Study Guide

Across Five Aprils Tone

By Irene Hunt



We don't expect a book about the Civil War to be all bright and cheery, but Hunt makes sure that we feel the overbearing dread of war just like Jethro and the Creightons. There is a lot of darkness and sadness throughout Across Five Aprils, and we encounter it from the start. Ellen and Shad are described as having "large dark eyes" (1.8), "grave, dark eyes" (1.14), and "each pair of eyes dark with anxiety" (1.23). Okay, we get it—there's a grim outlook. Literally.

But it's not just their outward appearance that bears the dark mark. Ellen describes the President's problem as "one road is as dark and fearsome as the other" (1.68), while a passionate Wilse Graham remarks how "men's hearts is jest as black today as in Roman times" (2.25). So right from the jump, we shouldn't expect this book to be a pick-me-up type of story. The tone has been quite clearly—and darkly—set.


Fast fact: war is tense. So when reading a book about one of the bloodiest wars in American history, it only makes sense that the tone follow suit. Bill has a moment of internal conflict when telling Jethro about his feelings on the impending war (3.28), and Jethro knows that his family runs pro-North, so his brother's sympathy toward the south makes Jeth slightly uncomfortable. Can't you feel the tension? And we're just talking about two brothers who adore each other here.

But the tension doesn't stop with Bill and Jeth. When Eb pops back up as a war deserter, he sets Jethro off on a struggle between abiding by the law and helping his family, which ultimately prompts him to write a letter to Abraham Lincoln, a guy who knows a thing or two about being stuck between a rock and a hard place. According to the President, Jethro's problem and others like it "trouble both [his] waking thoughts and those that intrude upon [his] sleep" (9.169). At every turn folks are conflicted in this book, and the tense tone makes sure we feel it too.

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