Across Five Aprils

Summary

Chapters 3–4

Summary Chapters 3–4

The two prepare dinner and lighten the mood. Shadrach says that if he comes back from the war, he and Jenny will marry and Jethro will live with them and pursue his studies. Shadrach says he will leave Jethro all his books, and he asks Jethro to take care of Jenny for him. They sing after dinner, and soon Jethro curls up near the fire.

Analysis

This book succeeds in doing what a genre of war movies has attempted to do—it strives to make war look anything but glamorous. This time, we see the realization set in through a child, someone for whom war is incomprehensible to some extent. Many of the other people in his family and in the town are like Jethro—after news of the first couple Union victories, they all wait to hear that the war is over. This demonstrates a lack of understanding of the intricacies of war and of peoples' generally simple-minded beliefs that war is like a game of chess—a bit of strategizing, some ups and downs, and then a winner. When Shadrach tells Jethro that the northern victories, while worthy of celebration, will only entangle them further in what appears to be a worsening war, Jethro understands that there is much he does not know about the war effort. Shadrach tries to explain strategy to Jethro, and Jethro finally begins to realize just how high the stakes are.

The fact that Jethro, and most people, do not understand the ins and outs of war make the war generals all the more important. In these chapters, Hunt begins to talk about McClellan and Grant and illustrates how much hope the people place on these leaders. When Grant's army wins two battles, Grant is revered as a god. Public opinion is volatile and changeable and sways back and forth dramatically throughout the course of the book.

The war becomes more complex for Jethro personally when he learns that his favorite brother, Bill, is going to fight for the rebels. Bill's toiling with the issues is much like that of Abraham Lincoln's—he does not think there is a good choice or a right one but makes his choice because he has to do something. The choice causes a chasm between Bill and his brother John, and it is hard to know whom to support in the war. Jethro wants the Union side to win the war, and he wants his two brothers involved on that side to be safe, but on the other hand he cannot wish that the North lay waste to the South, out of fear for Bill.

Jethro watches three brothers leave for the war and anticipates another's departure, along with Shadrach. All in all, five people dear to him and his family are involved in the fighting. This plunges Jethro's once fairly simple life into a complicated abyss, leaving him struggling to understand the layers of this war and its implications on this country and his family.

As Jethro spends the evening with Shadrach, he realizes that he may never see his teacher again. When Bill leaves, Jethro thinks "[h]e had heard this mother say that if you watch a loved one as he leaves you for a long journey, it's like as not to be the last look at him that you'll ever have." Shadrach talks about marrying Jenny and having Jethro live with them, but that possibility sounds like one from an alternate universe. First, Shadrach has to live through the war, and that chance is remote enough that Jethro cannot allow himself to linger on it. Regardless of what happens, Jethro, his family, and the rest of the country realize that nothing will ever be the same again.