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For February’s Readers’ Review, E.L. Doctorow’s historic novel about Union Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman’s path of destruction through the deep South near the end of the Civil War. The title is “The March.” Diane invites listeners to join the discussion.
- Dana Williams professor of African American literature and chair of the English department at Howard University.
- Adam Goodheart author of "1861: The Civil War Awakening" and director of Washington College’s C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience.
- Faye Moskowitz professor of English and creative writing at George Washington University, and author of three memoirs, "A Leak in the Heart," "And the Bridge is Love," "Peace in the House" and a collection of short stories, "Whoever Finds this: I Love You."
Read An Excerpt
Excerpted from “The March” by E. L. Doctorow. Copyright © 2005 by E.L. Doctorow. Excerpted by permission of Random House Trade Paperbacks, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. For this month's "Readers' Review," E.L. Doctorow, award-winning novel of the Civil War, "The March." The book draws on history to portray Sherman's march across The South. The Union Army becomes like a nonhuman creature, destroying everything in its path.
MS. DIANE REHMHere in the studio, Faye Moskowitz, professor of English and creative writing at George Washington University. Adam Goodheart, author of the best selling history, "1861: The Civil War Awakening." And Dana Williams, professor of African American literature and chair of the Department of English at Howard University. I invite you to be part of the program, give us a call, 800-433-8850. Send us your email to firstname.lastname@example.org, follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Good morning to all of you.
MS. DANA WILLIAMSGood morning.
MS. FAYE MOSKOWITZGood morning.
REHMGood to see you all hear. Adam Goodheart, I realize that E.L. Doctorow has written a novel. How accurate does, how accurately does he portray, in your view, Sherman's march?
MR. ADAM GOODHEARTWell, it's interesting because in some ways he gets a lot wrong. As a historian, as I read through this book, I noticed all kinds of places where his descriptions of weapons are a little bit off, of technology, of medicine. I think his use of language for some of the characters is not the way that people would've spoken in the 19th century.
MR. ADAM GOODHEARTBut then I have to ask myself, in looking at fiction, how much does that really matter? Because it is an inventive world and I think he gets a lot of the big stuff right.
GOODHEARTWell, such the way that this war, The Civil War especially, almost had a kind of gravitational force of its own, as wars do. they commence for a certain reason, a certain set of political causes but then very quickly they draw all kinds of people in and stories in ways that have little to do with the grand political and ideological causes. I also think that he got some the characters, such as the character of Sherman himself, very wonderfully right.
REHMDana Williams, I wonder how you approached this novel. What it meant to you and how you saw Sherman's character?
WILLIAMSI thought it was a very good representation, as Adam has suggested, of historical fiction and interestingly enough as you were talking, I was thinking about the fact that even some histories are fictionalized because we aren't completely there and even when we're there we have to make certain selections about what we choose to include and what things we don't include necessarily. So I thought it was an interesting representation of, not just Sherman, but the march as well.
REHMAnd what about the freed slaves, the extent to which many of them stayed loyal to their masters or mistresses, the extent to which they joined the march?
WILLIAMSI thought that that was a very complicated and importantly complicated representation because you saw characters who did stay but stayed for very clear reasons. Very seldom were they staying out of a pure kind of loyalty, even as the character Pearl, for instance, has very difficult times relating to a stepmother.
WILLIAMSAs a matter of fact, as we know in the book she doesn't even know what to call her. What do you call a person who is not your mother but whose husband is your father? So even as she doesn't necessarily want to like her, as a matter of fact, she dislikes her, but there's this human spirit in her that insists that she treat her better than she has been treated. So I think Pearl is a good example of a person who figures out what it means to be a freed person.
WILLIAMSAnd then there's the character of Calvin who does a similar kind of thing. He's fully aware that as a black person he cannot be by himself. So even as he wants to leave Culp potentially he knows that Culp needs him as much as he needs Culp and then of course when Arly takes over the character, it becomes a similar kind of challenge for him.
