightened March must be. What do you think is going to happen to him or to Prudence? Does this also fill you with a sense of dread?
Knowing that this type of punishment might happen, why would Grace confess to what she had done?
The video below discusses the importance of understanding how a novel is structured. After watching the video, see if you can determine how this book is structured and why the author chose to structure the text this way. (This annotation contains a video)
March seems to be an unusually sensitive man. Using what you have learned of his character so far in this novel, discuss how this part of his personality has developed and how it is shown to you as the reader. Be sure to make specific references to the text in your response.
Here is a grim and grisly truth: it was not uncommon during the Civil War that armies for both the Union and the Confederacy were short on supplies, including medical supplies. That means that the sick often lacked medication and the wounded might have to undergo surgical procedures without anesthesia. How do you think the hardships of war now compare to the hardships of war then?
Grace's hand being "chapped and calloused" indicates what?
Grace is quoting the poem "Ozymandias" by Percy Bysshe Shelley. Read the poem below and determine why Grace was reminded of this poem in this situation. (This annotation contains a link)
What does Grace mean when she says that Clement has two daughters?
Harper's Ferry, West Virginia, is where abolitionist John Brown attempted to start a slave revolt. It failed and he was captured and hanged for treason against the commonwealth of Virginia. March will make allusions to John Brown. (This annotation contains an image)
Which of the following literary devices is NOT used in the highlighted paragraph?
Miss Day has progressive attitudes about educating girls. The website below highlights education for women from the 1700's through today. From the text and from the website, can you identify some key differences in the education girls receive today when compared with the education they received in the 1800's? (This annotation contains a link)
Do you think that there is such a thing as a just and honorable war, as March refers to the Civil War? Why or why not? Explain your position using what you have learned from the reading of this novel as well as your own personal understanding of other wars.
Sodom and Gomorrah are biblical cities known for their wickedness. You can read a short summary of the Bible story below. What is the soldier saying about the Confederacy by comparing it to Sodom and Gomorrah? (This annotation contains a link)
Why would all the young men join the Union army? Use the information in the highlighted paragraph to choose your answer.
A rigolette was a light or knitted head covering, probably similar to the one pictured below. In general, it was common for women to wear head coverings during this time period. (This annotation contains an image)
Evaluate March's decision to apply for reassignment. Use evidence from the text to support your opinion of his decision.
Henry David Thoreau is one of the most famous writers in American history. Watch the short video below to learn a little about him and his deep love of nature and how he became a leader in civil disobedience. (This annotation contains a video)
March has already revealed to the reader that he loves Miss Day. How does she feel about him?
Miss Day is clearly hinting at something here -- this package is obviously much more than just a simple package. See if you can figure out what she is talking about before March does.
Do you agree or disagree -- is he able to do more than simply speak up on behalf of the black man being wronged? Explain your thoughts on this, using what you have read so far as well as prior knowledge.
There are a couple of allusions to Greek mythology in the highlighted passage. What purpose do they serve?
Peleus and Thetis are characters from Greek mythology. Peleus wanted to win over Thetis and marry her. To catch her, he had to grab hold of her tightly and not let go while she shape-shifted numerous times. What is March saying by comparing himself and Miss Day to Peleus and Thetis?
Ten dollars a month in the early 1860's would equate to approximately $270 in the year 2014. Does this seem like a large sum of money to be earning monthly?
Which is NOT a clue that March's situation will be what he has imagined it to be?
What appears to be the major difference between March and people like Canning?
The word "gin" here refers to the ginning of cotton, which is where the cotton itself is separated from its seeds.
The video below shows you a large cotton field and how to pick cotton from the stalk. After watching the video, you can easily imagine what tedious and arduous work picking the cotton must have been. (This annotation contains a video)
Use two or three words to describe Canning. Use evidence from the text to explain why you chose the words that you did.
Notice the word "infirmary" is in quotation marks. What is being indicated by putting the quotation marks around the word?
Which is NOT one of the excuses Canning offers to March for the situation on the plantation?
This is an allusion to the Bible story in which Jesus performed a miracle, feeding a crowd of thousands of followers with only a few loaves of bread and a few fish. Everyone was able to eat his fill and baskets upon baskets of leftovers were collected. Being a chaplain, Mr. March will often find ways to utilize references to the Bible.
Huckleberries resemble blueberries in appearance and taste. What kinds of recipes might huckleberries be used in? (This annotation contains an image)
The word "plates" has been used a few times in this novel when referring to books. Using context clues, how would you define "plates" as it is used in the highlighted sentence?
John Brown has been mentioned numerous times in this text. The site below offers a brief biography of him if you are interested in learning more about his cause and how he tackled it. (This annotation contains a link)
Do you think March made the right decision to invest money in Brown's endeavors? Why or why not? Use evidence from the text to support your response.
Embroidery is a work of art. The video below demonstrates five basic embroidery stitches. How long do you think it would take Marmee to hand decorate cushions using embroidery? (This annotation contains a video)
What caused Marmee to snap out of her anger?
A governess is like a teacher for children in their home. Wealthy families often hired governesses instead of sending their children to school. Perhaps the most famous governess is the character of Maria in The Sound of Music! (This annotation contains a link)
This is not the first time we have heard March tell of Union soldiers behaving in what he would consider a shameful way. Do you agree with March that the Union soldiers are acting inappropriately, or does the fact that they are at war justify their behavior? Explain your opinion, using what you have read in the text as well as your own understanding of the Civil War.
"Sambo" is a racial slur for people who are of African-American origin.
Why does the woman decide not to come back to school?
