Free Online Study Guide: April Morning by Howard Fast

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The Afternoon


Moses Cooper asks his son Adam if he has finished an unnamed chore, resulting in an exchange that reflects the tension between the two. Moses is very critical of his son, and holds him to lofty standards that Adam considers unfair. Moses then tells Adam to fetch water for his mother; as he does so, Adam's brother Levi catches him reciting a spell to ward off evil spirits from the water. Levi threatens to tell their father about this, as Moses strongly disapproves of any superstition.

Adam enters the house as his mother Sarah is frying donkers for dinner. Sarah warns her son of his brooding, and so he goes upstairs to speak with Granny, who is the mother of Moses. They talk about religious matters as Adam continues being petulant. He argues that if Granny believes in God and God gave people brains, why does using one's brains so often lead to accusations of being sinful? Granny dismisses this, saying that causing doubt in a person's faith is the most sinful thing one can do. When Adam claims that he overheard a Committeeman calling doubt the highest good, Granny counters that he must have been a Sam Adams Committeeman, which meant he was an atheist. As the two head down together for supper, Granny stresses that the Cooper family has a long tradition of education and piety; Adam states that he may well be the exception to this.

Granny, Moses, Sarah, Adam, and Levi Cooper sit down for the supper prepared by Sarah. An empty chair is always left as a sign of hospitality, Moses claims, though Adam suspects it's for the sake of his father having an audience during mealtimes. As Moses says grace before the meal, he berates God for not bringing enough rain to the crops. Granny is upset by this but says nothing. As they eat, Adam thinks about going out to sea with his maternal uncle Captain Ishmael Jamison, though he knows such a choice would anger his father. Moses then lays a trap for his son: he asks if Adam is a man, pointing out he is already a man's size physically. Adam agrees, only to be scolded severely for reciting that spell earlier by the well. Moses goes on at length about how such superstitions are a display of ignorance and an affront to his modern way of thinking. Granny cuts this short, rebuking her son for being ill-tempered and proud.

Before it goes any further, their neighbor and cousin, Joseph Simmons, arrives to sit in the waiting empty chair and join in their meal. Cousin Simmons has been tasked with the committee to write a statement on the rights of man, and he proceeds to read a draft to Moses when he's stopped short by Moses' expression. Moses disagrees with the opening statement that the rights of man are derived from God and His will: he believes such a religious approach does not suit the needs of the statement, that it only muddies the issues unnecessarily.

Adam expresses a desire to attend the committee meeting that evening, but Moses questions if he is truly a man yet, and thus deserving of this privilege. Moses and Cousin Simmons leave for the meeting, and Adam asks his mother and Granny why his father hates him so much. Sarah tries to assure Adam that it's just the way Moses is, while Granny Cooper adds that it's Moses' nature to find fault with anyone and anything. Adam leaves the house and sees Levi outside; Levi asks if he's going to get beaten, but Adam simply heaps more threats on him.


Given the structure of the book and its main action, this first chapter feels more like a prologue than the actual onset of the novel proper. However, it's important because it establishes a strong sense of colonial life as well as focuses squarely on the conflict between Adam and his father Moses. By making Adam's maturity an issue of familial tensions in this chapter and not simply a precursor to some historical event, the novel does a better job of making the Revolutionary War era more accessible to readers, showing that everyday concerns were the same then as they are now. This contributes a great deal to making the history feel truly lived, as well as to better depict the way war can tear through the normal rhythms of everyday life.

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