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KEY LITERARY ELEMENTS
The story takes place on the Creighton farm in Jasper County, a rural area in southern Illinois. It is not far from Sangamon County, where Abraham Lincoln lived. The nearest town is Newton and some scenes are set there, as it is the heart of the community where the Creighton family shops and gets their mail and news. The story opens in mid-April 1861, and spans the Civil War years across five Aprils to April 1865 when the war ended and Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. Historically, most people in southern Illinois supported the Union cause, but there were some who secretly favored the South. Though they did not support slavery, the people were geographically and emotionally “southern folks.”
LIST OF CHARACTERS
Jethro, the protagonist, is nine years old at the beginning of the story and the youngest of the Creighton family. He is forced into the responsibilities of the man of the house when his brothers go off to war and his father becomes ill. He deals with the social and emotional effects of war while maturing into a strong, understanding man.
Jenny is fourteen years old, the only Creighton daughter still at home. She and Jethro comfort each other as they struggle together to keep up the farm and weather the emotional uncertainties of the war. She is in love with Shadrach Yale, the schoolmaster, but is forbidden to marry him because of her youth.
Shad came to Jasper County to teach at the local school. He is both Jethro’s teacher and friend, encouraging Jethro’s book learning as well as his understanding of the war. Shadrach is twenty years old and is treated like family by the Creightons. He loves Jethro and is in love with Jenny, but leaves them both as he goes off to war. He gets badly injured, but recovers and marries Jenny.
Ross is the editor of the local Newton newspaper. He meets and befriends Jethro when Jethro travels alone to Newton for the first time. He defends Jethro in town and mentors his education in proper grammar and speaking. Over time he becomes a comforting friend to the Creightons and even accompanies Jenny when she travels to Washington to see the injured Shadrach Yale.
Ellen, Jethro’s mother, once pretty, is now the somber mother of twelve children. Her oldest child went off to California to find gold, two daughters have married and moved to Ohio, three sons died from disease as children, and one daughter was killed when the drunken Travis Burdow overturned her wagon. Her remaining sons go to war leaving only Jethro, who Ellen nurtures as the youngest, and Jenny at home. Despite the hardships she has endured, her family is the most important part of her life.
Matthew, Jethro’s father, is highly respected by the community. He is an upstanding, forgiving man and a good father. When he has a heart attack, leaving Jethro to be the man of the house, neighbors and other community members come to help.
Bill is the second oldest remaining son and Jethro’s favorite brother. Though strong, he is gentle and introspective. He struggles with his decision about joining the war because he sees the wrongs on both sides. In an attempt to do what he feels is right, he joins the Confederate army.
Tom is Jethro’s eighteen-year-old brother. He is anxious to go to war thinking that the Union will make quick work of the South. He is shot and killed at Pittsburgh Landing.
Eb is Matt Creighton’s nephew who was orphaned as a child and taken in by the Creighton family. Like Tom, he is eager to go to war. However he ends up deserting because the war is so gruesome. Jethro secretly helps Eb until Eb is able to return to his regiment when Lincoln declares amnesty for deserters that rejoin.
John is the oldest Creighton boy at home. He lives in a cabin near the Creighton home with his wife, Nancy, and his sons. He and Bill are very close, but cannot agree on which side is right, thereby ending up as brothers fighting for opposing sides.
Nancy is John’s wife. She is reserved, but grows closer to the family after John goes to war. Jethro helps out on her property and spends time with her little boys.
Ed Turner is a neighbor and good friend to the Creightons. He shares family news with them and helps the family whenever they need it.
The Burdow family is not well liked in Jasper County. Dave is the father of Travis Burdow, the drunken boy who made the wagon overturn causing Mary Creighton’s death. Matt Creighton seeks no revenge for his daughter’s death and prevents the angry townspeople from doing so as well. Dave repays Matt’s mercy by saving Jethro from having his wagon overturned on the way home from Newton. Later, he again helps the Creightons by sending lumber to rebuild the Creighton barn after it had been burned.