REHMFaye Moskowitz, how did you feel about the novel as history and as fiction?
MOSKOWITZWell, I have to say I'm a tremendous fan of Doctorow's and I was much moved by "The March." I found it incantatory, I found it hallucinatory, I found it surreal, I found it uber-real and because I'm not a Civil War buff it brought to me, brought home to me the chaos, the upheaval that occurred in the South as a result of Sherman's march.
REHMFaye, I totally agree with you. I was, I mean, my heart began to beat more rapidly as I read because I could almost feel the chaos. I could almost feel the horror of families trying to get out and run and leave behind their belongings and then the destructiveness of the armies coming in and deliberately wrecking everything. It was a horrible feeling, Adam.
GOODHEARTYou know, it's amazing how he sort of breaks a lot of the rules of narrative fiction, the conventions of narrative fiction, to achieve a kind of realism. There isn't a lot in the way of a continuous plot in the book and there are characters who, you're getting into their subjectivity, you're getting into their heads and you think you're going to see this experience through them and then suddenly they're dead. And they're dead in a sort of a random way in an instant in the way that happens in war and in a way that happens in life but not usually in fiction.
WILLIAMSWill's death especially reminded me of that where for a short period of time we don't know that Will is dead.
REHMTell us who Will is.
WILLIAMSWill is one of the characters, along with Arly, who is actually a Confederate soldier, who was imprisoned and then frees himself or the two of them free themselves, in part at least, because they're also freed. But then they take on Union soldiers uniforms because that's the convenient thing for them to do. and then they become Confederates again at a different point so it highlights the kind of complexity that they're grappling with.
WILLIAMSBut at one point, Arly has Will and is carrying him and he's trying to take his picture and I wasn't absolutely sure whether or not he was actually dead until they bury him and I thought, well I thought Will died in the last chapter but the way that he's sitting him posing and then, of course, we learn that Arly continues to talk to Will even when he has gone.
REHMTell us about Sherman himself, Adam, and how he sees this march.
GOODHEARTWell, I think that Doctorow does a beautiful job of capturing Sherman as a character, which in some ways is kind of easy because Sherman was a wonderful writer. he wrote a memoir after the war that was one of the great Civil War memoirs, indeed, one of the great American memoirs. It's sort of easier to get into his head than into Lincoln's head in many ways, who wrote very little about himself.
GOODHEARTAnd so Doctorow's portrayal, I think, he was quite close to the understanding of Sherman that one gets from his writing, that this was a man who, you know, there are a lot of misperceptions about Sherman, that he was motivated by vengefulness, that he hated the Southerners. And I think it was quite different, I think he did have a sense of himself as a sort of an instrument of God's will in a similar way perhaps to what Lincoln had.
GOODHEARTBut it was the idea that he was actually bringing an end to this war by marching through the South and inflicting this pain. He was actually going to heal the nation. Of course, it gets close things that we remember from the Vietnam War, destroying the village in order to save it.
REHMExactly and he talks about the idea of wanting to make sure that this beast never rises again. He wants to make sure that the South never attempts to break up these United States again but he's doing so in such a brutal way, Faye.
MOSKOWITZDiane, if it's all right, there's a little section toward the end of the book that does sort of get you, Doctorow gets into what he thinks is Sherman's mind and by the way, he did, he did read Sherman's memoirs, Doctorow did, and admired them very much.
MOSKOWITZHe says, "Though this march is done and well accomplished, I think of it now, God help me, with longing, not for its blood and death but for the bestowal of meaning to the very ground trod upon. How it made every field and swamp and river and road into something of moral consequence. Whereas now, as the march dissolves so does the meaning. The army strewing itself into the isolated intentions of diffuse private life.
MOSKOWITZAnd the terrain thereby left blank and also diffuse and ineffable, a thing once again and victoriously without reason and whether diurnally lit in darkness or seer or fruitful or raging or calm, completely insensible and without any purpose of its own."
MOSKOWITZWoof is right.
