Summary of Chapter 5: The Forenoon
Adam falls into an exhausted sleep in the smokehouse and is awakened by two soldiers speaking outside. He watches them through a crack. They discuss whether to burn the smokehouse down but decide not to because it is outside their orders. A third soldier calls them away to march. When they leave, Adam runs for the cover of the woods. He runs into two more soldiers there who shoot at him, but the gun misfires, so Adam jumps a stone wall and runs across a meadow. He falls into strong arms. He fights to get free, but the man is someone from Lincoln, an older man named Solomon Chandler.
Adam tells him they shot his father and bursts into tears. Chandler comforts Adam and tells him to go ahead and grieve. He has six children and nineteen grandchildren of his own. Adam stops crying and for the first time understands that life will continue, even though his father is dead. Chandler takes out his watch and announces it is 12 minutes after nine in the morning. Adam has lost his youth and become a man in a few hours. Adam does not feel he is yet a man. The two walk together parallel to the Concord road. Chandler shares his food with Adam and asks him to tell him what happened.
Adam tells the events, how the farmers did not fire at all but were shot down. Adam concludes the farmers were cowards because they all ran away as he did. Chandler tries to tell him it was not cowardice, that it takes no bravery to shoot a gun. Since Adam cannot go home, he follows Chandler who warns him, “what’s started ain’t easily finished” (p. 110).
Chandler helps Adam confront his fear of the redcoats by pointing out their ignorance. They think the Americans are peasants, “but not one in ten of them can read or write his letters” (p. 112). He tells Adam the British are going to Concord, but “it will be easier going there than coming back” (p. 113). He points out how heavily they are laden with their uniforms and muskets. Adam takes courage from Chandler’s confidence, and they walk together as Adam has fond memories of hunting with his father. They meet nine other men, among whom is Adam’s Cousin Joshua Dover. He tells them about his father’s death. The men are shocked when they hear who died on the green. Chandler tells them where the assembly is going to be in Ashley’s Pasture. The eleven march on. The Atkins family join them, making eighteen. On the way, Adam sees Cousin Simmons and the Reverend and throws himself into Cousin Simmons’ arms. These twenty-one find thirty more at Ashley’s Pasture. Eventually, one hundred are gathered.
Commentary on Chapter 5: The Forenoon
If Cousin Simmons becomes a surrogate father to Adam, then Solomon Chandler is a sort of grandfather. Chandler gives Adam his first glimpse of life beyond the tragedy he has been through. He shares not only his food but his perspective and wisdom. He tells Adam that “Life is potent . . . . life has a special quality of asserting itself” (p. 108). This lesson comes as Adam feels guilty for enjoying food in the midst of grief.
Chandler is an old soldier who has been to war, and he explains to Adam that “all of it comes down to a moment” (p. 109). The only thing for those left alive is to do their duty as best they can. He also admits that it is a “state of mind” that makes killing possible, and that this state doesn’t “come easily to decent folk” (p. 110).
He helps Adam to face his own fear of death as Adam informs Chandler that “Johnny Harrington was seventeen, and they killed him on the common” (p. 112). Chandler tells him he has to look at the fear until he gets calm. He shows him the British are just common people in uniforms.
Chandler confirms what Moses Cooper has said about the British recruits; they are a sad lot drawn from the poor and criminal elements of England. They are “ignorant devils, with a religion as cloudy and superstitious as their minds” (p. 112). He refers to the English Church. Many colonists fled England because of religious oppression. American settlers in New England were Protestants of various sects, who disdained the Church of England for its beliefs and practices. Protestant sects were often persecuted in England and Europe but felt America was their true home. They did not want to lose their freedom again to “the British lords.” They had come to America to get rid of all that persecution. Moses Cooper had defined for Adam their place as literate and rational Protestant dissenters, a civilized and peaceful people. He respects the British officers as educated, but the soldiers were often conscripted from prisons or the streets.
Adam is even more comforted by meeting up with his kin and the Reverend, for he had felt the whole village had been killed that morning, and now he knows he is one of the many survivors. As they march to a new rallying point, he feels the solidarity of the men from all the surrounding villages. He is not as afraid of the British as he is angry. He is now part of a larger cause.