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The March  
Cover of the first edition
Author E.L. Doctorow
Country United States
Language English
Genre(s) Historical fiction
Publisher Random House
Publication date 2005
Media type Print (Hardcover and Softcover)
Pages 384 pp
ISBN 0375506713
OCLC Number 60596218
Dewey Decimal 813/.54 22
LC Classification PS3554.O3 M37 2005

The March is a 2005 historical fiction novel by E. L. Doctorow. It won the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction (2006) and the National Book Critics Circle Award/Fiction (2005).

Plot summary[]

Published in 2005 by E.L. Doctorow, The March is a historical fiction novel set in late 1864 and early 1865 near the conclusion of the American Civil War. Central to the novel is the character of General William Tecumseh Sherman as he marches his 60,000 troops through the heart of the South, carving a 60 mile wide scar of destruction in their wake. As a result of Sherman’s order to live off the land, his soldiers wreak chaos as they pillage homes, steal cattle, burn crops, and accumulate a nearly unmanageable population of freed slaves and refugees who have nowhere else to go. While the novel revolves around the decisions of General Sherman, the novel has no specific main character. Instead, Doctorow retells Civil War history according to the individual lives of a large and diverse cast of characters—-white and black, rich and poor, Union and Confederate--whose lives are caught up in the violence and trauma of the war.

The character of General Sherman is an unstable strategic genius who longs for a sense of romance in the war he wages and chafes under the implications of a post-war bureaucracy. Charismatic, yet often detached, Sherman is idolized by his men and the freed slaves who follow behind in hope of a better future. Pearl is a young and attractive former slave who is unsure about her future and the attention she is now receiving from the handsome Union soldiers. She must decide whether to follow the advice of other emancipated slaves or choose to seek the possibilities she hopes the conclusion of the war will bring. Colonel Sartorius is a cold yet brilliant field surgeon who is seemingly numb to the horrors of war due to his close and frequent proximity to the surgical hacksaw which he carries with him everywhere. Trained in Germany, Sartorius experiments with new techniques on his patients and becomes consumed with his work, leaving little time for regret, romance, or pain. Arly and Will are two Confederate soldiers who serve the roles of the Shakespearian fool, alternately offering comic relief and poignant wisdom. Their antics are wild and chaotic and include defecting to the Union, impersonation, and robbing a church in order to be able to pay for a trip to a brothel. Emily Thompson is a displaced southern aristocrat who becomes the assistant and passionless lover to Colonel Sartorius.

The novel ends when the war ends, exposing the cautious optimism of the freed slaves and beleaguered soldiers. The final scene of the novel describes the faint smell of gunpowder dissipating through a forest with the lonely image of the boot and shredded uniform of a fallen soldier lying in the dirt. While Doctorow’s characters express guarded hope now that the conflict is over, the physical and psychological toll of the war has left its scars on the people and the land and no one is quite sure what to do next.


By focusing on the personal lives of his characters, rather than battles or other historic events, Doctorow is able to stylistically distance himself from other works of historical fiction that seek to glamorize or merely dramatize history. While the looming figure of General Sherman provides a connection for Doctorow’s characters, no single person carries a majority of the weight of the narrative. Because of this, what is otherwise well known Civil War history is retold through multiple viewpoints and voices simultaneously and presented to the reader as a mosaic of complications, confusion, and ambivalence. Structurally, The March frequently works in pairs of characters with conflicting backgrounds and needs. Emily and Sartorious, for example, work together in the field hospital and try to cope with the visceral trauma of a never ending number of grisly operations; Arly and Will struggle for identity and ethics as they defect to the Union Army. Also, several characters in the novel are connected or reused from other Doctorow novels. The impassive Colonel Sartorious hails from The Waterworks and the freed slave Coalhouse Walker is the ostensible father of Ragtime’s jazz pianist Coalhouse Walker Jr. While these references are not crucial to the plot, they hint at a wider mythology for the novel in a fashion similar to William Faulkner.

Critical reception[]

The March has been widely praised by critics since its publication and was a New York Times Bestseller. In 2006 the novel won the PEN/Faulkner fiction award, which Doctorow had previously won in 1990 for his novel Billy Bathgate. The March also won the 2005 National Book Critics Award and was a finalist for the 2005 National Book Award and the 2006 Pulitzer Prize.

External links[]

de:Der Marsch (Roman) fr:The March (roman)