Across Five Aprils Themes & Symbols

Explore the themes, symbols, and genre in the story Across Five Aprils by Irene Hunt.

Across Five Aprils Themes

Themes in Across Five Aprils


War is the major theme in this tale which describes the Civil War from the perspective of one family. But the view of war changes as the story unfolds.

At the beginning, Jethro shares his teenage brothers' views of the glories of war. Men from both sides of the Mason-Dixon line were enthusiastically signing up to take part in the great and glorious conflict. Teens fretted the war might be over before they got their chance at the majesty of marching and parading with guns slung over their shoulders.

Soldiers soon learned that war isn't glorious. Hardships of the march, the horror of battle, loss of friends, and a conflict that never ended changed their minds chapter by chapter.

In the unit study, students watch the changing attitudes. They contrast the views of war by comparing two Civil War songs.


This is a story about family: a close knit pioneering family from southern Illinois.

Jethro, as the youngest of twelve, has to learn what family is and how he fits in. Do the older brothers and sister who left before he was born count? What of the cousin that has lived with him since early childhood? And his deceased siblings he viewed as imaginary playmates of childhood?

He meets a member of his mother's extended family from the South, and learns full-well what a house divided is as his brothers part company.

At a young age, Jethro becomes head of the family after his father's illness and all grown sons are away at war. Even his unnamed nephews become his charges as he holds the family homestead together.


From the opening scene, readers ponder the responsibilities on a pioneer farm as young Jethro plants potatoes alongside his worn and worried mother. Chores were not new to him, but soon the farm holds far more than simply chores for the youngest son of a large clan.

Readers are provided with a chapter-by-chapter chart to trace the accumulation of responsibility shouldered by Jethro. Starting with his ascension to field hand, he climbs to the head of the household and clan after his father's illness.


Part of responsibility is decision-making which is an important element of Across Five Aprils. Another chapter by chapter chart entails the responsibilities made by different characters: The most important decision Jethro faces overlays his growing responsibility: what should he do when he discovers his cousin is a deserter?


Yore hopes is making a fool of yore reason,

are the opening words of Jethro's mother. The theme of hope threads in and out of the chapters as season by season Jethro's hopes for an end to the conflict are dashed. But other hopes also rise and fall.

In addition to the war, Jethro contends with his conscience, trouble in the community, the destruction of their barn, and the illness of his aging father.

And in the end, Ross Milton's words that peace would not be a perfect pearl become a painful reality when he learns of Lincoln's death one week after peace is declared.

In spite of the many dashed hopes experienced by Jethro and his country, this is not a story without hope. The story closes as the grieving Jethro rushes forward to meet his returning sister and the new life she promises.

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Across Five Aprils Genre

This story is a tale of coming of age.

Jethro grows from the baby of the family to its leader over the four years of the Civil War.

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Symbols in Across Five Aprils

Across Five Aprils Symbols


April represents the passing of time. From the firing on Fort Sumter to the treaty signed at Appottamox Court House, the month of April signals changes for Jethro and his nation.

April is not only a symbol for time and it's inevitable changes, but in the final chapter the month takes on the role of personification. The final April is the cruelest of "the five sisters" as the peace they all yearned for did not come as they desired.

Jethro and his family and neighbors keep close tabs on the events of the Civil War. A timeline of battles and events for the book allows readers to gage how soon Jethro might see his brothers returning home.

Walnut Hill

Walnut Hill is a family burial ground on the Creighton's homestead where Jethro assesses the changes brought to him as the seasons pass. He no longer sees his deceased siblings as imaginary playmates when he grasps the injustice and finality of Mary's death. It is here he says good-bye to his favorite brother and here he grieves the President he trusted to reunite the nation.


- As Jethro's responsibilities continue to mount, the youngster is armed with a rifle as he plows the field. He is not only the farmer but the guardian of his extended family.

Family Bible

Like Walnut Hill and the month of April, the family Bible symbolizes the changes of time for their family. As he contemplates the list of names and dates, Jethro faces the history of family and siblings older than himself and his role within it. With Jenny's absence, he becomes the scribe that carefully pens the critical dates that change their lives.

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Across Five Aprils

Lesson plans for the Civil War novel by Irene Hunt

Across Five Aprils Unit Study Across Five Aprils Unit Study
91 page unit study with chapter by chapter activities
Across Five Aprils Map Across Five Aprils Map
Shows the locale of the battles and events mentioned in the chapters

Across Five Aprils Timeline
A timeline of the battles and events mentioned in each chapter

Across Five Aprils summary
Summary of the action and unit study analysis by chapter
Themes, Symbols, Genre Across Five Aprils Themes
Analysis of the most important literary elements

Across Five Aprils Vocabulary
Vocabulary words and defintions for each chapter

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