Summary of Chapter 7: The Afternoon
As they march to the place where they want to trap the army, Adam remarks that it makes no sense that a group of farmers could carry out such a plan. Simmons says war never makes sense. He tells Adam they have declared themselves now and they are past arguments; they must finish what they started. Adam is complaining and wanting to go home, but Simmons says he is Moses Cooper’s son, and everyone knows it.
Their group of 150 militiamen sees from a hill that Lexington is burning. Later they discover only three houses are burned, but it appears as if the whole town is in flames. Adam is sick and angry. He wonders about his family. Simmons remarks that it is bitter to see the fire and worry for his family. Solomon Chandler gives them hope by announcing that the British have to be back in Boston by nightfall or they will never be back there.
A hundred more men arrive and say that the redcoats are going to return on the Menotomy Road, and they want to stop them. The men are in a wild mood. One suggests that the whole combined group should divide into three smaller groups to set up a roadblock, and hold them there for a few hours until even more colonists can show up. Together, the force will inflict a deadly victory on the British. Since it sounds like more of a plan than anything else the militias have done all day, and those few with military experience agree with it, they begin to blockade the road and lay their trap.
Adam climbs into a windfall with others by the side of the road to wait for the British. When the troops come, they shoot, and Adam feels the unreality of it all. Adam finally burrows into the earth and falls asleep during the battle.
He is awakened later by the voices of Joseph Simmons and the Reverend worrying about which of them will have to tell his mother that he is dead. They are relieved when he gets up and tells them he was merely asleep. Cousin Simmons tells Adam that if the British get back to Boston, there will be five thousand Committeemen waiting for them there. It’s time for them to return home for the night.
When Adam gets to Lexington, he finds most of the town intact, including the Coopers' house. His family is relieved to see him, as they had heard that he was dead. Adam thinks the Reverend and Cousin Simmons have aged. Levi runs into his arms, and the two brothers sob. His mother is white and being held up by Granny. His mother collapses in Adam’s arms. Ruth and the neighbors are in the kitchen, and Adam is led upstairs to view his father’s body. He is too numb to respond.
Levi tells him of seeing British dead and wounded brought through the village, of the rude behavior of the redcoats (one of whom even threatened to shoot one of his friends). He wants to know how many British Adam killed, and is disappointed when Adam says he doesn't know. He thinks Adam should at least have gotten wounded. Adam tells him not to talk like that, as his mother is deep in grief for her husband. He tells Levi he has to get used to that and face up to the new realities and be there for their mother.
Adam bathes and dresses in clean clothes, and the family bears Moses Cooper to the church with the other fallen from that morning. As Adam looks over the damage left from the battle, he realizes that unlike his brother, he has left childhood behind. He tells Joseph Simmons that the night before, his father had put his arm around him as they went out to the muster, the only time he felt the love his father expressed for him.
Joseph tells him there will be another muster of local militiamen the next day for the siege of Boston, but he isn't sure that he'll sign because of his position as a blacksmith, which is extremely important to the village. Adam is not committed yet, but may sign.
Commentary on Chapter 7: The Afternoon
Although Adam is sickened by war, he is even sicker at seeing his village burning, and his loved ones in danger. He wants to quit over and over, but he is driven on as are the other men, “in the grip of a force outside ourselves” (p. 149). Cousin Simmons tells him again they cannot stop: “Now we’re enemies until one side or another wins its purpose” (p. 146). Adam says proudly to his family, “We drove them out—every foot of the way, and all the way back to Boston” (p. 159).
Levi’s childish response wanting to know how many Adam killed is now repulsive to Adam, who has seen more death than most men see in their lives. Adam admits there is no joy in winning. Everyone has been changed and saddened.
Such touches as Adam falling asleep during the battle or Esther Atkins giving him a piece of pie, make the historical battle more human and believable. The surreal scenes are interspersed with normal human interactions. Fast makes clear the effect of war on the young and impressionable boys, such as Jonathan Crisp’s weeping at the sight of Lexington burning. Adam says it felt like their world was crumbling, and no one had expected it.
Though Levi is still childish enough to think war and killing exciting, he is also very afraid and shaken by the day’s events and clings to his older brother for security. Levi shows his brother where he was hit by a British soldier who threatened to put a bayonet in nine-year-old Johnny Carver. He worries about the redcoats coming back; he worries about ghosts. Adam has to sound like his father now, rational and calm and mature: “I had parted with childhood and boyhood forever” (p. 167).
Adam is as shocked returning home as remaining in the battle with the men. Now he sees the devastation, his mother’s grief, and above all, the dependence of his family on him, who must now play a man’s role. Ruth watches him, worried about his going off to war. Cousin Simmons is no longer pushing him to continue fighting, but it is a decision hanging over his head; they need five thousand men for the siege of Boston. He will be torn by duty to family and a duty to the country. Simmons himself feels he must stay with the village as the blacksmith. Adam finds little relief in coming home to the turmoil and responsibility. The course of their lives has been changed forever: “the April morning when I had departed properly belonged to a past so distant and different that it could hardly be evoked” (p. 166).
When a newspaper man from the Boston Advertiser asks Adam what happened that day on the common, Adam says “I’m too tired to know what the truth is” (p. 169). It is Cousin Simmons who tells him what the truth is, that his father was no saint but a patriot and that he died to defend his home: “That’s an old, old way, Adam, older than you or me . . . . There are worse ways for a man to die” (p. 171).