This story emphasizes that having fought in a war or played the part of a hero in battle does not necessarily mean having good character. Uncle Jed, a man who refused to fight in the war, had more goodness and character than many of the other men in his town. He was a better father and a harder worker, and he had more kindness in his heart. Will learns this lesson eventually, but at the beginning of the novel he judges character based on a person’s war accomplishments. As Will struggles with his own difficult situations with the local bullies, he learns to behave with character and principle, following the advice of his uncle. The Northern soldier who stays at the farm for a while also demonstrates character; he tells stories of how his regiment did all they could to save the farms they were ordered to burn and how they tried to minimize the damage done while still following orders. He demonstrated to Will that having the suit of an enemy does not mean you have the character of an enemy. Phrased best by Will’s Aunt Ella, soldiers that did bad things in the war were probably bad men before they arrived there; men who do what is right no matter the circumstances held that virtue in the face of war.
Will struggles the entire novel with his sense of duty to the war. He feels that his uncle’s choice to avoid fighting in the war, as duty required, displayed cowardice and treachery. When conscription agents came to the homesteads to coerce men into fighting, Will thought that they were only enforcing the people’s duty as citizens of their country. Another sense of duty comes from Will’s having to stay at his uncle’s farm in the first place; they are his only family left, so he is sure that they are keeping him only out of a sense of duty. He comes to realize, eventually, that they truly care for him and want him to be there out of love, not duty. Through the example of his uncle and...
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