The Downfall of the Naive

[(Essay dated June 13, 2009) In this essay L. D. will examine what lack of experience and the desire to see the good in everything, can do to a person and the people that they then effect because of this. Good intentions are not always met will good results, as seen in this book by Geraldine Brooks.]

This book, March, by Geraldine Brooks is during a time of intense hardship for the people of a torn country. The story is set during the cruel and extremely violent Civil War, where families were separated and people were afraid. As the main character John March begins his story by writing a letter to his wife and daughters at home, there is a familiarity about his family. They are the characters of the book Little Women, he writes about Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy to his wife Marmee while he is away at war. This book is very interesting because it puts a spin on a classic, by switching the point of view and the main character of the story. Mr. March is the narrator, telling of his difficulties growing up and his shocking experiences during a very bloody and gruesome war.

“Name a vice, Mr. March: laziness, deceit, debauchery, theft. Place your trust in a slave and soon, very soon, you will see how proficient he is in any and all of them.”
“But, sir, surely the very condition of enslavement, not the slaves' inherent nature, must account for such lapses of honor. The heart is a crimson organ, be it within white breast or in black, and surely wickedness may dwell alike in either...” (p. 25)

This is a conversation between Mr. March, a northerner, and a man he was staying with Mr. Clement, a very well educated, wealthy, white southerner. This passage found within the first two chapters, really shows Mr. March's naive thoughts and lack of knowledge of the south and the people of that time. This conversation occurs before the Civil War, while March is still a youth, on his travels as a peddler, selling many different items. Mr. Clement's side of the conversation is the voice of many white southerners during that time, and really shows their views of African Americans. Mr. March being very young does not understand this philosophy and argues the more logical and more moral way of looking at this. He doesn't see color he only sees, good versus evil, and that wickedness can be living in the soul of anyone. He is unaware and confused by this statement made by Mr. Clement, because it hardly seems fair. March is basing his opinion solely on ethics alone, not aware of the unfairness of the place in which he is living. This experience of March's only foreshadows his morally driven acts of kindness and feeling bothered by sights of injustice. This is the beginning of his pursuit to help people in anyway he possibly can, and his expectations of others to do the same.

This naive characteristic proves to be a weakness of the main character's because, he doesn't truly understand the gravity of many situations he finds himself in. He is so eager to help and be of assistance to anyone who needs it, that he doesn't think of the consequences that inevitably will follow. March with his good intentions, tries to teach one of the slaves at Clement's estate, how to read. This of course was illegal at this point in history and if discovered, their could be very serious consequences. When the master of the estate, Mr. Clement, does discovers this, he has the slave, Grace, who initiated the idea of the teaching, whipped. John March is deeply effected by this act in which he is forced to watch, because of his breaking of the master's rules and the law. After being asked to leave the estate, he feels such guilt for what he has just witnessed and feels very remorseful for his actions. This entire situation was fueled by his desire to teach and help people that he viewed as good, deserving people. He did not foresee the problems that it would cause, because he did not fully understand the position of blacks during that time, in that place. His innocence seems to get the best of him and holds him back.

“So as, with one ear, we hear the good tidings of great joy that shall be to all people, with the other we heard the resonant voice of the auctioneer cry out: “Bring up the niggers!” As we contemplated the teachings to be drawn from the greatest life ever lived, the voice without crying up the lot in hand: two children without the mother, who had been kidnapped therefrom. My thoughts flew to the verse “suffer the little children to come unto me,” and had I then the means, I would have marched out and bought those children their freedom. What was most striking to me was that no one else in the church seemed to mark what was going on without and when the pastor asked for subscriptions to aid in sending the scriptures into Africa, I could bear this no longer, but stood in my place and asked how it was that the Good News could not be sent more cheaply to the beings on the auction block next door? This was greeted with hisses and tuttings and a cold request that I leave, which I did, speedily and without regret.” (p. 43)

This is a really great, informative passage that, definitely reveals the thoughts of the majority of people in the south at that time. The actions of the people in the church, or lack of actions is very eye opening. Even in a church, they did not want to acknowledge the fact that they were the worst of hypocrites. Having African Americans being sold off, with no respect or honor, like they are just objects, or goods being sold off to the highest bidder. Their refusal to see what is right in front of them , is hard for Mr. March to understand. He is outraged by this, that these people, these good religious people, are so willing to talk about helping the people in Africa, but yet not the people only a short distance away from them. This is where the main character's innocence and naive nature come into play. His confusion surrounding their behavior, leads him to a most important discovery. That even when he wants to see the good in everyone, and believe that the right thing in the end will be done, that that doesn't always happen. He is similar to these people, in the simple fact that they are blinded by their own beliefs and thoughts, that they refuse to see the crime being committed right in front of them. Mr. March is also blinded, but by something else, by his desire to see the good in everything and his unwavering optimism. At this point he has almost an awakening to now see the ignorance that surrounds him and his inability to control it, or stop it.