REHMReally, a powerful writing on Doctorow's part but I wonder if you have read those diaries of Sherman?
GOODHEARTYes, and Sherman was a marvelous writer and, in fact, expressed himself in very eloquent terms. He was a wonderful writer, actually, in the midst of this march. He wrote letters that were incredibly eloquent, including, there's one famous letter that he wrote actually to the city council of Atlanta, in which he wrote, "War is cruelty and you cannot refine it. Those who brought war into our country deserve all the curses and maledictions a people can pour out." So he was writing almost in these biblical cadences about himself as he lived this history.
REHMAdam Goodheart, he's director of Washington College's Center for the Study of the American Experience. He's author of "1861: The Civil War Awakening." I hope you'll join us, 800-433-8850. We're talking about E.L. Doctorow's "The March."
REHMAnd if you've just joined us for this month's Readers' Review, we're talking about E. L. Doctorow's prize-winning novel "The March," all about Sherman's march through the South as the Civil War was nearing its end. Here in the studio, Adam Goodheart. He's author of "1861: The Civil War Awakening." Dana Williams is professor of African-American literature, chair of the Department of English at Howard University. And Faye Moskowitz. She's professor of English and creative writing at George Washington, University, author of three memoirs and a collection of short stories.
REHMIf you'd like to join us, 800-433-8850. Send an email to email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. Here is an email from Luke who says, "It has always been my opinion that Sherman is one of the most evil persons in history, since he's the general who fully realized the theory of total war which has proved so devastating ever since, not just in the Civil War but during his leadership of the military in the West against Native Americans during the Grant Administration. I know there were precursors in the 30-years war and the Napoleonic Wars, but I put the blame for this type of suffering squarely on Sherman." Dana, what do you think?
WILLIAMSTwo things. One, I think the representation of Sherman's character as exclusively the evil one in terms of a theory of war is a difficult one for a number of reasons. I'm thinking of a particular section in the book where we see a character -- a soldier actually enact really the traumas of war. And it's a particularly poignant section for me. If I can I'd just take a very brief look at it.
WILLIAMSThe soldier, a bloody slash across his face, caught the whip in his hand, pulled it to him and knocked the woman to the ground. And now he began to beat her, shouting and raising the whip high and bringing it down on her as she screamed and attempted to crawl away. You'd whip me? he shouted? You'd whip me? But as she crawled so he struck, her cries inflaming him. This seemed even more of a diversion to the others than shooting at dishes. And within moments several of the troops were gathered around the action, obscuring Price's view. His urge was to step in and try to stop what was happening, but he knew he wouldn't.
WILLIAMSThis was not your country, he told himself. This is not your war. The sergeant had come running over shouting, she's white goddamn it. This is a white woman. It seemed a matter of urgency for Price to get the boy out of there, this awful business not for a child's eyes. The woman's screams had given way to whales. They were tearing off her clothes and over the backs of huddled troops hanks and shreds of the garments flew into the air. And part of what I read when I was taking a look at this piece in particular was that Sherman's not present, that war has overcome all of them. It has become a thing in and of itself.
WILLIAMSAnd the second thing that I was thinking that I'll mention very briefly is, even as Sherman is responsible for ensuring, as you said, that there would never be this break apart of the Union, it's an also very complicated attempt to grapple with American slavery. And so at other points we see in the text that it's not so much about the secession as it is about what indentured servitude might mean. And so we see one of the characters beginning to wonder whether or not slavery becomes the excuse or whether or not the country will find a new way to deal with indentured servitude.
GOODHEARTYou know, I actually think that a lot of the rancor that's been directed against Sherman by Southerners in the 19th century and since then has to do with the fact that as he marched through these slaves were escaping. He was destroying slavery. And this was a man who we know was not an abolitionist before the war. He actually lived in Louisiana before the war very comfortably in a slave society. But he saw in destroying slavery the opportunity to strike at one of the basis of the power of the South. So just as he would destroy a Southern munitions cash or a Southern fort, he destroyed slavery.
