The Sunday Salon – The March of Time

The Sunday

It seems the older one gets, the more one becomes aware of that intrepid march of time, the way hours, days, years, suddenly seem to be rushing by with a whir of intensity.  And so I can awake on a Sunday morning, feeling as if I have all the time in the world to sip coffee and listen to the chorus of birds raising their anthems to the day, when all of a sudden the noon hour is upon me.

Similarly, society faces that same dilemma, with events of a much larger magnitude piling upon themselves.  It’s a mark of my age once again, I think, the way change seems to be happening faster and more furiously with each passing year, and while I once considered many of these advances good things, now I’m beginning to wonder if we aren’t outpacing ourselves with change for the sake of change, bringing our nation to the brink of possibly devastating consequences.

My thoughts have turned in this direction because of March, the novel I’m reading.  Many of you have read it, but in case you aren’t familiar with it, author Geraldine Brooks has taken the character of Mr. March, (the father of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women), and expanded his story, filling us in on what happened to him during the time he was away from Marmee, Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy.  Alcott tells us he had gone to serve as Chaplain to Union soldiers during the Civil War.  What Brooks gives us is the fleshed out portrait of man with deeply held, forward thinking convictions about civil rights, the enviornment, and education.

I’m only half way through the book, but one thing that strikes me is how chaotic American society is at this point, nearing the end of the war.  The Southern way of life (gentility and leisure, bought from the hard labor of slavery) has all but vanished, leaving in it’s place devastation and destruction of property and people.  Newly freed slaves have no idea how to live or make a living, and few citizens of the north feel moved to assist them. 

Most of these boys aren’t down here fighting for the slaves,” March’s Colonel tells him frankly.  “Why, they’re about as many genuine abolitionists in Lincoln’s army as there are in Jeff Davis’s.  When the boys in this unit listen to you preach emancipation, all they hear is a pack of ragged baboons is going to be heading north to take their jobs away…”

So when I look around America today and start to worry about the myriad problems we face – unemployment, inflated gasoline prices, losses of homes and businesses, the crisis in health care, plus the decline of American interests on the international scene – reading March reminds me that this country has weathered hard times before during it’s brief life as a nation. 

Last week a photograph appeared in the New York Times of Barack Obama carrying a copy of The Post American World, by  Fareed Zakaria.  Much has been made of Obama’s choice of reading material, pundits taking it as a sign of his forward thinking and his gathering of stategies for change.  Zakaria once wrote (in 2003) that “America’s power was unprecedented” in what could “only be called a unipolar world.”   In the five ensuing years, years that have sped like lightening across the face of this country, Zakaria now maintains “the distribution of power is shifting, moving away from American dominance.”  Moving, as he puts it, from “the West, to the rest.”

“America has become suspicious of the very things we have long celebrated – free markets, trade, immigration and technological change,” Zarkaria writes.  As the nation moves forward, he advises we should become a kind of “global broker,” forging close relationships with other countries, exchanging the role of didadtic superpower for one of “consultation, cooperation, and even compromise.” 

The character of March was based (by Alcott and Brooks alike) on the real life character of Bronson Alcott, Louisa May’s father, a transcendentalist philosopher, educator, and abolititionist, who traveled in the same circles as Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson.  Alcott, though a learned man, was willing to “put his money where is mouth is,” establishing the first integrated classrooms, as well as a commune we would today classify as vegan, where no animals or animal products were eaten or used. 

During every crucial period in the history of a society and its people, survival requires men and women with innovative ideas as well as the wisdom to express them and the bravery to enact them.

Challenges and changes are inevitable results of the march of time.  It’s how we respond to them that determines how time will march forward into the future.

Now tell me, what have you read lately that’s affected your outlook on the world?



by Geraldine Brooks

pub. 2005, by Penguin Books

273 pages

The Post American World

by Fareed Zakaria

pub. 2008, Norton & Co.

292 pages


11 thoughts on “The Sunday Salon – The March of Time

  1. I have to tell you, this is just a breathtaking post. You’ve really given me a nice push to pick up March because I share all of the same sentiments you express here.

  2. You ask about books that change outlook. It would be accurate to say that Robbe-Grillet’s novel The Erasers had this effect on me, although his non-linear approach and insistence that the world does not run in orderly patterns is old news. The novel was published in 1953, after all, and this was a reading experiences that reminded me once again of what I already knew, but it was good to hear it again in a new form. It’s both a stark and playful novel.

  3. I also just wanted to say I really enjoyed reading your review. You really put the time period in which March is set, as well as today’s world, in perspective.

  4. Becca,

    When I read March, about a year ago, I felt a bit of recognition and commonalisty in what was and is happening now. It has been said, “The more things change, the more they stay the same. ”

    I have not yet read Zakaria’s newest book but I certainly will in the coming days.

  5. I recently read ‘Fast Food Nation’ which certainly made me reflect on the fast food business but also the meat industry in our nation. Interesting and disturbing to see the connections between fast food, slaughterhouses and politics. I learned about shifts in our society since the arrival of the golden arches. I have made some changes in my eating habits since reading this book. Now I am engrossed in ‘Animal, Vegetable, Miracle’ by Barbara Kingsolver. I can only read a few pages at a time since there is so much information to digest in each paragraph. Even though I have only just begun this book, I have no doubt that the way I look at food in our society will be forever changed. It even motivated me to start a veggie garden as I attempt to eat foods grown locally.

  6. I’ve not read (or didn’t know anything about) March but this is fascinating, being an Alcott fan from childhood. I read the “real” (vs. abridged childhood version) in third grade and ever since then I was Jo! But taking it beyond, to the father, is a fascinating premise.

    Your observations about today’s political, social and economic climate and correllations to the book are fascinating and so very thoughtprovoking.

    Speaking of which, I haven’t read much that has changed me! (Although, finishing Groucho’s memoir did change my thoughts about that particular Marx brother!). I’m thinking possibly “Blink” by Malcolm Gladwell, certainly changed how I thought about quick assessments and reactions — equally valuable in a political year!

  7. What an interesting premise! I’m never quite sure what to think of books that reimagine old classics, (I was deeply disappointed in Scarlett, the “sequel” to Gone with the Wind). This one does sound intriguing. The Civil War was a chaotic time! The basics most people know from high school really don’t cover what the time period was like. Like you said, the war wasn’t about slavery per se. People don’t always know that!

    Anyhow, great post!

  8. What a thoughtful and intriguing post! I haven’t read either of the books you mention (although I’m keen to read something by Geraldine March), but the Zakaria book might just pip her.

  9. ‘March’ was an eye-opener for me as well, in as much as I hadn’t realised the antipathy felt by the Northern troops for the slaves. Obviously, the American Civil War is not that well taught in English schools but this was a very unexpected take on it.

  10. Hello-
    Just found your blog and what a find! Beautiful. I will return. Have you read Barbara Pym? A friend recommended her a few years back during my stint at a local library. I was hooked on the first book I read – Excellent Women.

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