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The whole novel takes place in one day, and Jonathan changes his mind about war and fighting during the course of that day. When the novel opens, Jonathan is working in the fields. He has an older brother who is fighting with General Washington and a cousin who is fighting in a county regiment. He has romanticized war and, at 13, is just waiting for his father to tell him he can go and fight. He hears the warning bell at the tavern and tells his father that he is just going to find out the news.
"He meant to go and fight. 'Do it!' he told himself. "Go and fight!' His father was afraid, but he wasn't ...." (10:25)
When he gets involved in a gunfight with the Hessians, Jonathan sees his father's friend die in front of him. He gets confused and dizzy and when confronted with the Hessian troops, he turns and runs. He is being pursued by three Hessian soldiers when he trips and falls. He thinks
"'O God, O God, O God,' he whispered. He had failed in all he meant to do.
He was alive and wished he were dead, but not being dead, he was scared that he might die." (3:35)
He is captured by the Hessians, but he forms a sympathetic relationship with them. After he escapes, the Corporal asks him to return with the men so that they can kill the Hessians. Jonathan says,
"I want to go home." (11:50)
The Corporal insists that he take them to the Hessians. The Hessians are killed. Jonathan goes into the house, gets the rifle he borrowed, and smashes it to pieces. He returns home to his father.
"And suddenly, Jonathan understood more. Understood the most important thing --- that he had indeed been spared. Oh how glad he was to be there. And alive. Oh, alive." (0:30)
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