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Bond of Family
The prevailing theme is the bond of family. The Creightons suffer many hardships, even the death of children, yet never lose hold of their ability to interact warmly. Daily family dinners are always special and made more special with the arrival of extended family. People outside of the nuclear family, Eb Carron and Shadrach Yale, are welcomed and treated with affection. Ellen Creighton is proud of her familyís closeness and intervenes when tension builds. She does not betray Jethroís newfound manhood by questioning his tears when he arrives home from Newton. With the exception of the one fight with John, no one in the family speaks against Bill. Instead they support his attempt to do what is right despite his decision to fight for the South. And though for a moment Jethro is jealous of his sisterís relationship with Shad, he is ultimately happy for their coming together.
Varying Perceptions of War
Hunt continually describes the wavering of public opinion on the war. People become alternately enthusiastic and pessimistic without solid reason. For example, the reality of death and war, the politics of war, and first hand accounts from soldiers are all spelled out in Chapter 4 illustrating to the reader how unreliable any one opinion might be. Every general involved in the war, especially Grant, is hailed and condemned according to newspaper accounts or the current trend of conversation. Public opinion praises and criticizes the Presidentís decisions regarding the war. Even individual soldiers who are in the midst of battle have differing perceptions (see Notes Ch. 10).
Power of the Presidency
Lincolnís presence is felt throughout the novel. Jethro, Shad and Ross Milton place their hopes and faith in the President. Jethro especially takes comfort in Lincolnís stability and pursuit of what is right. He establishes a personal connection with the President by writing to and receiving a compassionate response from him. As public opinion and political pressures sway, Lincoln remains constant. In the end, it is the assassination that proves to be almost too much for Jethro to bear.
Importance of Justice and Forgiveness
Lincolnís compassion and even-handedness exemplify this, as do his proclamations of amnesty for Confederates. Another example of this theme is the action between the Creightons and the Burdows. Matt Creighton saves the life of the Burdow boy, and Dave Burdow saves the life of Jethro Creighton. Further, Dave sends lumber to the Creightons to help rebuild their barn. The people of Jasper County, and particularly Ross Milton, seek justice for the Creightons in the face of the vandals acting against Billís decision to join the South. Then when John actually meets up with Bill they talk as brothers, John forgiving Bill and Bill assuring John that it was not his bullet that killed Tom.