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POINT OF VIEW
The story is narrated in third person. The anonymous voice simultaneously chronicles the history of the Civil War and subjectively follows Jethro’s transition of boy to man. Though fiction, most events are based on historic fact and/or the life of Hunt’s grandfather who lived the real life role of Jethro. Both sides are presented, the Union and the Confederate, and those for and against Lincoln, with the truest voice being Ross Milton as he foretells that peace will not be a “perfect pearl”.
The use of dialect in Across Five Aprils serves not only to set the scene of the rural South, but also to express the differing levels of ignorance of the characters. Most of the characters, because of the time in history and their rural upbringing, use less than perfect English. The author uses dialectal spelling (ex. yore for your) and colloquialisms in the dialog to confer a homey accent. In Jethro’s words,
“I heerd some of the big fellers talkin’ the other night, and they said the war, even if it comes, will be no more than a breakfas’ spell. They said that soldiers up here kin take the South by the britches and make it holler ‘Nough’ quicker than it takes coffee to cool off fer swallerin’”
Learnedness is expressed in speech by the lack of dialect. Shadrach Yale, Ross Milton, and eventually Jethro speak Standard English as indicated by the author’s use of standard spelling. Shadrach tells Jethro,
“Sometime when I come back, you and Jenny and I are going to have evenings like this together. We’ve decided that you’ll live with us and go to school, maybe to one of the fine universities in the East when you’re old enough.”
Conversely, the poorest English written in the novel accompanies the most ignorant and despicable characters. They are unnamed, but they leave a note in large printed letters,
“Theres trubel fer fokes that stands up fer there reb lovin sons.”
The note, because it is so poorly written, conveys to the reader that the group that attacks the Creighton home is of a disreputable rank in society.
Jethro’s speech development throughout the course of the novel parallels his development into manhood. As he loses his ignorance and innocence, he uses less dialect and substandard spelling. By Chapter 10 he is able to write a moving letter to Jenny that has but few grammatical errors. The first sentence opens eloquently,
“We are all feeling much pleasure here to know that Shad is better and is going to get well.”
The letter continues, well written, showing that Jethro has matured intellectually and emotionally. In the final pages of the novel there is little dialectal writing. Shad and Jethro converse as peers.