Shades of Gray

by Carolyn Reeder

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What challenges does Will face in his new home with Uncle Jed in Carolyn Reeder's Shades of Gray?

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Will struggles with accepting his uncle’s position on the war.  He considers his uncle a traitor for refusing to take sides.  Will’s father and brother were killed by Yankee soldiers, and his sisters died of typhoid spread from an army camp.  His mother sickened after the war ended and died...

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as well.  As a result, Will blamed the Yankees for taking his family away from him.

Will’s bitterness makes it difficult for him to come live with his uncle.  Every time he turns around he seems to get into some kind of conflict with his new family.  His aunt is sad that his mother stopped writing to her because of Will’s uncle’s neutrality.  His cousin blames Confederate soldiers, who she calls rebels, for her sister’s death.  They confiscated the family cow, and her sister sickened without the milk.

In addition to philosophical difference with his relatives, Will has to get used to a whole new lifestyle.  He does not know how to hoe, because he had slaves to do it.  He also has never worked trap lines.  Will is proud, and it is hard for him to admit that he does not know how to do something.  He expects praise for small accomplishments, and his uncle is not accustomed to giving it.  Will refuses to call his uncle “uncle,” instead calling him sir.  This upsets his uncle.

When Will encounters a neighbor who feels the same way about his uncle, he finds himself defending him.

“He and I don’t feel the same about the war, but he’s been good to me since I’ve come here to live,” Will interrupted, backing down the porch steps. He hated having to defend his uncle to a man who’d lost two sons in the war, but he knew it would be wrong to stand by and hear him criticized. (Ch. 5)

While Will has plenty of conversation with his uncle, aunt, and cousin about his uncle’s refusing to fight, when others question it or treat his uncle baldy, he feels bad.  As much as he disagrees with his uncle, he finds it hard to condone others’ resentment of him.  Will is proud of his uncle when he fixes the mill.

One day Will gets a letter from Doc Martin back home offering to adopt him.  Will feels conflicted.  He wants to go back home, and knows he will have a more comfortable life. He doesn’t want to hurt his uncle’s feelings.  He also knows they need him.

Will still struggles with the concept of cowardice.  He calls Hank, a neighbor boy who is much bigger than him, a coward.  Hank beats him badly, and his uncle says he deserved it because he should not have called Hank a coward.  In time, Will realizes that his uncle wasn’t a coward either, and that it took courage not to fight.

Meg made an impatient gesture. “Don’t you understand that it took a lot of courage for Pa not to go to war when all the other men did?”

Slowly, he nodded, realizing that what she said was true. (Ch. 16)

Will starts calling his uncle Uncle Jed.  He also finally tells them about the letter, and that he has decided to stay.  He realized that he is where he belongs.

Will's issues are complex.  If I were to give him advice, I would tell him that he needs to see things from others' point of view. Eventually, he is able to do this.  His uncle helps him understand.  I would tell him to have an open mind.  War is complex.  This is another lesson Will learns from his uncle.  For example, when Jed allows an ex-Yankee soldier, Jim, to stay with them for a week, Will does not understand at first. The experience turns out to be enlightening for Will, and he even writes a letter to Jim telling him he understands why people do what they do. 

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