Still haven't remembered what I meant to say about Kilpatrick. Maybe it's time to push the spike in, eh?
That's a joke you'll get later on.
The passage in which Pearl realizes the problematic nature of her complicity with the white men of the Union army was, to my mind, one of the most effective moment in the novel. It may not be a terribly original point to make, but I do appreciate that it leads to complexities that must seriously daunt a person in her position. It also makes me want to read some Nella Larson, who wrote about the issue of "Passing" in a time when the subject was far more volatile than now -- long before Philip Roth offered up "The Human Stain".
I might also point out that Pearl is the dominant strain in the novel. She's the character that has most consistently held the spotlight, so to speak. So I think it's important that we talk about Pearl, about how Doctorow has handled her as a character, what we think of her, how we react to her, and so on.
As for my part, I'm not entirely sure how I feel. There are times when I've found her story rather flat. But at the same time, I think she's a very appealing character. I think that's due in large part to a very basic contradiction. On the one hand, she's a very ambiguous figure, able to pass for white, able to pass for a boy, endearing herself to a number of different characters and suiting herself to a number of different lifestyles. And at the same time, she's a very strong character, distinct in her personality, determined. While reading, I sometimes found myself hoping that she'd find a more compelling story. And at times it emerged -- crossing paths with Mattie Jameson again, for instance, and the passage I alluded to above.