Marching Men

by Sherwood Anderson

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Book VII: Chapter I

The idea prevalent among men that the woman to be beautiful must be hedged about and protected from the facts of life has done something more than produce a race of women not physically vigorous. It has made them deficient in strength of soul also. After the evening when she stood facing Edith and when she had been unable to arise to the challenge flung at her by the little milliner Margaret Ormsby was forced to stand facing her own soul and there was no strength in her for the test. Her mind insisted on justifying her failure. A woman of the people placed in such a position would have been able to face it calmly. She would have gone soberly and steadily about her work and after a few months of pulling weeds in a field, trimming hats in a shop or instructing children in a schoolroom would have been ready to thrust out again, making another trial at life. Having met many defeats she would have been armed and ready for defeat. Like a little animal in a forest inhabited by other and larger animals she would have known the effectiveness of lying perfectly still for a long period, making her patience a part of her equipment for living.

Margaret had decided that she hated McGregor. After the scene in her house she gave up her work in the settlement house and for a long time went about nursing her hatred. In the street as she walked about her mind kept bringing accusations against him and in her room at night she sat by the window looking at the stars and said strong words. "He is a brute," she declared hotly, "a mere animal untouched by the culture that makes for gentleness. There is something animal-like and horrible in my nature that has made me care for him. I shall pluck it out. In the future I shall make it my business to forget the man and all of the dreadful lower strata of life that he represents."

Filled with this idea Margaret went about among her own people and tried to become interested in the men and women she met at dinners and receptions. It did not work and when, after a few evenings spent in the company of men absorbed in the getting of money, she found them only dull creatures whose mouths were filled with meaningless words, her irritation grew and she blamed McGregor for that also. "He had no right to come into my consciousness and then take himself off," she declared bitterly. "The man is more of a brute than I thought. He no doubt preys upon everyone as he has preyed upon me. He is without tenderness, knows nothing of the meaning of tenderness. The colourless creature he has married will serve his body. That is what he wants. He does not want beauty. He is a coward who dare not stand up to beauty and is afraid of me."

When the Marching Men Movement began to make a stir in Chicago Margaret went on a visit to New York. For a month she lived with two women friends at a big hotel near the sea and then hurried home. "I will see the man and hear him talk," she told herself. "I cannot cure myself of the consciousness of him by running away. Perhaps I am myself a coward. I shall go into his presence. When I hear his brutal words and see again the hard gleam that sometimes comes into his eyes I shall be cured."

Margaret went to hear McGregor talk to a gathering of workingmen in a West Side hall and came away more alive to him than ever. In the hall she sat concealed in deep shadows by the door and waited with trembling eagerness.

On all sides of her were men crowded together. Their faces were washed but the grime of the shops was not quite effaced. Men from the steel mills with the cooked look that follows long exposure to intense artificial heat, men of the building trades with their broad hands, big men and small men, misshapen and straight, labouring men, all sat at attention, waiting.

Margaret noticed that as McGregor talked the lips of the working men moved. Fists were clenched. Applause came quick and sharp like the report of guns.

In the shadows at the further side of the hall the black coats of the workers made a blot out of which intense faces looked and across which the flickering gas jets in the centre of the hall threw dancing lights.

The words of the speaker were shot forth. The sentences seemed broken and disconnected. As he talked giant pictures flashed through the minds of the hearers. Men felt themselves big and exalted. A little steel worker sitting near Margaret, who earlier in the evening had been abused by his wife because he wanted to come to the meeting instead of helping with the dishes at home, stared fiercely about. He thought he would like to fight hand in hand with a wild animal in a forest.

Standing on the narrow stage McGregor seemed a giant seeking expression. His mouth worked, the sweat stood upon his forehead and he moved restlessly up and down. At times, with his hands advanced and with the eager forward crouch of his body, he was like a wrestler waiting to grapple with an opponent.