Education researcher Harry Wong has said there are seven things students want to know on the first day of school. Two of them have to do with the teacher personally. After reading the information at the site below, it shouldn't be a surprise at how positively March's students respond to him personally. (This annotation contains a link)
Which word might March use to describe the onset of spring as he explains it?
There are many ways to tie a topknot; one style is pictured below. What might be the advantages of having hair, especially long hair, tied in a scarf in a topknot? (This annotation contains an image)
What effect did the donated supplies have on the workers?
Where do you think Canning is currently located? Explain why you think this. Be sure to support your response with what you know of him from the text.
The picture below is of a bloom on a cotton plant. Imagine what March must be seeing when he sees an entire field filled with these delicate flowers. (This annotation contains an image)
Look up the definition of the word "feint" then choose the best synonym for the word based on its meaning.
The word "mulatto" is an outdated and generally derogatory term for anyone who is of both white and black origin. The more correct term, if one is to be used, is "biracial" or "multiracial".
How would you describe March's attitude toward the hardships he faces?
Do you think March was right to help slaves via the Underground Railroad? Consider what you know about slavery from your studies of American history and what you have read in this book. Also consider that March has young daughters at home. Explain your opinion using facts and evidence from the text to elaborate.
The March home was a station on the Underground Railroad, which you can learn more about at the site below. How does the description of the work done by the March family match up with what you read on the website? (This annotation contains a link)
Beth seems able to relate to the feelings Flora might have, almost feeling them herself. What is this called?
The book Beth is referring to is "Uncle Tom's Cabin" by Harriet Beecher Stowe. It is about the realities of slavery.
What is the question in Marmee's face?
We have a commonly understood definition of "purse", but is that what is meant here? Use the define feature to see the different meanings of the word "purse" and decide which meaning is intended here.
Should March have come out of hiding to save Ptolemy? Why or why not? Consider what you have read so far in this novel and refer to details from the text in your response.
You are right in the middle of an incredibly intense part of this book. Watch the video below about how an author creates tension in a story, then think back to what you have read so far to see how the tension has been created. (This annotation contains a video)
The chapeau de bras is a distinctive style of hat. You can see an example of one in the image below. (This annotation contains an image)
Why did Jesse stop March from interfering with the invaders?
Canning refers to himself as a "serf." Use the define feature to see the meaning of this word and determine the difference between a serf and a slave.
Which is NOT a reason Canning is willing to die?
March says there was silence, and then there is a break in the text before March resumes his narration. What is implied by those things?
What do the breaks in the text signify?
Do you agree with Zannah's statements about March -- is he a good, kind man? Why or why not? Use evidence from the text to support your opinion.
Georgetown is currently one of the most popular neighborhoods in Washington, D.C. It is known for its upscale eateries and beautiful, historic homes. It is a far cry from what Mr. Brooke describes here.
What is unexpected about Marmee?
Who is this nurse?
Laudanum is not widely used in the United States anymore, but it is available by prescription. It is a highly controlled substance, very addictive. It contains derivatives of opium and is a powerful pain killer.
Are you starting to see March in a different light now that you are seeing things from Marmee's perspective? What is your view of March? Explain your response by using examples from the text.
One of the most famous depictions of the Civil War is the movie Gone With the Wind. Watch the scene below, where Scarlett goes to the hospital to find a doctor. How does Scarlett's experience compare with Marmee's experience? (This annotation contains a video)
Why should Nurse Flynn be glad Mrs. March is there?
Marmee is drawing conclusions based on circumstantial evidence, which is when conclusions are drawn based on inferences rather than known facts. What conclusions are being drawn by Marmee based on her inferences of what she is seeing?
What does Marmee mean when she says her tears are not "tears of simple joy"? What kind of tears is she crying and why? Use textual evidence to develop your answers.
Which is NOT one reason Mrs. March is so angry?
A tippet is like a collar or a shawl, similar to what is pictured below. (This annotation contains an image)
It sounds as if March might be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Read more about PTSD at the website below and use that information to look for signs of it in Mr. March. (This annotation contains a link)
Do you think Marmee is right -- when March said, "My love," did he mean Grace? What makes you think this? Be sure to use evidence from the text to support your opinion.
What common way could this sentence be rephrased?
The word "chimerical," means from a wild fantasy or imaginary. It has its roots in the Greek mythological creature, the chimera, which was a fire-breathing creature that had the head of a lion, the body of a goat, and the tail of a serpent. (This annotation contains an image)
Which is NOT a reason Marmee needs a male escort with her on this trip?
A T'ang vase is a common style of vase, wider at the bottom and narrower at the top, similar to what is pictured below. (This annotation contains an image)
Do you agree or disagree with March? Does he need to finish his work, or does he need to go home? Explain your opinion using what you know of the character in your response.
March sounds as if he might be suffering from survivor's guilt, which is not uncommon after traumatic events such as March has been through. Read more about survivor's guilt at the website below. Does it sound like this is what is ailing March? (This annotation contains a link)
Which statement most likely reflects March's feelings for Grace?
The previous annotation gave information about survivor's guilt and suggested March may be feeling this. His own words here confirm that he does indeed feel as if he has things to set right, that he did not do all that he was supposed to do.
Grace dropped quite a bomb on the reader! What do you think of Grace now? Has your opinion of her changed? Explain your perspective using specific details from the text.
Grace's words to March echo the sentiment expressed in Martin Luther King's passionate "I Have a Dream" speech. Watch it below and listen for Grace's words in what he says. (This annotation contains a video)
Read the article below about fan fiction. As you read the Afterword, decide if you think this novel would qualify as fan fiction. (This annotation contains a link)