Across Five Aprils

by Irene Hunt

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Student Question

What does the quote "Don't expect peace to be a perfect pearl, Jeth" mean in Chapter 12 of Across Five Aprils?

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When Ross Milton warns Jeth, "Don't expect peace to be a perfect pearl", he is telling the youth not to expect that, with the ceasing of hostilities, the idyllic world he remembers will be restored.  Milton is a realist, and he understands that the tasks of reconciliation and reconstruction after five years of bloodshed will be enormous.  He says,

"This is a land lying in destruction, physical, and spiritual.  If the twisted railroads and the burned cities and the fields covered with the bones of dead men - if that were all, we could soon rise out of the destruction.  But the hate that burns in old scars, and the thirst for revenge that has distorted men...these are the things that may make peace a sorry thing..."

Exhausted by the seemingly endless years of war, the nation is elated that peace is finally imminent.  Like Jeth, the tendency among the people is to look at peace as "a shining dream...a glorious sense of relief".  Indeed, families will be reunited as loved ones who have survived return home, but the country has been torn apart, perhaps irrecovably, and the physical wounds suffered by soldiers and the land alike are only the surface evidence of the damage that has been sustained underneath.

Among the many problems that will have to be faced before peace can truly reign once again are the questions of how to overcome the enmity of a nation still bitterly divided, and how to meet the needs of the newly freed slaves.  Ross Milton places his hope in the wisdom and gentle guidance of Abraham Lincoln, in hopes that

"he can control the bigots...(and) allow the defeated their dignity and a chance to rise out of their despair".

Milton fears that if he cannot, then "peace (only) a mockery" (Chapter 12).

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