GOODHEARTAnd in doing so he was destroying the wealth and the economic livelihood and the social system of these plantations he passed through. And actually in terms of the trauma to civilians, I think that was much more significant than his burning of plantation houses, which did occur. But he actually tried and we see this in his orders and his letters. He tried to restrain his troops. He tried to confine himself to military targets. And I think mostly actually succeeded in doing that, although there were scenes -- that rape that Dana just described so harrowingly, actually is based on a factual event.
MOSKOWITZWell, I was struck by the scene that Dana read, as a very dear colleague of mine also reminded me of this scene last night. And that the part that comes before is that a Southern plantation owner, a slave owner is sitting on his front porch and he is saying to his slaves, go with them. Go. Go with these soldiers. You'll never be smart enough. You'll never be smart enough to live without me. And as he is saying this a young woman comes out of the house -- because the black people are wondering, should we go, should we not go, are...
REHM...or should we stay?
MOSKOWITZ...are we going to be okay? And the white woman that Dana referred to runs out of the house with a little whip and she's about to whip a child, David, a child who appears later in the book, who thinks I'll go. I'll go with the soldiers. I'll go with the soldiers. So as she's raising the whip to whip this little child -- this little black child, the soldier -- one of the soldiers grabs her arm. So it's a two-part story. It's a two-part story, which again leads me to the genius of Doctorow. He could've told either one of these scenes alone and it would not have had the resonance that it does when the two are put together.
GOODHEARTYou know, emancipation in this book, it's not so much a kind of liberation as it is a sort of untethering for these characters in both good and bad ways. They're being unshackled but their also cut loose from their past. At the beginning we see the young slave girl Pearl saying farewell to the grave of her mother and wondering who's going to tend to this grave on the plantation without her. But knowing she has to go towards an uncertain future. And of course the untethering is something that happens in war to the white characters as well as the black characters. There are men who are morally untethered, unmoored in the midst of this cataclysm with its own force to it.
REHMI'm really fascinated, Adam, that you talked earlier about the pieces, the parts that make up this whole. It's not quite the sort of narrative that one expects from E. L. Doctorow. I've had the honor of having him on many times and he always tells such brilliant stories that have a beginning, a middle, an end. this is fragmented, as war is fragmented. As, you know, it takes centuries to put together what really happened in a war. And I think he has brilliantly portrayed this.
WILLIAMSI agree. And I think it's in part, as you suggest, because war is fragmented. And so you have to tell the story in a number of different ways. Not only because you don't know it, but because it unfolds with so many changes. And if you think about the character of Pearl as we were talking about before and her lack of understanding early on about how she is perceived and what she is to do.
REHMTell us who Pearl is.
WILLIAMSPearl is probably to me the most interesting character in the book.
WILLIAMSSo she moves from -- she certainly is -- as we mentioned earlier, she is the daughter of her slave owner. And she's unclear when she is actually in a relationship that is somewhat consensual herself whether or not this is the situation that her mother had found herself in, which is how she becomes the product of the white man and her mother. But she is also grappling with what to do with her very fair skin, because she sees herself as a part of a community that has never accepted her fully in terms of the black community, even as Roscoe comes to her and says, you go with us.
WILLIAMSBut she also sees herself as very different, knowing that her father has never accepted her and has rejected her in fact. But she still insists on standing there and being invited to the carriage. So when this become really clear to her is when she wants someone -- she wants the child to come with her and the child opts to stay with Calvin because he identifies with the other black people.
MOSKOWITZThere's a poignant moment at the very beginning that Dana is alluding to. The family -- the Jamison family, the father of whom is Pearl's father -- the Jamison family is grabbing whatever they can grab in the way of food, of goods, of furnishing, of dishes, of silver, packing it into a carriage. The whole book starts off with this chaotic movement. And Pearl is looking on and saying to herself, I'm free now. I'm free now. And yet, when Jamison, her father, does not even deign to look at her as the carriage rolls away, she's hurt. She's hurt.
