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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 855

Family

The family bond between brothers drives the entire storyline. Homer’s quest to find his brother, Harold, is driven by his love. Because Homer and his brother lost their parents at a young age, they could only rely on each other. Even though Homer never knew his mother, Harold does...

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Family

The family bond between brothers drives the entire storyline. Homer’s quest to find his brother, Harold, is driven by his love. Because Homer and his brother lost their parents at a young age, they could only rely on each other. Even though Homer never knew his mother, Harold does a good job teaching him about her values and principles, and Homer refers to his parents often throughout the book. In this book, family has close associations with kindness and love; even though their uncle, Squint, is technically their family, they have no connection to him, and his cruelty prevents them from loving him as a family member. On the other hand, Jedediah Brewster, the kindly Quaker who adopts Harold and Homer, plays the role of father and protector better than their uncle ever did. Family encompasses people who love you and take care of you, taking your best interest into their hearts. The ties that bind families together are strong enough to hold against trial, tragedy, hardship, and other obstacles; Homer’s journey demonstrates this.

War

The novel is set during the American Civil War, and Homer sees the varied impacts of the war everywhere he goes. He sees the hardship and peril the slaves undergo to escape to freedom; he sees the farms left empty when soldiers leave home to fight; he experiences the fear and sorrow felt by family members when their relatives become soldiers; he sees the blood and carnage that accompany the actual fighting; and he sees the many positions people take—such as spying and conscripting young boys—on the sidelines of the battle itself. The last portion of the book covers the Battle of Gettysburg in great detail, emphasizing the vast amounts of death and wounded men who covered its fields by the end. Homer is right there, in the middle of the fighting, and gets to witness the injuries, the amputations by surgeons, the despair of the wounded, and the chaos of gun and cannon fire. As a young boy, Homer is dramatically affected by what he sees and horrified that Harold would want to be a part of it. The novel shows well how, when a country is at war, there are few who are not affected, even if they are not fighting on the actual battlefield.

Slavery

The conflict over slavery is at the heart of the Civil War. Homer gets to see this crisis played out as he encounters people involved in the Underground Railroad. As a young boy, the Underground Railroad was just an abstract idea to Homer, but at Jedediah’s house, he meets actual slaves who are escaping. He has sympathy for their plight and is moved by the families—small children and babies included—who are risking their lives to free themselves from their oppressive situations. Their plight is made more dangerous by people who try to capture slaves so they can turn them in and earn reward money; the conniving Stink and Smelt are two such characters whom Homer has the misfortune to know. The novel contrasts this selfishness with the generosity of people who are willing to risk their lives and their security to help the slaves escape. Jedediah is one such man. He is not a soldier, but he exhibits bravery in the fight against slavery. Homer recognizes the life-and-death danger the slaves and their helpers put themselves into every day.

Integrity

Integrity is seen in many different forms throughout the novel. In a lighthearted manner, Homer admits to the readers that he is quite a liar. He enjoys telling tall tales, stretching the truth, and inventing pure fabricated adventures to impress and entertain people around him. His dishonesty reveals a lack of integrity, but he is candid about this shortcoming. His lies are showcased occasionally in the novel and provide comic relief and entertainment. However, most people see right through his lies, so they cause no great harm. Despite his penchant for lying, Homer displays integrity when it counts, making the right decisions when people’s lives are on the line. In the end, he displays great courage in saving his brother on the battlefield.

Other characters—those with and without integrity—better illustrate this topic and its effects within the novel. From their dishonest uncle Squint who sells Harold illegally to the army to earn a fee, to the slave-selling Smelt and Stink, to the young couple that connives the preacher Webster out of his money, to the carnival director who has no qualms selling whiskey as medicine while simultaneously gathering secrets for the Confederate army, integrity is certainly lacking in many people in the novel. The message is that some people are driven more by personal greed than integrity, and many people succumb to the temptation of the dollar over decency. In contrast, the novel celebrates the decency and goodness of Jedediah—who refuses to lie—and others who are fighting and risking their lives for what they feel is right. Their integrity and moral courage stands as a model for Homer and provide hope and relief in the landscape of sordid characters.

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