His innocence also works against him, because unknowingly, he sometimes makes the situation even worse for the people he is trying to help. It is not a lack of knowledge that hurts him, because he is very well educated, it is his childlike hope that he can help everyone. His optimism is actually a very odd characteristic, especially during this terrible time in history. This time in history was horrible and it tore families apart. Men had to sacrifice their lives in many brutal battles, and then had to see the man standing next to him die from a bullet wound, that pierced his flesh. The number of casualties was tremendous and disease was extremely likely. There was not much to be optimistic about, however John March was an exception, until guilt took hold of him. His naive thoughts and lack of experience led him to hurt many people, in which he had the intentions to help. This made him feel sorrow and guilt for what he had done, and what he was unable to do. When he could not help someone, he would blame himself and feel responsible, he could not just understand that he could not help everyone.

During the war he was aiding the Union as a chaplain, however as the story progresses after seeing specific acts of injustice taking place, caused by the men he was supposed to be fighting with, he is forced to leave. The colonel does not understand or see his good intentions, and sees him as a person who is going against the other men and not getting along with them, as seen is this passage.
“March, I tried to put this kindly, but if you insist on the blunt truth, then you shall have it. I have to tell you that McKillop is lodging a complaint against you, and some of what he plans to put in I tis rather... indelicate. I'm not about to pry into your personal affairs. You may be chaplain, but you're a soldier at war, and a man, and these things happen...”

“Colonel, if Captain McKillop has implied...”
“March, let me do you a kindness. Do yourself one. Request reassignment to the superintendent of contraband. Who knows? You may be able to do a deal of good there.” (p. 72)

This shows how he was punished for nothing, and that he is made to feel bad, when in all actuality he did absolutely nothing wrong. This then causes him to feel even more guilt, because he feels he let his family down, and thought they would be disappointed in him. However, what he thought was a sense of pride from his wife in him fighting for the north, it was actually not that at all. His determination to see the best in a situation had blurred his vision, and he was no longer able to differentiate the truth from his own interpretation of what he thought was right. This is his struggle, throughout the entire novel, and his biggest challenge.

The end of the novel really deals with his struggle to accept himself and accept that he can not help everyone. This fact is informed to Marmee, his wife, when she is visiting Mr. March in the hospital, as he is suffering from yellow fever. His illness is getting progressively worse and in this passage, the cause for this is revealed.

“She smoothed the coverlid and lifted his hand so that they lay pale against the white sheet. “If-when-he returns again to consciousness, I think you must find a way to speak with him that will diminish the guilt he feels about the past. He must be brought to care about the life-the future-that awaits him. I think you have daughters?”
“Four of them,” I said.
“Speak to him of them, remind him of their needs, his duty. That girl-woman-whoever she was-who saved him: she was right in what she struggled to set down about him: he is a good, kind man. But I don't think he sees himself that way anymore. It will fall to you to convince him of it, if you want him to live.”(p. 246)

This realization is that his efforts are important, in trying to do what he can for people, and that it is not his fault if the outcome does not go the way he had wanted it to. The most important thing is that he tried, he can do no more than try his hardest to save people, if they do not want to be saved or it is too late, at least he tried. Mr. March's desire for the good does bring him down, however it is a characteristic that is rare, and there is a need for more people like him in the world. Sometimes hope and support is all someone needs to feel safe and secure, and have a reason for living. He knows now that is out of his hands and his intentions are nothing but honorable and he can be proud of himself for that. Lack of experience and his naive nature is what hurt him, not his giving heart.

(LD 2009)

History, Full of Repetition?

[(Essay dated June 13, 2009) In this essay L. D. will examine the importance of history and how the decisions that people make can completely change it, or cause it to repeat itself with no progress made.]

In People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks there is a message that has to do with history and the affects of time. Within the pages of this book there are many different stories being told, all connected to the history of the Sarajevo Haggadah, a Hebrew manuscript. This manuscript is unlike many others because it has beautiful illuminations within it, and it has traveled many places in hopes to guarantee its safety. As the author goes through all the people, over centuries, who have had something to do with the book's history, there is a similarity between each story.

How does time affect the world that we live in, and do we learn from our mistakes? Or do we just keep repeating them? The struggles that Jews have had to overcome for centuries is what this book deals with in depth. The challenges just to fit in to a specific place has proven to be much more difficult for them, than many others. However, they are judged for their religion and their beliefs and not on what kind of people they are, and that is the problem. In this line from the book, it is evident, exactly how they were treated and looked down upon, “In any case, the manifesto states that a Jew is without honor from the day of his birth. That he cannot differentiate between what is dirty and what is clean. That he is ethically subhuman and dishonorable.” (p.114) This is how a Jewish man or woman was viewed in Vienna in 1894. This is such a cruel statement and really amplifies the way Jews were seen and how they were insulted. There was no respect and no remorse for what was done to them. To be judged solely on your beliefs alone is a terrible crime and shows the lack of willingness to accept and understand. This kind of behavior has happened all throughout history, and not only to Jews but many different religious groups, that are just not given a chance to be understood.