REHMI have a hard time with the killing of the animals, with the attempt to kill those animals by the plantation owners so that the Northern Union forces will not find food. And it's just horrendous.
GOODHEARTAnd these are the things that we don't usually see in depictions of war.
GOODHEARTAnd I have to say, even though I'm a historian who writes about the Civil War, I don't really like the way the Civil War is usually portrayed. We get this sort of History Channel view from 30,000'...
REHM...from up here, right.
GOODHEART...yeah, these colored arrows moving across a map as if it were a football game or something like that. And Doctorow knows that war isn't these sort of big broad colored arrows. It's a bunch of little gray squiggles moving around in sort of a chaotic motion on the ground.
REHMAnd those gray squiggles happen to be creatures of all sorts...
REHM...from pigs to cows to horses to dogs. I mean, it was hard to read. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." If you'd like to join us we're talking about E. L. Doctorow's price-winning novel "The March." I do want to include our listeners so let's open the phones, 800-433-8850. First to Valdosta, Ga. Good morning, James. You're on the air.
JAMESGood morning. Thank you for taking my call.
JAMESI haven't read Doctorow's book but I am a history major and I have studied a little on the Civil War. And being from Georgia here, I was wondering if any of your guests would know or have any comments on the fact that things were so bad in the South that I've come across a story that the Confederates were actually arming civilians, including children, with what they called spikes or spear-like weapons. And the essence was that if, you know, the Union troops came so far South that, you know, small children or people could hide in the bushes and actually spike these soldiers as they come by and, you know, as they marched on the roads in the rain. You know, that could, you know, disrupt the movements of troops.
JAMESAnd, you know, it just shows how desperate and how bad things were in the South, if this story is true. And, you know, I've come across a few things and maybe seen something on Antique Road Show with somebody coming -- presenting one of these spikes. But I was just wondering if your guests would like to comment on that or (unintelligible) .
GOODHEARTWell, I haven't actually seen any accounts of children being armed that way. They did actually arm some soldiers with pikes in the Civil War, especially early, which is this amazing instance of this sort of medieval brushing up against the modern as it did in strange ways in the 1860s. But certainly there were civilians who were caught up, as Doctorow shows in all sorts of ways. But one of the ironies specifically of Georgia is that a lot of Georgia was actually pro-Union at the beginning of the Civil War. And when the vote for secession was held in 1860 and '61 -- early 1861 there was a real question as to which side Georgia was going to go with.
GOODHEARTAnd so, you know, for some people in Georgia the arrival of the Union Army was a terrible defeat but for others it was actually a welcomed thing. And I'm talking of course not just about the many hundreds of thousands of black Georgians who were of course glad to see Sherman's army, but also many of the white Georgians as well.
REHMThanks for calling, James. Let's go to Lakeland, Fla. Good morning, Bill.
BILLGood morning, Diane. I love you, I love your show.
BILLI have yet to read the novel. After this I'm going to go and get the novel and read it. I just kind of wanted to defend my Tecumseh Sherman. I've read everything that I can about Sherman and I just wanted to point out that he was raised by Thomas Ewing, whose father went back to George Washington. He was steeped in the Union. The Union was everything. His slavery was secondary. And as was noted, he was a superintendent in Louisiana at a military academy.
BILLAnd when he first read about the secession he cried. He said, this is folly. He said a Southern agricultural industry can't fight a mechanical Northern army. I mean, he really cried over the whole thing. He considered himself a Southerner, had many friends from West Point who were Southerners. And he -- when he did the march he really wanted to destroy property. He said, if we destroy property we don't destroy people. And I think that was the main thing of his march was to destroy the property, and now destroy the people and spare their lives. I'm going to hang up and enjoy your show. Thank you.
REHMThank you. Adam.
GOODHEARTYes. I did think that Sherman thought he was being merciful in an interesting way. And he said actually when he was about to burn much of the city of Atlanta, he said, we must have peace not only in Atlanta but in all of America. And so he believed that by bringing war he was actually hastening the coming of peace, of course something that many generals have said through history.
