Across Five Aprils

by: Irene Hunt

Chapters 1–2

Summary Chapters 1–2

Ellen calls for the arguing to stop, and Wilse apologizes. Jethro naps on the porch and wakes up when Shadrach returns. Shadrach reports that there has been firing at Fort Sumter and that after thirty hours, the Union general surrendered. Jenny asks if this means war, and Shadrach explains that since Congress is not in session and cannot declare war, it technically is not war yet. However, Lincoln had asked for 75,000 volunteers to fight. Matt says that despite Congress not being in session, it is indeed war.

Analysis

These chapters depict the beginning of two slow transformations. First, it introduces the transformation of years of malcontent and animosity between regions of the nation into a full-fledged war. And second, the chapters illustrate the deterioration of Jethro's family from a single unit into one picked bare by the war and, by consequence, Jethro's transformation from a boy into a man during a time of war.

Chapter 2 in particular sets up the arguments between the North and the South. Hunt shows us how the arguments play out, as the discussion prompted by Wilse Graham's visit typifies the arguments of the day. This discussion underscores Ellen's comment that Lincoln has to pick between two wrong choices—even though it might be the reader's tendency to agree with position of the North, if only for anti-slavery reasons, the arguments from both sides are convincing—neither side is entirely wrong and neither is entirely right. The fact that a relative of Ellen's sides with the South shows how common it is for not only the country, but for families, friends, and small communities as well, to be divided on this issue. Hunt uses Wilse Graham to foreshadow all the families that will be pulled apart by disagreements regarding the war.

In Chapter 2, Jethro has an insight into what war means. As a boy it is understandable that he associates war with fanfare and shining patriotism. He soon realizes—a realization that becomes deeper and graver as the book proceeds—that war is neither a show nor a game. He begins to understand just how serious war is if it brings a family to boiling arguments at the dinner table. Shadrach's news that shots have been fired and that the Union general has surrendered drives home two points: that the war has indeed begun and that the North is in for a tough fight.

In a sense, Chapters 1 and 2 are a small-scale version of the book in its entirety. Hunt gives us a sense of who the characters are and what roles they fill in the context of the family. From here on out, we see those characters function not so much within the context of family but within the context of war, which means they struggle to keep the family intact. The realizations they have in the beginning of the text sink in deeper and deeper—for some characters, they become physical, every day realizations and for others they remain topics for mind dwelling and brooding. For everyone, these realizations of war bring fear and uncertainty. At the end of Chapter 2, as they gather around Shadrach for the news, it is the last time they are all together as a family. The end of Chapter 2 is the brink, and none of the characters is the same from this point on.