Friday, October 12, 2007

E L Doctorow: Tasting God on The March

As the American Civil War wound towards its conclusion, General Sherman marched 60,000 Union troops through the southern states, leaving a sixty mile trail of destruction, rape, looting and death.

The story of The March is retold by novelist E L Doctorow who specializes in writing cameos to personalize the impact of the long trudge as experienced by farm owners, soldiers and slaves.

In one chapter that deals with the plight of the deserters, Doctorow records the conversations of two who are in prison.

Arly, says to a young boy:

“Are you for religion, young Will?”
“I never did countenance it.”
“Well I look at it this way. God has raised his hand to give us respite. It could be that he has something more in mind for us. With this time on our hands, we should try to figure what it is. Because he don’t do pointless acts of charity.”

Some time later these two come across the dead bodies of some Union soldiers and they decide to take their uniforms, escape and join the march. Changing uniforms, they try to remember what the word was for the next thing down from ‘deserter’. With new uniforms they get themselves a horse. In their new dress, new allegiance, new transport and new spirit the strongly religious conversation continues:

“We are rich men with that horse,” Arly said. Patting his tunic, he found a flask of bourbon in his pocket. He unscrewed the cap and took a swig. “Whoeee! Taste this, young Will. Go on. If you had any doubts God meant us to survive, just you have a taste of this!”

E L Doctorow, The March (London: Random House, 2005).

Image: Front cover of The March.