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Across Five Aprils

Introduction

Objectives

The text of Across Five Aprils, the supplementary information presented on this web site, and the exercises found here, together will allow the student to better understand the American Civil War from a human perspective.

Upon completion, students will be able to:

  1. Demonstrate a factual understanding of the text.
  2. Demonstrate an interpretive understanding of the text.
  3. Demonstrate a critical understanding of the text.
  4. Demonstrate an ability to relate to the human aspects of the story.
  5. Discuss the Creighton family relationships.
  6. Discuss the coming of age theme of the novel.
  7. Discuss the importance of education both in Civil War times and now.
  8. Discuss the difficulties of war in general, and demonstrate an understanding of how this can be even further complicated in a civil war.
  9. Demonstrate a familiarity with the main characters of the novel, and an understanding of how they relate to the authorís development of a theme.
  10. Demonstrate an enrichment of vocabulary through an understanding of the text of the novel combined with various exercises in vocabulary building.

Introduction

Across Five Aprils is a coming of age novel, like many others, only the boy who is characterized in this story is one whose life has been forever affected by the start of the American Civil War.

Jethro Creighton is nine years old in April of 1861, at the time when the forces of the southern Confederate states fired on the Union forces at Fort Sumter.

The Civil War brings many changes to the Creighton family. Jethroís brother, Bill, decides to fight on the side of the Confederacy while the rest of the family fight for the Union.

His older brothers off the fight the war on one side or the other, Jethro is forced to put his childhood behind him at an early age, taking on adult responsibilities on the farm, and adult concerns brought on by the advent of the war.

Before the start of the war, the talk of tension between the states was of little concern to Jethro, but as the war spreads to include his own family, he becomes adept at war and politics.

When his brother, Tom, is killed in battle, there is suspicion that the shot may have come from his own brotherís gun. Although this proves later not to have been true, it is of little comfort to the family.

Throughout the tumult of the war, including the assassination of President Lincoln, and the personal tragedies which befall the Creighton family, Jethro manages to improve his mind and his abilities through teaching himself geography, grammar, and other subjects.

Finally, he learns that he will be able to go with his sister and her new husband to Pennsylvania, where he can continue his education.

Across Five Aprils is an historical novel following the coming of age of Jethro Creighton. With the help of a loving family, and by making good choices, Jethro comes through the horror of the American Civil War as a strong, capable, educated, and honorable young man.

Overview

The protagonist of the story, Jethro Creighton, is young and idealistic at the start of the American Civil War. As can be expected of a boy his age, at first he thinks that the war will be exciting, full of marching soldiers and shows of patriotism.

Soon he learns that, while it is that, it is much more besides. As he watches his brothers, his cousin, and his beloved teacher go off to war, he begins to realize the realities of war.

In a decision that plagues, not only him, but the entire Creighton family, his older brother, Bill, goes off to fight for the South.

The Creightons try to follow the progress of the war from newspapers, and from rumors and reports that come to them from people passing through, but it is difficult to determine just what is going on.

One day when Jethro is ten, his parents ask him to take the wagon and drive the team of horses fifteen miles into Newton for supplies. Jethro, excited at having been given so adult a task, happily does so.

At the general store in Newton, he meets up with a gang of men who berate him because his brother was fighting for the Confederacy. Despite insinuated threats, Jethro sticks up for his brother, Bill.

Later, the editor of the newspaper, Ross Milton, takes Jethro to lunch, perhaps to make amends for the men who had treated him so badly. This is the start of a friendship between Jethro and Milton which is to last throughout the novel.

On the way home, Jethro is stopped by Mr. Burdow, the father of the boy who was responsible for the death of Jethroís sister, Mary. While he is initially afraid that Mr. Burdow intended to hurt him, Jethro finds that he has instead saved him from being harmed by the men from the store.

But the men from the store havenít given up. They eventually burn down the Creightonís barn and put oil in their well.

One day, the Creightons learn that their son, Tom, was killed in battle. Not long after that, Jethroís father suffers a heart attack that leaves him unable to work.

One day, while plowing the field, Jethro discovers his cousin, Eb, who had been like a brother to him. Eb had deserted from the Union army. Unsure what to do, with his loyalties to his country conflicting with his love for his family, Jethro brings him food and blankets.

Finally, Jethro writes to President Lincoln, asking for advice. The president replies, telling Jethro that he has wrestled with the same problem, and offers the solution of granting amnesty to deserters who are willing to return to their posts. Eb does.

Word comes to the Creightons that Shadrach Yale, Jethroís beloved teacher, has been badly injured in battle. Jethroís sister, Jenny, who is in love with Shad, travels to Washington D.C. and manages to nursed Shad back to health. They are married.

Meanwhile, the Union army plunders the South, as Sherman marches north from Savannah, ransacking and burning farms along the way. Joining forces with Grant, they cut off the supply lines to the Confederates, forcing an end to the war.

Just as it appears as if things are looking up, President Lincoln is assassinated. Bereft, Jethro is sent to live with Shadrach and Jenny in Pennsylvania, where he is able to continue his education.

Themes

  • Volatility of Public Opinion
    • Whenever news arrives about a battle or debate or decision, the author demonstrates how fickle public opinion can be. Generals and political leaders are alternatively praised or berated, depending on the most recent news.
    • The people in the story also move to various extremes insofar as their opinion of the progress of the war itself. A character who is certain that the Union will win at one moment is just as certain that all is lost, when information comes in about a Union defeat in a battle.
  • The Power of Forgiveness
    • In times of war, hatred and anger are prevailing emotions. In such time, grudges can be particularly dangerous. In Across Five Aprils, the author stresses the power of forgiveness.
      • In an early narrative, Jethroís father, Matt, persuades the townfolk not to kill Travis Burdow, despite the fact that he was responsible for the death of his daughter. Travisí father later redeems himself by helping Jethro and by sending supplies to help the Creightons build a new barn.
      • John forgives his brother, Tom, although they are on opposite sides of the war.

Motifs

  • Cause and Effect
    • Most actions in the novel have repercussions, although sometimes delayed.
      • Matt saves the life of his daughterís killer; later, the killerís father saves the life of Jethro, Mattís son.
      • Jethroís worries about his cousin, Eb, who had deserted, results in an exchange of letters which reveal that he and President Lincoln shared the same concerns.
  • Objectivity
    • The author endeavors to show both sides of the war.
  • Precociousness
    • The circumstances of growing up at a time when the nation is at war with itself forces Jethro to act and feel much older than his years.
      • Jethroís brother and teacher are away fighting the war, and Jethro is left not only to take over their responsibilities at home, but to worry about them as well. His fatherís heart attack puts an even greater burden on the young boy.
      • His cousin, Eb, deserts from the Union army and comes to him for help, leaving Jethro not only to determine how best to help his cousin but to struggle with the ethics of aiding a deserter.
      • Those who are angry with Jethroís brotherís decision to join the Confederate army threaten Jethroís family.
      • President Lincolnís assassination leaves Jethro to deal with the loss of a public and personal hero.