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PLOT STRUCTURE ANALYSIS
The plot is at once a chronological history of the Civil War and a narrative about coming of age during a time of war. Historic events are used as topics of conversation, a basis for letters from soldiers, or as a background for the feelings and actions of the characters. Certain characters, notably Cousin Wilse Graham, are merely names, who function as a voice to impart to the reader the historical foundation for the next events or the next conversation. It is in keeping with Hunt’s focus on teaching history through literature that the events of the war drive the plot. The reader experiences everything from the firing on Fort Sumter to the assassination of Abraham Lincoln through the eyes of a small rural community.
As the novel progresses, each chapter portrays a perceptible step in Jethro’s development, using dialog, responses to emotional situations, and concern with the war to indicate the progress of Jethro’s growth into a man.
In Chapter 1, the adults are concerned with the war while Jethro’s attention is focused on springtime and good food.
Chapter 2 has the adults arguing and taking sides, with Jethro becoming upset and wanting to cry upon hearing the seriousness of war.
By Chapter 3, Jethro has matured intellectually and is fascinated and well informed about the war. At the same time, however, he still cries at the prospect of losing his brother. This chapter marks the beginning of his transformation from boy to man.
Chapter 4 gives Jethro even more adult characteristics as he spends the night as a bachelor with Shadrach Yale.
Finally, the last traces of boyhood are pushed aside when in Chapter 5 Jethro rides solo into town, takes on a man’s financial responsibilities and copes with man-sized ridicule from the men who see the Creightons as “Copperheads”.
Each subsequent chapter uses the events of history to add more responsibility and emotional pressure to Jethro’s maturation. He takes over the physical labor of the farm after his father’s heart attack. He and Jenny discuss the war, but shield their parents from the painful details. He copes with his brother’s death, then his dear sister leaving.
His letter to Jenny in Chapter 10, written and spelled correctly, shows not only his intellectual success, but the maturity of his attitudes and feelings as well. Ultimately, it is the death of the President (whose stability and constant presence throughout the ups and downs of both the war and Jethro’s life has sustained the boy) that comes close to causing Jethro’s demise.
Just in time Shadrach and Jenny come home giving Jethro, indelibly marked by the war, hope for the future.