Margaret was deeply moved. Her years of training and of refinement were stripped off and she felt that, like the women of the French Revolution, she would like to go out into the streets and march screaming and fighting in feminine rage for the things of this man's mind.

McGregor had scarcely begun to talk. His personality, the big eager something in him, had caught and held this audience as it had caught and held other audiences in other halls and was to hold them night after night for months.

McGregor was something the men to whom he talked understood. He was themselves become expressive and he moved them as no other leader had ever moved them before. His very lack of glibness, the things in him wanting expression and not getting expressed, made him seem like one of them. He did not confuse their minds but drew for them great scrawling pictures and to them he cried, "March!" and for marching he promised them realisation of themselves.

"I have heard men in colleges and speakers in halls talk of the brotherhood of man," he cried. "They do not want such a brotherhood. They would flee before it. But we will make by our marching such a brotherhood that they will tremble and say to one another, 'See, Old Labour is awake. He has found his strength.' They will hide themselves and eat their words of brotherhood.

"A clamour of voices will arise, many voices, crying out, 'Disperse! Cease marching! I am afraid!'

"This talk of brotherhood. The words mean nothing. Man cannot love man. We do not know what they mean by such love. They hurt us and underpay us. Sometimes one of us gets an arm torn off. Are we to lie in our beds loving the man who gets rich from the iron machine that ripped the arm from the shoulder?

"On our knees and in our arms we have borne their children. On the streets we see them--the petted children of our madness. See we have let them run about misbehaving. We have given them automobiles and wives with soft clinging dresses. When they have cried we have cared for them.

"And they being children with the minds of children are confused. The noise of affairs alarms them. They run about shaking their ringers and commanding. They speak with pity of us--Labour--their father.

"And now we will show them their father in his might. The little machines they have in their factories are toys we have given them and that for the time we leave in their hands. We do not think of the toys nor the soft-bodied women. We make of ourselves a mighty army, a marching army going along shoulder to shoulder. We can love that.

"When they see us, hundreds of thousands of us, marching into their minds and into their consciousness, then will they be afraid. And at the little meetings they have when three or four of them sit talking, daring to decide what things we shall have from life, there will be in their minds a picture. We will stamp it there.

"They have forgotten our power. Let us reawaken it. See, I shake Old Labour by the shoulder. He arouses. He sits up. He thrusts his huge form up from where he was asleep in the dust and the smoke of the mills. They look at him and are afraid. See, they tremble and run away, falling over each other. The did not know Old Labour was so big.

"But you workers are not afraid. You are the arms and the legs and the hands and the eyes of Labour. You have thought yourself small. You have not got yourself into one mass so that I could shake and arouse you.

"You must get that way. You must march shoulder to shoulder. You must march so that you yourselves shall come to know what a giant you are. If one of your number whines or complains or stands upon a box throwing words about knock him down and keep marching.

"When you have marched until you are one giant body then will happen a miracle. A brain will grow in the giant you have made.

"Will you march with me?"

Like a volley from a battery of guns came the sharp reply from the eager upturned faces of the audience. "We will! Let us march!" they shouted.

Margaret Ormsby went out at the door and into the crowds on Madison Street. As she walked in the press she lifted her head in pride that a man possessed of such a brain and of the simple courage to try to express such magnificent ideas through human beings had ever shown favour toward her. Humbleness swept over her and she blamed herself for the petty thoughts concerning him that had been in her mind. "It does not matter," she whispered to herself. "Now I know that nothing matters, nothing but his success. He must do this thing he has set out to do. He must not be denied. I would give the blood out of my body or expose my body to shame if that could bring him success."

Margaret became exalted in her humbleness. When her carriage had taken her to her house she ran quickly upstairs to her own room and knelt by her bed. She started to pray but presently stopped and sprang to her feet. Running to the window she looked off across the city. "He must succeed," she cried again. "I shall myself be one of his marchers. I will do anything for him. He is tearing the veil from my eyes, from all men's eyes. We are children in the hands of this giant and he must not meet defeat at the hands of children."


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