Across Five Aprils: Top Ten Quotes

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1. “Destiny had marked him.”

Chapter 1, p. 9

This is Ellen Creighton’s reflection on her youngest son Jethro. Because he was born in the same year that Ellen lost three of her children to child’s paralysis, and survived, she feels that he is special. This is also a way of signposting to the reader the importance of Jethro to the novel.

2. “He’s like a man standin’ where two roads meet, Jeth … and one road is as dark and fearsome as the other; there ain’t a choice between the two, and yet a choice has to be made.”

Chapter 1, p. 18

Ellen counters Jethro’s youthful impatience at President Lincoln’s reluctance to declare war on the South with a warning that there is no clear right and wrong in the case: whichever route he chooses entails unknown and potentially terrible risks.

3. “I hate slavery, Jeth, but I hate another slavery of people workin’ their lives away in dirty fact’ries fer a wage that kin scarce keep life in ‘em; I hate secession, but at the same time I can’t see how a whole region kin be able to live if their way of life is all of a sudden upset; I hate talk of nullification, but at the same time I hate laws passed by Congress that favors one part of the country and hurts the other.”

Chapter 3, p. 41

Bill explains to Jethro that neither the North nor the South is an innocent party in the war. While he hates the slavery of the South, the slave labor in the factories of the industrializing North is also to be condemned; secession is not desirable, but the North’s plans to outlaw slavery threatens the South’s way of life and economy; and while he cannot agree to the Southern states’ refusal to recognize federal laws, Congress is passing laws that favor the North at the expense of the South. Nullification is the refusal of a U.S. state, in this case a Confederate state, to aid in enforcement of federal laws within its limits.

4. “Decency ain’t in him. … He’s had nary a word of human feelin’ fer what happened to that little girl, nary a word of thanks that Matt saved his worthless boy from his neighbors. He’s more of a dumb brute than a man.”

Chapter 5, p. 84

Ed Turner says this to the Creightons about Dave Burdow after Travis Burdow killed Mary Creighton (“that little girl”). Interestingly, Ed is wrong. Dave Burdow has evidently given the episode much thought and intervenes to protect Jethro against people who are angry about Bill Creighton’s defection to the South. The episode shows that Matt Creighton’s stance of nonviolence has been productive and has resulted in more positive neighborly relations.

5. “We’ve held it against him that his boy stuck a knife in our hearts; now he’s grabbed a second knife that was aimed at us.”

Chapter 6, p. 91

Ellen Creighton says this to Matt about Dave Burdow, whose son Travis killed Mary Creighton but who has just saved Jethro’s life. Jethro’s wagon had been attacked by Guy Wortman, who lay in ambush for the boy on his way home from Newton, but Dave fought off Wortman.

6. “This war is a beast with long claws.”

Chapter 6, p. 104

Matt Creighton says this to his family after they discover a bundle of twigs laid at their gate as a warning of punishment for having a son (Bill) who is seen as a traitor to the North’s case. The statement sums up the portrayal of war in the novel as a destructive force that affects everyone, even those such as Matt and Jethro, who are not directly involved in it.

7. “I was an awful fool – at least you got a chance in battle – maybe it's once in a hundred, but it's a chance. This way, I got none.”

Chapter 9, p. 138

Eb says this to Jethro after he has deserted from the army. Jethro finds him hiding in some woods near John’s farm. The quote points up the hopeless plight of the deserter, of which there are many.

8. “Eb was not a hero, certainly – not now, anyway. People scorned the likes of Eb; sure, so did Jethro, and yet –

“‘How do I know what I’d be like if I was sick and scared and hopeless; how does Ed Turner or Mr. Milton or any man know that ain’t been there?’”

Chapter 9, p. 140

Jethro learns an important lesson about judging others. He realizes that he cannot condemn Eb for deserting, and neither can anyone who has not been through the same experiences. The war has brought out the worst ‘armchair general’ behavior in people, with everyone thinking they have a right to pronounce on how effective the army generals and the president are at any one time. Jethro learns that things are more complex than they may appear at first glance.

9. “Lincoln will win. When it comes to the final vote, the country will not admit that its sons have died for nothing.”

Chapter 11, p. 168

This is Ross Milton’s prediction about the presidential election. He turns out to be right.

10. “Don’t expect peace to be a perfect pearl, Jeth. … This is a land lying in destruction, physical and spiritual.”

Chapter 12, p. 179

Ross Milton’s warning to Jethro as the war nears its end underscores the novel’s theme of the destructiveness of war and other acts of violence.

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