Study Guide

Across Five Aprils Chapter 2

By Irene Hunt

Chapter 2

  • Thanks to their new guest, Jethro and family are having a special "comp'ny supper."
  • Everyone is playing catch-up on all family news but eventually talk turns to the impending war.
  • Matt asks Wilse if he thinks Kentucky will go Confederate and he receives a big, fat maybe for an answer.
  • But now the men are talking about what it would mean if they did. Matt doesn't like the idea of the country being divided and says that each side will end up weak and needing each other.
  • While Wilse begins to talk about the North and South's economic relationship, Ellen boldly enters into the discussion by bringing up the issue (and morality) of slavery.
  • A supper conversation soon turns to a heated debate with Wilse slamming his hand on the table and passionately spewing pro-Confederate rhetoric.
  • Easy, tiger.
  • Tom is biting his tongue, ready to lash out against his cousin, when John quietly speaks up and says Wilse didn't answer Ellen's question about slavery: "the right and wrong of one man ownin' the body—and sometimes it looks as if the soul, too—of another man?" (2.17).
  • Wilse has an answer for that, too, and puts John on the spot by asking if the North would really welcome all the freed slaves with open arms and look out for all of them.
  • John says it's not like that for all white people yet, but still the worst off white man wouldn't trade places with a slave.
  • Finally Bill speaks up.
  • His wise words bring everyone's attention to the possibility of slavery overshadowing greed.
  • Wilse loves hearing this and takes off on the topic of human goodness, which Matt jumps in and says isn't "any better one side of a political line than on the other" (2.26)—though he does think that humanity as a whole is becoming more, well, humane.
  • Jethro finds himself torn. He's been thinking war is mighty exciting, but now with all of this adult talk he's confused about his feelings.
  • He zones out for a bit but snaps back to the conversation when he hears Wilse talking about the evils of industrialization.
  • Suddenly John jumps into the debate and gives a short rant on how the South will spread slavery and disgrace the entire country.
  • This time, it's Bill's turn to speak up and asks if people like John Brown, William Lloyd Garrison, and Charles Sumner (outspoken abolitionists) should be the leaders of this fight.
  • And for the first time there's silence. Just the two brothers staring each other down.
  • Ellen breaks the tension by forbidding any more talk of war.
  • After supper, everyone heads out to the dooryard (like a front yard) to wait around for Shad to come back with news from town; Jethro takes a quick snoozefest because that's how long it takes.
  • Eventually Shad shows up, but there's no greetings or pleasantries. He breaks the news, "The Confederates have fired on Fort Sumter" (2.47).
  • Shad continues to retell how the Fort surrendered. Tom is shocked that they gave up while Ellen asks if anyone got killed.
  • A furious Eb is ready to join up in the fighting now while Wilse exclaims that this is just what the President wants.
  • Jenny asks if this means the war is on. Despite Congress not being able to declare war yet, her father says that it is.

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