REHMBut is our caller correct that he did not -- well, obviously he did not relish killing people but he must've known he was going to have to destroy people as well as property. Faye.
MOSKOWITZWell, Doctorow's brilliant here because he does have a kind of soliloquy where Sherman is talking specifically about the dead and whether the dead dream after they go.
REHMAnd perhaps when we come back you'll read that section for us, Faye Moskowitz, professor of English and creative writing at George Washington University.
REHMAnd our Readers' Review for this month is E. L. Doctorow's novel, "The March," all about Sherman's march through the South toward the end of the Civil War. And just before the break, Faye Moskowitz, you were talking about Sherman's sentiments as E. L. Doctorow has put them forward in this book. Would you read those for us?
MOSKOWITZHe says -- this is Sherman thinking now, "What if the dead man dreams as the sleeper dreams? How do we know there is not a posthumous mind or that death is not a dream state from which the dead can't awaken? And so they are trapped in the hideous universe of such looming terrors as I have known in my nightmare. The only reason to fear death is it is not a true and sensible end of consciousness. That is the only reason I fear death.
MOSKOWITZ"In fact we don't know what it is, other than a profound humiliation. We are not made to appreciate it. As a General officer, I consider the death of one of my soldiers, first and foremost, a numerical disadvantage, an entry in the liability column. That is all my description of it. It is a utilitarian idea of death, that I am reduced by one in my ability to fight a war. When we lost so many men in the first years of the war, the president simply called for the recruitment of 300,000 more. So how could he, the president, understand death truly?" And I read that as cold, calculating and absolutely understanding what the death of each man meant to him. I feel Doctorow has presented Sherman as a very complicated character.
REHMComplicated in that he sees the death of one man as reducing his ability to carry on the war, but at the same time he's conflicted because he's wondering whether the dead men dream.
GOODHEARTAnd, you know, a sentence or two after that he talks about the death of his own boy, his young son, Willy Sherman, his namesake and a boy he was very, very close to. And Willy, in some ways, he believed was a victim of the Civil War because he had brought his family down into camp with his army the year before in Mississippi, believing that they would be safe in this Union camp. And in fact Willy was caught up in an epidemic of yellow fever and died. So Sherman believed both that his son had been a victim of the war and that he had almost killed his son himself through his folly in war.
GOODHEARTHe also -- and Doctorow mentions this in the book. When he was in the midst of this march through Georgia, at the moment of his greatest triumph in capturing Savannah, he receives news that another son of his…
GOODHEART…has died. A son he's never met. So I think he did also understand death.
REHMLet's go to Fort Wayne, Ind. Good morning, Jennifer.
JENNIFERGood morning. Thank you for taking my call.
JENNIFERI appreciate it. Can we go back to Pearl?
JENNIFERI was amazed because I am sitting here and you were talking about her father rejecting her because of the color of the skin. Is that right?
JENNIFERDid I hear that? And how I'm -- this is 2013. And how I'm sitting here relating so much to that because I'm biracial. My father's black, my mother's white. And yet, I struggle with where to fit in or what do I call myself because my white friends -- I look more Puerto Rican, but yet they say, well, what do you identify with? I'm like I really don't know because in the world like Obama and Halle, they're black. They're called black, yet, but they're mixed like me. It's odd that I'm just sitting here in 2013 still wondering, well, really, what do I call myself.
REHMAnd just think, Dana, how Pearl must have been thinking about herself.
WILLIAMSShe gives us a sense of it actually at the end of the book where she asks Steven, will it be different there? Because she knows what it means to be a black person in the South. So she's inquiring of him, now this place that you live in called Baltimore, which for all intents and purposes is still the South, right, will it be different there? And when he says, no, she says, then you're crazy. But she decides to go still. I think it's interesting that she knows that she has to identify with people who identify with her, more so than she has to just make a kind of blind decision.
