The Civil War
Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory
The Blue and the Gray
Time to talk about the American Civil War. You may have heard of it. Ethan and Lena get a first-hand look at the War Between the States (also referred to as the War of Northern Aggression by some of Gatlin's more ornery residents) when the cursed locket takes them back in time. But what point does their time traveling serve?
A House Divided
There are a lot of layers to this. We'll go out on a limb and say that Civil War-era Ethan Carter Wate has a present-day counterpart in our narrator, Ethan Lawson Wate. We can draw a similar line between Genevieve and Lena. To make things a little easier, we'll call Ethan Carter Wate ECW. But don't get distracted and start daydreaming of Extreme Championship Wrestling.
ECW was a Confederate, but he was also a deserter. (That means he jumped ship on the South.) As Aunt Prue lets us know, "there were two kinds a Confederate soldiers durin' the War. The ones who supported the cause of Confed'racy and the ones whose families made them enlist" (9.12.146). We know which kind ECW was, but which kind is our Ethan?
If you think about it, Ethan is part of his own war. There's a division in Lena's family between Light Casters and Dark Casters—it's "a house divided against itself", which, as President Lincoln said, "cannot stand." Lena's family is crumbling, and Ethan's been enlisted into the Light/Dark war whether or not he wants to be there. Sounds like his situation isn't all that different from ECW's after all.
There are many other similarities between Ethan and ECW, and Genevieve and Lena. The lines between them definitely aren't black and white—they're not even blue and gray. What similarities can you find in these pairs? And what sets the younger generation apart from their ancestors?
The Little Matter of Slavery
The Civil War was also about something else: the abolition of slavery. Gatlin, a Southern town, seems pretty modern in the sense that there's little to no racial tension. In fact, the town seems a little, well, white. And we're not talking about the snow. Remember—it doesn't ever snow in Gatlin.
Let's do a quick rundown of the non-white people in Gatlin. Marian Ashcroft is described as having "beautiful brown skin […] exotic looking, a mix of so many bloodlines […], West Indies, the Sugar Islands, England, Scotland, even America" (10.13.55). Amma's race is never explicitly described, but we do know that she is the descendant of Genevieve's African American maid, so we can assume that she is African American, too. And… that's about it. Ethan never notes any skin color other than pale or pallid.
What do you think: is this colorblind attitude a refreshing outlook or a total oversight?