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Cold Sassy Tree

Olive Anne Burns

Chapters 17–20

Chapters 11–16

Chapters 21–27

Summary: Chapter 17

That night, Will dreams that Lightfoot is calling to him from the railroad tracks. She removes her clothing and Will sees that a train is going to hit her. He tries to call out to her but cannot, and the train shatters her. Will also dreams that he is running from a train, but Loma stands in his way and insists that he call her Aunt Loma or she won’t move. Will wakes up and remembers Aunt Loma’s twelfth birthday. She and Will, who is only six years her junior, played together like sister and brother until she turned twelve and demanded that Will call her Aunt Loma. Will refused, and Loma broke all of his lead soldiers. Since that day, Will and Loma have hated each other. Will gets furious with Aunt Loma all over again as he remembers that day. He thinks of other people he dislikes, including Hosie Roach and his paternal grandfather. Hoyt’s father, Grandpa Tweedy, is a lazy, pious farmer who spends all day sitting on his front porch giving lectures about religion and swatting flies for his pet hen to pick up. Will hates Grandpa Tweedy mostly because Tweedy prohibited Will from fishing on Sundays.

Summary: Chapter 18

Will forgets about the date he made with Lightfoot. The newspaper reporter interviews him about his brush with death. Despite everyone’s kindness to Miss Love after Rucker’s prayer, no one calls on the newlyweds the next day. Mary Willis is livid when she finds that Miss Love is cleaning the house and Rucker wants his daughters to go through Mattie Lou’s belongings. Will goes to see if he can help Miss Love around the house. When he arrives, Miss Love has taken a break to play the piano. She is playing boisterous dance music, and her dress has fallen low across her chest. Will, agog, watches Miss Love’s breasts bounce for a moment before announcing his presence. To his shock, Will sees that Miss Love has written down the day of her marriage to Rucker in the Bible that belongs to Mattie Lou’s family. After looking at Miss Love’s arrangement of the house, Will sees that she has her own bedroom and thinks he was right that Rucker married her so she would keep house for him. Rucker arrives, and after lunch Miss Love persuades him to let her give him a haircut and shave off his wild beard. After the haircut, Will can hardly believe how young and distinguished his grandfather looks.

Summary: Chapter 19

How come you married my grandpa?

(See Important Quotations Explained)

Will and Rucker look even more alike after Miss Love shaves off Rucker’s bushy beard, which greatly pleases Will. After Rucker goes back to the store, Will looks around the house. In Miss Love’s room, he finds a poster advertising a women’s suffrage meeting. Miss Love and Aunt Carrie are the only people in Cold Sassy who openly support women’s right to vote. Will suddenly asks Miss Love why she married his grandfather. Hearing himself ask her such a personal question, Will is aghast at his own impudence.

Summary: Chapter 20

Will expects Miss Love to be angry, but she isn’t. She explains that her marriage to Rucker is an arrangement, not a real marriage. Rucker needed a housekeeper, so immediately after the Fourth of July parade, he asked Miss Love to marry him. In return, Rucker offered to leave Miss Love the house, the furniture, and two hundred dollars after his death. Will asks Miss Love why she wasn’t already married to her former beau, Son Black. Miss Love replies that she never loved Son Black and gave up on marriage after something bad happened to her in Texas. Miss Love does not elaborate on the bad thing that happened to her, but the gossips in Cold Sassy say that she called off her wedding after her fiancé impregnated her best friend. As Will and Miss Love talk, Will sees a well-dressed cowboy walking toward the house.

Analysis: Chapters 17–20

Will’s dream in Chapter 17 demonstrates that he is moving toward adulthood. The dream functions as a way for Will to deal with some of the issues he faces as he passes into adolescence. Clearly, he begins a sexual awakening. His fantasy about saving the disrobed Lightfoot shows that he has a newfound subconscious awareness of the female body. Sex and desire begin to permeate his conscious mind as well, as evidenced by the fact that when he visits Miss Love, her heaving bosom and bare knees titillate him. But Will’s dream also shows that he is dealing with having to make choices about how he fits into society. Lightfoot is an object of desire for him, while Loma is an object of detestation. In refusing to call Loma his aunt, he effectively rejects the constraints of Cold Sassy society and makes a choice for himself to follow his desires, which include Lightfoot.

Will’s blossoming relationship with Miss Love sets him apart from the rest of Cold Sassy. While most townspeople gossip about Miss Love and her marriage to Rucker, Will accepts Miss Love without resenting her presence or condemning her conduct. Will dislikes the gossip and insinuation that entertain the people of Cold Sassy. His description of the rumor mills makes the town sound claustrophobic. Although Will has grown up surrounded by gossip and moral severity, he is young enough to question them. Unhampered by worries about what the town will think, he forms a bond with Miss Love, and she begins to trust him with the intimate details of her marriage to Rucker.

Cold Sassy residents refuse to accept Miss Love because they think that she behaves scandalously, not because her personality offends them. Cold Sassy fears what is different, and Miss Love is exuberantly different. She marches in the Fourth of July parade as a suffragette, a woman dedicated to winning women the right to vote. Her march not only confirms her terrifying feminism, it allies her with Aunt Carrie, the town eccentric and the town’s only other suffragette. Then Miss Love marries Rucker, a man more than twice her age. This offends the town because of the disparity in the couple’s age, the fact that their marriage comes so soon after Mattie Lou’s death, and the perception that Miss Love wants Rucker’s money. The townspeople love good gossip, and they also genuinely disapprove of Miss Love’s antics, so they spread rumors about her with glee. If Miss Love stopped behaving unconventionally, she might stop their wagging tongues; the townspeople’s willingness to hug Miss Love after Rucker’s prayer suggests that she might win them over by conforming. Miss Love, however, does not let the town get to her, and she cheerfully stays above the politics of the small town. Miss Love becomes, along with Will and Rucker, a figure of resistance to the status quo. She bears the brunt of the town’s hatred for nonconformists, however, since Rucker is protected by his wealth and position, and Will rebels in theory and not in practice.

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