WILLIAMSSo she's clear very early on in the early pages of the novel when Roscoe gives her this money that she ends up giving to her white stepbrother at one point because she says, just take Mattie away from here and take care of her. Sometimes she's out of her mind, but that kind of sympathy and humanity that she has -- and then the other coin that Roscoe gives her, which she is aware of, his life savings, she gives to Steven, ultimately to buy a mule so that they can move back toward Baltimore into a world that she intends, we imagine, to build for herself and for the community of folks that she will join.
MOSKOWITZThe ending -- or maybe we're coming to the ending a little more quickly than we might, but the ending, again to me is brilliant because there were -- and Adam and Dana can corroborate this -- there were a lot of novels after the Civil War, which attempted to show reconciliation, often in marriages, someone from the North and someone from the South would marry. And here's an instance with Pearl and Stephen Walsh, a white Irishman from the North. Here's an instance where you could say, oh, Doctorow, you're ending this bloody novel with a happy ending, but the happy ending really isn't quite there yet because while Steven says, oh, I will go up North and I will do this and you, Pearl, will go to medical school because you have learned so much as a nurse and all will be well.
MOSKOWITZShe says, "If I live white how free am I? Will freer than the other. Free everywhere, except in my heart. Is that freer than my momma, Nancy Wilkin? You will have to let the world catch up to you. Well, when's that? It may take some time."
REHMAnd that's precisely what our caller, Jennifer, is asking. Here we are in 2013. She is biracial and she is still grappling.
WILLIAMSThat scene that you were just talking about there, Faye, makes me think of Frances Harper's, "Iola Leroy," which is exactly what you are talking about in terms of a reconciliation novel that is set in reconstruction and Iola is in a very similar situation as Pearl, in the sense that her father is white. Except she has been sent away to the North and she has no idea that she's actually black. So when she finds out because the war has happened and her family has fallen on hard times, they bring her back to sell her. So she has to make a decision, at certain point when she's freed and it's a very similar situation because there's a military instance as well. And Iola has to decide whether she will marry a white doctor or if she will support a black community.
WILLIAMSAnd so she makes a very clear decision, unashamedly, that she will go with a community and she will commit herself, her life to racial uplift because she thinks about race very differently than we see Pearl attempting to grapple with it as a kind of theoretical question. Whereas Iola is clear, having seen war, what the implications would be.
REHMAll right. Let's go to Long Island, N.Y. Good morning, Susan.
SUSANGood morning, Diane. I'm so honored to participate.
REHMOh, glad to have you.
SUSANI want to share an old story I was told as a very young child before I was interested in history. I’m in my 60's now and I was born and raised in Jefferson City, Mo., which was a border state and in some ways still is. I'm told my ancestors were Yankee, but the families were torn apart. Brothers fought against brothers and families truly suffered. But Sherman's armies came through Missouri. And there's a statute to him at the outskirts of town honoring the fact that he didn't burn the capitol, didn't burn the city, which is a good thing.
SUSANI studied about my great-great, however many great-back, grandmothers passing with the army. As they went through, they took everything, took everything to eat, took everything. Didn't burn, but just devastated them and this ancestor begged with the officer to allow her to keep one shock of wheat, one piece of food there so that they would not starve. And inside that, she had hidden her son because the reputation was that they took the boys, now that it wasn't voluntary, that it was (word?) or just to cause pain, whatever it was. But then, you know, that young man became my great-great-whatever grandfather.
REHMOh, I see. What a story, Adam.
GOODHEARTYou know, it's amazing how many people have these personal ties to the Civil War in a way that I think is very different from almost any other episode in history. You know, there are actually about 100 million Americans, one in three Americans has a Civil War soldier on their family tree. And so this feels very, very present to people. As I was going around on tour for my book last year I actually met people who spoke about their grandparents, whom they knew growing up, who told them stories of actually personally being there during the Civil War. It's not that far away.
REHMAll right. To Baytown, Texas. Hi, Mary.
MARYHello, Diane. Thank you so much. One of the great things that I do every morning, while I'm in the kitchen lingering, listening to your program.
