Shades of Gray

by Carolyn Reeder

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Student Question

What traits does Will exhibit in chapters 4-6 of Shades of Gray?

Expert Answers

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Will is judgmental, sad, and angry in the first few chapters of the book.

Will is very judgmental when he first arrives at his aunt and uncle’s farm.  He is in mourning for his family, of which he is the last surviving member.  His father was killed in the war, and his siblings and mother died of disease.  At the same time, Will is conflicted.  He likes his new relatives, but feels like his uncle is a traitor.

Will feels like his uncle should have assisted Southern Confederate soldiers during the Civil War.  His aunt and uncle call the Confederate soldiers rebels.  This makes Will angry. 

In the flurry of meeting his cousin and aunt, he’d momentarily forgotten his dread of living in the same house with a traitor—or with a coward, rather, since his uncle hadn’t actually helped the enemy. (Ch. 1)

He has to force himself to even shake his uncle’s hand when he first meets him.  He has conflicts with his cousin, at first, because he doesn’t want to acknowledge the toll the war took on them.

When Meg tells him her sister died when Confederate scouts took their cow, he lashes out at her.

Will felt a wave of anger surge through him.  “You should think of Nell and Bessie as your family’s contribution to the war, since your father wouldn’t fight,” he said in a voice that was deadly quiet. (Ch. 1)

They get into a fight, because Meg tells him her father did not need to fight so that rich people could keep their slaves.   He tells her the war was about states’ rights, not slavery. They are on two sides of an ideological divide, even after the war has ended.

A good example of Will’s judgmental attitude is his refusal to call his uncle “uncle” at first.  He is confused when his aunt tells him how sad she was when her letters to his mother were unanswered, because his father wouldn’t let her correspond with a traitor.  Now that he is with his aunt and uncle, things are confusing for him.  Nothing seems as simple as it did before.

Will’s pride extends to being upset at not being able to do what he is asked to do.  He gets lost following the rabbit traps. He does not know how to hoe the garden.  Will wants to prove he can do anything.  He is determined to show them that he is not useless. As his uncle teaches him how to work on the farm, he takes pride in the few compliments he gets, even though he wonders why he cares what his uncle thinks.

Will puzzles over the idea of honor the longer he is with his new family.  Meg tells him her father was honorable too, to choose not to fight, and that a man should have a right to choose.  He doesn’t know how to answer Meg when she asks why he should fight for a cause he didn’t believe in.

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