Free Study Guide for Across Five Aprils by Irene Hunt-Book Summary
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CHAPTER SUMMARIES AND ANALYSIS
It is April, 1861. Nine-year-old Jethro Creighton
and his mother, Ellen, are working together on the family farm. Jethro is described
as “favored” by Ellen as he is the youngest of her twelve children and was born
the same year that three of her other children died from disease. He is a bright
and eager boy, a good worker and a quick learner. He has a close relationship
with Shadrach Yale, the local schoolteacher, who appreciates Jethro’s delight
in learning, and is also interested in marrying Jethro’s older sister, Jenny.
There is an anxious feeling among the adults on the farm due to the prospect
of war. Jethro sides with his older brother Tom and cousin Eb who are excited
and confident that the North will make quick work of the war and that all will
be back home safely when it is over. The other adults are worried, concerned with
the reality of war and the death of their children.
Jethro is reminded
of his sister Mary’s death eighteen months ago. She and her date were heading
home from a dance and they were followed by a drunken youth named Travis Burdow.
Travis fired a pistol causing the horses that drew Mary’s wagon to bolt and overturn
the wagon. Mary was killed. Being that the entire Burdow family had been fiercely
despised throughout the community for generations, this incident aroused a lynch
mob. Matthew Creighton, Jethro’s father, pleaded with the crowd to avoid further
bloodshed and, as testament to the respect Matt commanded in the community, Travis
Burdow was spared. Matt’s actions after Mary’s death are likened in Jethro’s mind
to Abraham Lincoln’s hesitancy to declare war. Ellen explains to Jethro that Lincoln
has to pick between two fearsome choices.
Jethro and his mother work the
field until mid-day at which time the family gathers in their cabin for dinner
and an hour of rest. John, Jethro’s oldest brother left at home joins them along
with his quiet wife, Nancy, and their children. Jethro is allowed to sit at the
“first table” with his parents, older brothers, John, Tom, and Jethro’s favorite,
Bill, and his cousin Eb Carron who has lived with the Creightons since he was
orphaned in childhood. Jenny and Nancy serve dinner and then pour coffee. Jethro
accepts the family tradition that coffee is an “adult luxury”, however Bill dips
some bread into his own coffee and offers it to Jethro. The family finishes their
meal in silence, trying to avoid talk of the probability of war. Jethro is aware
of the tension, but is focused on the goodness of the food.
After a short rest Jethro and his mother return to the fields. They work until
after sundown. During a ten-minute break, a wagon approaches along the road. It
is Wilse Graham, the son of Ellen’s sister from Kentucky. Ellen is pleased with
anticipation of news from her relatives. Jethro is happy that the monotonous routine
of the day in interrupted by “comp’ny”.
tone of determination along with a feeling of melancholy is created in this opening
chapter. The main character, Jethro Creighton, is introduced as a boy who appreciates
the springtime and does not concern himself with the “adult world of trouble.”
He works hard, driven by dedication to his family. This bond is illustrated by
the warm interaction between Jethro and his mother in the fields, Jenny’s attention
to Jethro at dinner, and Bill’s offering of bread dipped in coffee. Ellen Creighton
is proud that her family has this feeling of closeness. The feeling of family
even extends to Shadrach Yale, whom Jethro looks up to as a role model. The impending
war will challenge the Creighton family ties.
Coffee is presented as a
symbol of growing into adulthood. Jethro likes coffee, but accepts that he is
not given any because he is just a boy. Bill recognizes that Jethro is now a field
worker that has been promoted to the “first table” and gives Jethro a taste of
coffee with bread. This taste matches laboring in the fields and sitting with
the adults as Jethro’s first “taste” of manhood.
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