I have loved Little Women for as long as the first time I picked the book up to read it. My parents gave me a beautiful set of Louisa May Alcott‘s books for Christmas one year. Those books remain my most treasured gift from them (I ought to let them know). When I first heard about this book, I knew that I had to read it. I haven’t really spent much time researching authors, so I knew very little about the world of the Alcott’s other than that the poverty experienced by the March’s in Little Women was based on reality.
March is about seeking redemption and finding forgiveness. It show the effects of demanding yourself to redeem past wrongs without allowing yourself to be forgiven by those you have wronged or, most importantly, yourself. It is also the story of having the courage to understand your spouse and to forgive mis-communications and wrongs.
Captain March started life in a poor family. He made his fortune by traveling through the South selling trinkets along the way. Although attempting to enrich himself, Mr. March’s passion is for learning and reading. Once, while in Virginia, he stays with a wealthy land and slave holder who has the most amazing library Mr. March has ever seen. He revels in his time to freely pursue intellectual pursuits. As an idealistic young man and Yankee, he finds it necessary to argue with his host, Mr. Clement, about slavery when in fact, he does not understand the society at all. With the help of Grace, a house slave, he takes it upon himself to begin teaching a young slave girl how to read. His time spent teaching is immensely rewarding to him, but he has no concept of what his self-righteous pleasure could cost those involved with him. His desire for Grace leads his host to discover what has been happening. Mr. March is dismissed from his plantation, but not before he is forced to watch Grace, stripped from the waist down, have pieces of flesh slashed from her buttocks by the overseer’s whip. We find that even after marrying Marmee and raising a strong abolitionist family that Mr. March cannot forgive himself for causing Grace this humiliation and pain.
Mr. March becomes a preacher and blindly celebrates any person or group working for the end of slavery. Although it causes his family to suffer, he does not much regret giving his entire fortune as an investment to the deceitful John Brown. Brown claimed that the money would be used for peaceful abolitionist purposes, but instead, March unknowingly helped to fund the rebellion that never took off at Harper’s Ferry. He is so enamored of what Brown’s vision that he did not speak out against Brown after he and his family are forced into poverty. He does not want to do anything to smear the reputation of abolitionists.
When the country fell into Civil War, Mr. March gave a sermon for the troops leaving for battle and it is during this speech that he sees a way to clear his conscious – he could join the army as a chaplain and provide aid to soldiers fighting for the cause. He sees his wife in the crowd lifting her hands to him and he takes that as a sign of her unity of purpose. What he didn’t anticipate was that his stringent religious views would irritate his superiors and that the soldiers were not fighting for “the cause.”
After he was unable to save a soldier who couldn’t swim from drowning, he came upon the Virginia plantation that was the sight of the barbaric beating of a woman he loved. Sure enough, Grace is still there. Due to the old age of the Mr. Clement, she stayed when everyone else left. Seeing her again only adds to the heaping pile of sin and unworthiness he feels. After being caught in a somewhat compromising position with Grace, Captain March is forced to leave his post and set up shop as a teacher once again on a homestead for freed slaves. This type of a homestead was a trial to see how a plantation would run when the workers were actually paid for their labors. Over and over again, Captain March is shocked and bewildered when people do live up to the “utopia” he envisioned when blacks and whites lived together in equality. He gets lost in reality that a snap of the fingers doesn’t change hundreds of years of history. He does assimilate as best as he could and did good work until a fever sent him to a military hospital in Washington, DC.
It is while Captain March is delirious that the reader discovers that Marmee March is not in lock step with her husband. Certainly she is an abolitionist and made her home a safe haven along the Underground Railroad, but she resents the loss of the easier life she grew up with and married into. There were a lot of assumptions made on both sides. Captain March’s attempts to redeem himself for Grace’s beating caused his family great harm and ultimately failed to ease his conscience. While tending to her husband in the hospital, Marmee has to deal with her resentment and come to a place of understanding and forgiveness, but Captain March won’t accept it from her.
In the end, the reader is unsure if Captain March ever gave up the ghost of the past and forgave himself. I’m not entirely sure he would know what to do without that hanging over his head. He could not give in to happiness. Blindly following his political and religious ideology throughout his adulthood to impress his wife caused his burden to grow exponentially. All these things he’s blamed himself for were, for the most part, entirely were out of his control. One might even conclude that he was most guilty of the sin of pride – something he did not see.
March is an interesting look at how ideology and merciless self-judgment can take a good man and ruin him. It is unfortunate that Captain March never took the well deserved credit for raising honest, intelligent, hard-working, and humble daughters. It’s funny those people who can see every possible fault in their lives cannot for one second relax and see the beauty.