This book shows that time can not change an issue by itself, it is necessary for people to stand up and defend these groups and show acceptance. Ignorance can not be allowed by anyone, it can not be an excuse for what has gone wrong. Even over many centuries, the places may have changed and a few small details, however the underlying factor has not, and that is that Jews have been isolated and punished for their beliefs. This, just like many other problems will not resolve itself over time, something needs to be done to stop it. All of the different stories throughout this book, even though they are during all different times, they all still deal with the same issues. The time did not change the problem, however the other people involved who protected the Haggadah, which is a huge part of the Jewish history, did show what could be done to turn everything around. Even over hundreds of years there are the same problems, the same people struggling and this book shows the acts of kindness of Muslims and Christians, toward Jews. Not only does this apply to Jews but to anyone in general. Time will not fix a problem automatically, actions need to be taken to solve the issue. This book goes through many generations and has traveled through many countries, its history involves many different people who have struggled.

“All over Aragon that night, Jews were being forced to the baptismal font, driven to conversion by fear of exile.” (p. 258)

This sentence describes the life of many Jews in Tarragona in 1492, in which fear of death would force many of them to change their religion. Fear was ingrained in their heads, so that they would not have the courage to fight back, because they were too afraid. Even when the Jews during this time helped the King and Queen, it was not enough for them to care what happened to these people. So they could only do two things really, leave, which would be very difficult, or convert. They would have to give up their beliefs and what they centered their entire life around, just because it was different. Even though this small passage is hundreds of years before the other one, it still deals with the same separation among people. The separation shown throughout this book is reason for concern and is still a huge part of our society today. We as people do not segregate based on understanding, we do it based on fear of different ideas. We are scared of what we don't know, however usually many groups who are fighting are more similar than most people would believe. Ignorance needs to stop and, the intentions for change need to be put into motion to unite groups, rather than separate them even further.

Even after all that time, the difference of centuries, what had changed? There still was a completely negative view of the Jews. The fact is that the Jews really did absolutely nothing to deserve this isolation and harsh treatment, and did nothing differently from any other religious group. The hatred toward them was fueled by nothing concrete and Antisemitism during those times was truly devastatingly astounding.

Hanna Heath the main character of People of the Book is a rare book conservationist, who is very dedicated to her job and wants the Sarajevo Haggadah to be appreciated, by not only Jews but other people as well. She is determined to know its history and the stories behind it. She is just one of those people who can change everything around, and show the world what was wrong with actions in the past. Hanna wants the history to come alive through the pages of this book. This is where the author uses great descriptive words to describe the book and its abilities. The language throughout is what makes this book so interesting and really connects the reader to Hanna and what she hopes to accomplish. As she researches, she learns a great deal about the history of the book. Hanna learns that it took many people to create the book, not only Jews. She learns that an African American Muslim woman was the person who drew all the beautiful, vivid illuminations within it. This discovery is so important not only to the book's history, but the entire world. It changes everything, because this very old Hebrew manuscript was written by a Jew, and illustrated by a Muslim. These two religions are intertwined through history.

This book is definitely based on time and what it can do to people, and how it can change them and resolve issues. To be able to have knowledge of what happened so many years ago is something very amazing. The importance of history and culture really comes alive through the authors word choice. The voices that she uses from the past and her voice through the main character, Hanna, makes the reader see what new found knowledge can do. To be able to learn more about our past, just better prepares our world for the future. Where would we be without history?

“No,” he said. “Not now. You know I am not a religious man. But Hanna, I have spent many nights, lying awake here in this room, thinking that the haggadah came to Sarajevo for a reason. It was here to test us, to see if there were people who could see that what united us was more than what divided us. That to be a human being matters more that to be a Jew or a Muslim, Catholic or Orthodox.” (p. 361)

This passage supports that religion should not divide people and turn them against one another. That it should not be a deciding factor for a view of a certain person, and to judge based on that alone is ridiculous. To have the opportunity to learn from our past and from people of all different religions and cultures is a gift that should not be taken for granted. Not everyone is going to have the same opinion, the same views, or the same way of life. But that is not what is important, what is important is that we accept and try and understand in the best way possible. There needs to be respect for people of different religions and different beliefs.

Time is a huge part of this book, the fact is that time, no matter how much of it, is not going to change anything. People need to change and be open to other people and new ideas, that may be different. We have the great ability to learn from what has happened in the past and when actions are wrong and undeserving, we can make sure that they don't happen again. Religion is what makes us different and unique, however that is not the only thing and it does not define us as people. This book shows that many people are willing to risk their lives to save a very important piece of history. However, why should they even have to risk anything at all?

(LD 2009)