Study Guide

Across Five Aprils Time

By Irene Hunt


"Well, read all you can. And newspapers, Jeth—study them. I know they're a little difficult, but you're a bright boy; you can get something out of them. The accounts you read in newspapers today will fill the pages of history by the time you're a man." (4.144)

Shadrach Yale highlights the importance of the present moment and the events currently happening. The war is not just some humdrum battle between disagreeing sides, and Shad knows that the country is experiencing a massive shift in its own history.

The world was turning upside down for Jethro. He felt as if he were someone else, someone looking from far off at a boy who had started from home with a team and wagon on a march morning that was at least a hundred years ago. (5.176)

We've all felt this, especially on those long, tiring days when there's a lot of work to do and the beginning seems like it was an eternity ago. Jethro's adventure to Newton is one of those days. He packs a lot of activity into one day, plus the small confrontation with Wortman, so we're surprised he has enough energy once he gets home to tell his family about his day.

"Mother," he turned toward her with eyes full of despair, "if you could ha' knowed back in 1830 of all the griefs you'd hev..."

She put a hand out to him quickly when he paused. "Yore spirit needs bolsterin' today, old man." She smiled at him. "You know good and well I wouldn't ha' believed ary prophecy. And if I had, I reckon I'd ha' risked it. I wanted Matt Creighton fer mine awful bad, if you air of a mind to remember." (6.7-8)

Matt is all ready to have a pity party for himself but Ellen will have none of that. Not one of the hardships that the Creightons have had to endure would make Ellen ask for a mulligan. It's also one of the sweetest exchange between characters, once you look past the "could ha' knowed" and "ha' believed ary" type of writing.

Jethro turned slowly back toward his team, his thin shoulders stooped a little. He did not weight more than eighty pounds. Ed Turner must have been sharply aware of the look of frailty about the boy in contrast to the great plow horses and the wide fields where Matt with his four boys and Shadrach Yale had worked only the year before. (6.31)

Oh how quickly things can change in a year. Go on and take a second to think about where you were 365 days ago. It's like a whole other person, right? What brings this to Ed Turner's mind is the physical look of Jethro in the field—still a young boy doing the work previously handled by six strong men.

Jethro looked at her respectfully. She knew people and times unknown to him. He could not agree with his father that Jenny was so very young. (7.22)

No matter how close Jethro and Jenny grow as peers she will always have that extra knowledge of a time he doesn't remember. Jethro can't consider his older sister as young when she has experienced more life than he, and as long as they're both alive, this will always be true.

It seemed very far away and unreal to Jethro. "Sometimes I forget that they was older than I am. I always think of them as the little boys."

"I reckon that's the way it'll always seem—they'll never be old." (7.30-31)

Death has a way of making time stand still. And even though the little boys were born before Jethro, once he surpassed them in age, it's easier to think of Jeth as older.

The season of plenty in southern Illinois had not been touched by the war.

There might have been no war at all for an hour or so, as the men ate and joked in the mellow sunlight of the dooryard. (8.17-18)

The men pull an old-school Zack Morris "time-out" and take a break from the stresses of war to enjoy life again. But vacations from reality can't last too long, so it's back to battles and casualty counts once lunch is over.

Jethro smiled as he read that. What he would give to talk to Shad about those words of Mr. Lincoln's, to remember with him that night when they had looked at the long wavy line on a roughly drawn map and had wondered how long the fighting would go on. (10.17)

The questioned pondered by Jethro and Shad about how long the fighting would last all those months ago is now being lived out by both of them each day.

There had been a time when Matt Creighton brooked no criticism of a teacher from his children; they went to school when it was in session, the teacher's word was law, and their father wanted to hear no complaints concerning either discipline or the quality of instruction. But Matt had changed in his later years. He talked to the teacher for a while on afternoon; that night he gave Jethro permission to remain at home. (10.34)

Maybe Matt is getting more lenient in his older age, or maybe the war has just taken a toll on him, but allowing Jethro to stop going to school when previously he didn't allow his children to log a complaint is a rather impressive change.

The editor reached out and put his hand on Jethro's knee. "Because, Jeth, after the thirteenth amendment has become part of our Constitution and for years afterwards—twenty-five, maybe fifty—there will be men and women with dark faces who will walk the length and width of this land in search of the bright promise the thirteenth amendment holds out to them." (12.53)

Ross believes the amendment abolishing slavery is going to have some long-term effects on the country. Freeing all the enslaved people is as simple as a stroke of the pen, but Ross is concerned about their acceptance into free society. He expects this to be an issue than spans across decades.