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Symbols are objects, characters, figures, and colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.
The barn is a symbol of two things: of the judgmental and spiteful nature of some of the men in the county and of the ability to rebuild. Men who want to punish the Creightons for Bill's involvement with the "rebs" burn down the barn as a symbol of their hatred. They believe that Bill and the Creightons betrayed the Union, so they in turn take it upon themselves to betray the Creightons. The Creightons, with the help of friends and neighbors, rebuild the barn, demonstrating resilience and determination. While it is not the same, much as life after the war is not the same as life before it, they do the best they can.
The Creightons keep a Bible with a ledger inside the cover. On it they record births, deaths, and marriages. The Bible ledger is an abbreviated family history, succinctly cataloging the greatest joys and the greatest sorrows a family endures. Jethro can see not only the record of his own birth, but the record of his own life—three of his siblings died in the same summer to a disease, but he and Jenny managed to survive. The ledger represents luck, fate, and divine intervention, as well as the most basic facts of life and death.
Drinking coffee symbolizes maturity. In the beginning of the book, Jethro never drinks coffee. The first time he has some is before his trip into Newton—a trip that reflects his status as an adult. Drinking coffee represents the passing from boy to man. Coffee is bittersweet, as well. Ellen gets violently ill when she does not have her coffee. It is an expensive, but necessary, habit. Jethro initially looks forward to being able to drink coffee, but the effects it has on his mother make it seem more negative. Coffee is a symbol of the pains of growing older and of the often bittersweet aspects of aging.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Across Five Aprils!