In chapter 4 ... what does ed turner mean when he says a family needs to be alone when on of these letters come???

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In my opinion, Ed Turner simply means that a letter from a son or brother who is off fighting in a war is something that is too emotional for a family to share with others.  Ed Turner does not want to intrude as the family reads Tom's letter.

You can see the emotion in the fact that Ellen's hands are shaking as she gives the letter to Shadrach to read for her.  And you can also see it given that she is "frozen" and can't even talk after she finishes listening to the letter.

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