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Free Study Guide for Across Five Aprils by Irene Hunt-Book Summary

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THEMES - THEME ANALYSIS


Bond of Family

The prevailing theme is the bond of family. The Creightons suffer many hardships, even the death of children, yet never lose hold of their ability to interact warmly. Daily family dinners are always special and made more special with the arrival of extended family. People outside of the nuclear family, Eb Carron and Shadrach Yale, are welcomed and treated with affection. Ellen Creighton is proud of her family’s closeness and intervenes when tension builds. She does not betray Jethro’s newfound manhood by questioning his tears when he arrives home from Newton. With the exception of the one fight with John, no one in the family speaks against Bill. Instead they support his attempt to do what is right despite his decision to fight for the South. And though for a moment Jethro is jealous of his sister’s relationship with Shad, he is ultimately happy for their coming together.

Varying Perceptions of War

Hunt continually describes the wavering of public opinion on the war. People become alternately enthusiastic and pessimistic without solid reason. For example, the reality of death and war, the politics of war, and first hand accounts from soldiers are all spelled out in Chapter 4 illustrating to the reader how unreliable any one opinion might be. Every general involved in the war, especially Grant, is hailed and condemned according to newspaper accounts or the current trend of conversation. Public opinion praises and criticizes the President’s decisions regarding the war. Even individual soldiers who are in the midst of battle have differing perceptions (see Notes Ch. 10).

Power of the Presidency

President Lincoln’s presence is felt throughout the novel. Jethro, Shad and Ross Milton place their hopes and faith in the President. Jethro especially takes comfort in Lincoln’s stability and pursuit of what is right. He establishes a personal connection with the President by writing to and receiving a compassionate response from him. As public opinion and political pressures sway, Lincoln remains constant. In the end, it is the assassination that proves to be almost too much for Jethro to bear.

Importance of Justice and Forgiveness

President Lincoln’s compassion and even-handedness exemplify this, as do his proclamations of amnesty for Confederates. Another example of this theme is the action between the Creightons and the Burdows. Matt Creighton saves the life of the Burdow boy, and Dave Burdow saves the life of Jethro Creighton. Further, Dave sends lumber to the Creightons to help rebuild their barn. The people of Jasper County, and particularly Ross Milton, seek justice for the Creightons in the face of the vandals acting against Bill’s decision to join the South. Then when John actually meets up with Bill they talk as brothers, John forgiving Bill and Bill assuring John that it was not his bullet that killed Tom.


POINT OF VIEW


The story is narrated in third person. The anonymous voice simultaneously chronicles the history of the Civil War and subjectively follows Jethro’s transition of boy to man. Though fiction, most events are based on historic fact and/or the life of Hunt’s grandfather who lived the real life role of Jethro. Both sides are presented, the Union and the Confederate, and those for and against Lincoln, with the truest voice being Ross Milton as he foretells that peace will not be a “perfect pearl”.



OTHER ELEMENTS


Dialect

The use of dialect in Across Five Aprils serves not only to set the scene of the rural South, but also to express the differing levels of ignorance of the characters. Most of the characters, because of the time in history and their rural upbringing, use less than perfect English. The author uses dialectal spelling (ex. yore for your) and colloquialisms in the dialog to confer a homey accent. In Jethro’s words,

“I heerd some of the big fellers talkin’ the other night, and they said the war, even if it comes, will be no more than a breakfas’ spell. They said that soldiers up here kin take the South by the britches and make it holler ‘Nough’ quicker than it takes coffee to cool off fer swallerin’”

Learnedness is expressed in speech by the lack of dialect. Shadrach Yale, Ross Milton, and eventually Jethro speak Standard English as indicated by the author’s use of standard spelling. Shadrach tells Jethro,

“Sometime when I come back, you and Jenny and I are going to have evenings like this together. We’ve decided that you’ll live with us and go to school, maybe to one of the fine universities in the East when you’re old enough.”

Conversely, the poorest English written in the novel accompanies the most ignorant and despicable characters. They are unnamed, but they leave a note in large printed letters,

“Theres trubel fer fokes that stands up fer there reb lovin sons.”

The note, because it is so poorly written, conveys to the reader that the group that attacks the Creighton home is of a disreputable rank in society.

Jethro’s speech development throughout the course of the novel parallels his development into manhood. As he loses his ignorance and innocence, he uses less dialect and substandard spelling. By Chapter 10 he is able to write a moving letter to Jenny that has but few grammatical errors. The first sentence opens eloquently,

“We are all feeling much pleasure here to know that Shad is better and is going to get well.”

The letter continues, well written, showing that Jethro has matured intellectually and emotionally. In the final pages of the novel there is little dialectal writing. Shad and Jethro converse as peers.


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