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Cold Sassy Tree

Olive Anne Burns

Chapters 5–10

Chapters 1–4

Chapters 11–16

Summary: Chapter 5

Will thinks of his late grandmother, Mattie Lou. Mattie Lou was very different than Miss Love, but like Miss Love she was feisty. Mattie Lou was a passionate gardener and was very refined despite her lack of formal education. Rucker began courting her when she was twenty-one and considered an old maid. Will remembers how his grandmother’s illness began: one day, Mattie Lou has a stroke and begins to hiccup uncontrollably. Will and Hoyt hurry over to the store to take care of business while Rucker stays with Mattie Lou. Later in the day, the town doctor comes by and tells Hoyt that Mattie Lou cannot be saved.

Summary: Chapter 6

Will continues to relate the story of Mattie Lou’s death; the townspeople gather to pay their last respects to Mattie Lou, but Rucker won’t let anybody see her, not even his daughters. Will enters Mattie Lou’s room, finds Rucker crying quietly to himself, and sneaks back out. Later, as Will sits by Mattie Lou’s bed, Rucker comes back with a rose to remind Mattie Lou of the day they began courting. Mattie Lou smiles and talks, in slurred speech, of the old days. She then begins to breathe loudly, and Rucker tells Will to pray with him. Rucker prays for God to help him remember that all life and death happens for a reason and asks God to forgive him his sins against Mattie Lou. The next day Mattie Lou is better.

Summary: Chapter 7

Will continues that a week later, Mattie Lou begins to deteriorate. As Will sits by her bed, Mattie Lou hallucinates, seeing an old woman crawling on the walls and two men with shovels coming from the graveyard to steal her away. She sees a group of angels, which delights her. That night Mattie Lou dies, and Rucker is heartbroken. Will says that anyone who saw the look on Rucker’s face would know that he was not lusting after Miss Love.

Summary: Chapter 8

Will continues that Miss Love helps after Mattie Lou’s death, cleaning Rucker’s house and preparing for the funeral. Miss Love says that Mattie Lou took wonderful care of her when she had the flu and that she would like to help in any way she can. On the morning of Mattie Lou’s funeral, Rucker asks Will to help him pick all of Mattie Lou’s roses. They attach the flowers to a sack, making a blanket of roses. Rucker will bury Mattie Lou in an expensive, store-bought coffin, which Will points to as evidence that he truly loves her. Will and Rucker go to the fresh grave and line it with the blanket of roses. Rucker tells Will that Mattie Lou once remarked that she would not be afraid of dying if she could be buried in a bed of roses.

Summary: Chapter 9

Will continues that Rucker goes back to work the day after the funeral. Rucker behaves coldly to his family and assistants. Miss Effie Bell Tate, Rucker’s gossipy neighbor, tells Mary Willis that Rucker sits up late at night.

Back in the present, Will hates being in mourning. He remembers how his younger sister, Mary Toy, got her hair ruined by Aunt Carrie, a bossy eccentric woman with odd ideas who decided to dye Mary Toy’s hair black because her natural red hair seemed inappropriate for the funeral. Will goes to Rucker’s house and remembers Mattie Lou and the stories she used to tell about interesting deaths. It seems unfair that Mattie Lou’s death was not that fascinating, since she so enjoyed a grisly story.

Summary: Chapter 10

The whole town gathers for the Fourth of July parade. No United States flags appear in Cold Sassy, but the streets are lined with people waving Confederate flags. The parade has several bands, followed by carts full of Confederate army veterans, and the two town suffragettes, Miss Love among them, marching to demand voting rights. Last of all come the younger veterans, who are supposed to charge up Main Street led by Rucker. Because of Mattie Lou’s death, however, Rucker declines to be in the parade.

Analysis: Chapters 5–10

We, the town, and Will wonder whether Rucker had feelings for Miss Love before Mattie Lou died. Rucker seems grieved and desperate during Mattie’s death, but Will also overhears Rucker beg Mattie forgiveness for his sins. Burns makes us wonder whether Rucker feels repentant because he lusted after Miss Love or even slept with her, or whether he simply wants forgiveness for the everyday failings of any spouse. Despite his usual stinginess, Rucker has Mattie Lou buried in an expensive coffin, behavior that could signify either grief and love or feelings of guilt. While the town openly wonders if Miss Love and Rucker had feelings for each other before Mattie Lou died, Rucker refuses to acknowledge the debate or defend himself, and he acts standoffish.

Will’s lengthy reflection on Mattie Lou’s death not only demonstrates that Will is a warm and caring person but allows us to learn about the events around the time of her death. In a town so concerned with propriety, it becomes important for Will, who loves his grandfather deeply, to wipe out any doubts about Rucker’s character. In fact, he presents both Rucker’s sympathetic side, with his description of the blanket of roses that Rucker makes for Mattie Lou’s grave, and Rucker’s grumpy side, with his description of how Rucker interrupts customers at his store who try to offer their condolences. Will presents a portrait of Rucker as nothing less than human.

The parade celebrating Southern Independence Day foreshadows the mingling of North and South that occurs with Miss Love and Rucker’s imminent marriage. Cold Sassy still lives in the past, and the values of the old Confederacy shape the town’s beliefs. The parade honors the Fourth of July, a nationwide holiday dear to the hearts of the Northerners who won independence, but the parade-goers wave Confederate flags and applaud the veterans of the War Between the States, as the Cold Sassy residents call the Civil War. Still, as the parade and the marriage show, both old and new and North and South can live in peace. Miss Love brings the new values of the North to town. She marches in the parade to promote suffrage, a feminist movement that has virtually no support in Cold Sassy. Despite her Yankee behavior, she marries Rucker, one of the Cold Sassy’s most prominent citizens and a Civil War veteran.

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