MARYAnd it means a lot. I wanted to tell you that I've gone back in my memory bank this morning and I'm remembering some young years in South Carolina outside of Columbia in an area called Sandy Run. And in the summer home that our friends had down there, there was a very large painting on the wall and I thought there were knife marks in it, cuts and they were dagger cuts. And I inquired about it one day. My dad was quite a historian. He had all of Carl Sandburg's works on the Civil War. And he said when Sherman's army came through they destroyed everything they could and the paintings, they stabbed with their daggers.
MARYAnd this family was so proud of still having that, that I'm sure today it is still on a wall in a home that they own in South Carolina.
GOODHEARTYou know, it's interesting how that march of Sherman's that was designed, in some ways, to destroy, to break the will of the country he was marching through, ended up, after the Civil War, sort of building this sense of southern pride and southern resistance that they had survived this thing. And, you know, one thing I wanted to mention as we wrap up, is that thinking about this book as a historical novel, we can also look at it as a historical novel in the sense that it was published in 2005. It was written in the aftermath of 9/11.
GOODHEARTE. L. Doctorow is a lifelong New Yorker. And so this sense of a great destructive cataclysm that appears out of the sky and it destroys things and also steels people's resolve, knits them together, perhaps, in new ways. The book begins, there's an image of a great cloud of dust rising into the sky and everyone's looking at it and wondering what it portends. And seeing their lives swept away in an instant, their families broken, their homes destroyed. I think this is very much a post 9/11 novel.
REHMAdam Goodheart. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go to Baltimore, Md. Good morning, Ben.
BENHi, how are you, Diane?
BENYou know, like many other people that have called in, I have not read this book, but I definitely am interested in the Civil War because I'm not from this country, so reading history has been a way for me to sort of solidify myself in this country, to belonging in this country. And one thing that I'm interested in to ask the panel is how does this fictional account of the Civil War cover the march into Atlanta? I'm interested in this because what Atlanta has become to the African-American people, sort of a new frontier. And the success for the African-American settlements in Atlanta didn't happen, you know, too long ago.
REHMAll right. Adam?
GOODHEARTWell, it's interesting because, sir, the most famous moment in Sherman's march, the burning of Atlanta, actually isn't described in the book. It begins, not long after the burning of Atlanta. And perhaps Faye or Dana, as literary scholars, can comment on that.
MOSKOWITZWell, as an example of this army, this march, this character in the novel, as an example of it going completely out of control. We see--it's not Atlanta, but it's another place where the soldiers haven't set the fires, but the fires are burning. They've raided the liquor stocks. They were not soldiers now.
REHMThey were out of control.
MOSKOWITZThey were demons. They were demons laughing at the sight of entire families standing stunned in the street while their houses burned.
REHMNow, here's an interesting email from Indiana. Theresa writes, "Please ask your panel what influence discovering the Andersonville, Ga. Confederate prison camp had on General Sherman. It's my understanding the terrible condition of the Union prisoners was a major, but not the sole factor, in the ferocity of the march.
GOODHEARTI think so. I think we can compare it to the Allied liberation of Dachau at the end of World War II and how there's just this sight that shows people just the horror that this war has wrought.
WILLIAMSAnd I'm thinking about Arly again, in the book, where he insists on dying as a Confederate soldier, almost in an absurd kind of way, right? He doesn't want a regular death. He knows that he's attempted Sherman's life in the text and he doesn't just want to die as an ordinary person who makes this assassination attempt on the General. He wants to die as a soldier and to be treated as a prisoner of war, essentially.
REHMDana Williams, she's professor of African-American literature, chair of the department of English at Howard University. Faye Moskowitz is professor of English and creative writing, G.W. and the author of three memoirs, a collection of short stories. Adam Goodheart, director of the Washington College Center for the Study of the American Experience and author of "1861: The Civil War Awakening." And the book we've been talking about in this hour, E. L. Doctorow's "The March." Thank you all so much for joining us. Thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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