April Morning: Chapter 1

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Text: Howard Fast, April Morning. Crown Publishers, New York, 1961.

 

The action takes place over two days during the battles of Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts, on April 18 and 19, 1775. This was the beginning of the American Revolutionary War.

 

Summary of Chapter 1: Afternoon

 

The setting is the colonial village of Lexington, Massachusetts. Adam Cooper, the fifteen-year-old main character and narrator of the story, is getting water from the family well for dinner. He has a premonition of death and doom and says a spell to banish evil spirits from the well. The younger brother, Levi, overhears Adam reciting the spell and taunts his brother that he will tell their father. Adam remembers how his father, Moses, once beat him for reciting spells. The father gave the reason that spells were not so much blasphemy as ignorance. Adam thinks for himself and questions why his father always hits him exactly seven times if it isn’t superstition. For this insubordination, his father gave him ten more strokes.

 

Adam takes the water to his mother in the kitchen, who is beginning the dinner. She asks Adam why he doesn’t spend his free time reading the Bible as his father did when he was young. Moses had memorized all of the Book of Lamentations at Adam’s age. Adam runs upstairs for relief to his Grandmother, Granny, the mother of Moses. She is the only one in the house who understands him. She is making thread, even though she can’t see very well. They share a piece of maple sugar candy. Adam questions her about whether she believes in God.

 

Granny acts shocked by the question. Adam asks her why his parents criticize him for everything he does. If God gave a person brains, then shouldn’t he use them? He doesn’t understand why if he uses his intelligence he is called sinful. Granny says she overheard Adam trying to shake Ruth Simmons’s faith. Adam defends himself. He merely told Ruth about Isaiah Peterkin, the church deacon. Isaiah is mean and two-faced and cannot be a model of Christianity. Adam claims he was in Boston when he heard a Committeeman say the highest good was to doubt.

 

Granny asks if the Committeeman was connected to Sam Adams, and when Adam says yes, she remarks Adams is an atheist. Granny insists that doubt is a negative thing. Adam enjoys the back and forth discussion with Granny, the only one who will talk over things with him. His parents think he is a problem. Adam helps Granny down the stairs to supper.

 

At the table there is an empty place set for guests who might show up. Moses enjoys pontificating at meals, and most people cannot win an argument against him. Adam thinks Granny could beat him, but she doesn’t like to upstage her own son. Moses even makes the prayer into an argument with God. Adam sits at supper dreaming of going to sea when he is old enough, like his Uncle Ishmael Jamison. Suddenly, his father begins to question him, and the room gets tense. His father tries to shame him for saying a spell. The Coopers are people of reason and civilization and don’t go for such superstition. Granny tries to argue with her son to take the pressure off Adam. They are interrupted by Cousin Joseph Simmons, who joins them for dinner.

 

Simmons wants to talk to Moses about the Committee meeting they will attend that evening. Simmons had been appointed to make a statement on the rights of man that they would all sign and send to Boston. Although Moses was better fitted for the task, he was too busy. Simmons begins to read the document and Moses argues with the wording. Adam asks his father if he can go to the meeting. His father says he is only 15, a year too young. He asks Adam if he can reason like a man, and Adam cannot say yes, so he is forced to stay home.

 

Adam asks his mother why his father hates him after the men leave. His mother says Moses loves Adam. Granny explains that Moses is just pig-headed like his father was. It runs in the family. Adam leaves the house and yells at his little brother, Levi, who told on him and caused the family upset.

 

Commentary on Chapter 1: Afternoon

 

This chapter introduces the characters, colonial life, the Revolutionary Committees, inspired by such leaders as Samuel Adams, and the conflict between Adam and his father, Moses. Adam Cooper is a teenaged boy wanting to be taken seriously as a man. His father reprimands him for everything. It is the perennial coming-of-age scenario where the young man chafes against the boundaries of childhood, wanting to test his wings in the adult world. As Granny points out, the father and son are not so different. They are both stubborn and both question the status quo.

 

The conflict centers around a spell that Adam repeats to remove evil spirits from the well. He is overcome by a sense of evil and foreboding (the coming battle) and automatically says the spell though he knows his father will punish him if he finds out. As it turns out, Adam is like his father in despising superstition and wanting to use his rational mind to question things. He argues with Granny about the existence of God, wondering how one can believe when Deacon Isaiah Peterkin is an obvious hypocrite. Granny is tolerant, seeing Adam as like his father and grandfather. Moses, however, thinks Adam is fresh and disobedient and tries to reason with him.

 

Moses reprimands Adam for the ignorance represented by the spell and points to the Cooper family tradition, in their 125 years in the American colonies, of literacy, rationalism and intellectualism. Moses is proud of his own intellect and can out-argue anyone in Lexington. He tells Adam that despite his height, he is not yet a man in his father's eyes and has a long way to go. Moses, of course, misses the point that Adam actually wants to reason for himself rather than accept all of his father’s opinions.

 

Cousin Simmons and Moses Cooper are members of the local Committee of Correspondence, a network set up in the colonies to organize resistance to the British rule. They want to draft a statement on the rights of man to lay the groundwork of their argument against British administration. Simmons words his draft to say the rights of men derive from God, but Moses wants to leave God out of it. He says that the British King George III also invokes God for his side. Moses refers to the doctrine of the divine right of kings that says the king’s authority comes from God and therefore should not be resisted. This conversation fits into Granny’s point that Samuel Adams, a Boston organizer, is an atheist. Adams and many of the colonists, such as Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, were not actually atheists but Deists, believing in God, but primarily depending on human reason for guidance. From their point of view, the colonies were ready for self-government. The Revolutionary Committees met in all the thirteen original colonies and corresponded on the question of British abuses of power in America (i.e. unfair taxation, trade monopolies, lack of American representation in government).

 

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