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Cold Sassy Tree

Olive Anne Burns

Chapters 21–27

Chapters 17–20

Chapters 28–31

Summary: Chapter 21

The cowboy walks through the door, seizes Miss Love, and begins kissing her passionately. Will is fascinated by the sight, but he becomes alarmed when he sees Rucker’s next door neighbor, the elderly Miss Effie Belle Tate, waddling toward the house. Miss Effie Belle Tate is bringing a coconut cake, although Will realizes this gesture is Miss Effie Belle Tate’s excuse to investigate the appearance of the cowboy. Will tries to block Miss Effie Belle Tate’s view into the house, but she catches a glimpse of the kiss and hurries away to spread the gossip. Miss Love breaks away from the cowboy and bursts into tears. She calls the cowboy, Clayton McAllister, a no-good liar and a rogue. Clayton says he has come to take Miss Love away, and she replies that she is already married.

Summary: Chapter 22

Rucker arrives at home. Will speculates that Miss Effie Belle Tate told him what happened, and Will is both excited and worried that Rucker and Clayton will get into a fight. However, Rucker is extremely polite to Clayton, and the two men get along well. As they talk, Will’s mind wanders, and he thinks about the religious idea of predestination and wonders whom Miss Love was meant to marry. Rucker invites Clayton to stay the night, but Clayton says he needs to catch the train to Atlanta. He vanishes, leaving his silver-trimmed saddle as a gift for Miss Love. Miss Love worries about the gossip that Miss Effie Bell Tate will spread in Cold Sassy, which is already hostile to her. Rucker asks Miss Love whether she wants to marry Clayton and says that if she does, they can have their marriage annulled.

Summary: Chapters 23

Miss Love says she wants to stay in Cold Sassy and would not want to marry Clayton even if she were not already married. She asks Will to return the saddle to Clayton, and Rucker tries to persuade her to keep it. Miss Love begins to cry, and Rucker, who has no patience for crying, tells her to shut up, which only makes her cry harder. Rucker remembers that one of his country cousins breeds racehorses and has offered to give him one for free. He asks Miss Love if she would like to have a horse, and she brightens at the prospect. Rucker tells Will to fetch the horse on Monday, and Will proposes that he and his friends combine the errand with a camping trip.

Summary: Chapter 24

Will’s parents agree to the camping trip, although Mary Willis bursts into tears and asks him not to have too good a time. Later, Hoyt tells Will that Mary Willis has not yet come to terms with Mattie Lou’s death. Will assures Miss Love that he will not spread gossip about her and Clayton, but Miss Effie Belle Tate spreads the news all over town. She even pays a visit to Will’s house to share the news. Later, Miss Effie Belle Tate tells Will’s parents that when Miss Love tried to lead the Methodist congregation in song, everybody remained silent. Miss Love continued playing the church piano anyway, but when she realized the preacher was not going to let her sing any more songs, she left the church.

Summary: Chapters 25

Will and a friend of his hitch a ride with the mailman to Grandpa Tweedy’s farm, where they hope to borrow Tweedy’s covered wagon for their camping trip. On the way, the mailman tells them how he almost killed his first wife when she cheated on him but that he then thought better of it. Will looks at the farmland around them and says that one day he will become a farmer. Will and his friend receive a cold welcome from Grandpa Tweedy. At dinner, Tweedy frets that there isn’t enough room in his plot at the cemetery to bury him and his third wife. His wife jokes that she should be buried next to her first husband, which enrages Tweedy. During dessert, Grandpa Tweedy’s mood improves, and he helps Will and his friend hitch the mules to the covered wagon.

Summary: Chapter 26

Will and his friends head out for the mountains. Will is thrilled about the trip, but mourns the loss of his friend Bluford Jackson, who died of lockjaw the previous year. Bluford had been planning a camping trip like the one Will is currently enjoying. Problems plague the boys on their trip: bears eat their food, it rains, and Will scares them all with terrifying ghost stories. He tells a true story about his great-grandmother, who was presumed dead and about to be buried when she suddenly sat up in her coffin and began screaming. The boys decide to pick up the horse and head back to town early. On the trip home, the boys tease Will about Miss Love. In his anger, Will reveals that Miss Love and Rucker have separate beds, a fact he had promised to keep secret. Flustered and eager to change the subject, Will makes up stories about Loma. He tells the boys that Loma nursed a pig after her baby was born to keep up her milk supply. He also tells them that on her wedding day, Loma enhanced her flat bosom with inflatable breasts and that during the service one of them leaked with a loud hiss.

Summary: Chapter 27

Back in Cold Sassy, Will gives Miss Love the horse, which she names Mr. Beautiful. Will’s stories about Loma spread around town and Hoyt whips him as punishment for making up tales. Even Rucker, who usually cannot stand Loma, lectures Will. Rucker tells Will that Miss Love has been removed from her position as piano player at the Methodist church because of her alleged impropriety. In protest, Rucker and Miss Love hold their own service at Rucker’s house, with Rucker acting as preacher. Rucker preached about the spirit of Jesus and its power to comfort and heal. Rucker also spoke about the irrelevance of a great deal of Christian doctrine, such as the Resurrection and the fact that Christ’s mother was a virgin. Will wonders why no one has scolded him for revealing that Miss Love and Rucker sleep in separate beds, but it turns out that while Will was away, Miss Love told everyone that she and Rucker do not sleep together.

Analysis: Chapters 21–27

Will’s sexual awakening continues in these chapters. Breasts increasingly preoccupy him and he pays rapt attention to the kiss between Miss Love and Clayton McAllister. Cold Sassy society relishes the kiss because it makes interesting news, but Will has no interest in turning Clayton’s passion into an item of gossip. Rather, the kiss fascinates him because it suggests sexual passion. Will becomes even more interested in Miss Love after seeing her kiss a man. Although Will never expresses his feelings overtly, his fascination with Miss Love’s body and with her sexuality indicate that Will has developed a crush on his grandfather’s wife. Will’s sexual stirrings also inform the lies he makes up about Loma, both of which involve her breasts.

In these chapters Will uses humor to cope with death, relieving the darkness of mortality with outrageous stories. For example, he makes light of death when he tells his friends a true story about his great-grandmother, who was about to be buried when she suddenly sat up in her coffin and began screaming. Will uses storytelling as a way of coping with his emotions and questions, but while his tall tales help him, they also cause him to think more about death. On the camping trip, for example, Will’s stories remind him of the death of his friend Bluford, and he begins to question the judgment of a God who would allow a young boy to die.

Throughout Cold Sassy Tree, characters use religion both to censure and to rebel. Going to church is not just the celebration of religious belief, it is a ritual that allows for the expression of society’s mood. For example, the people at the Methodist church express their disapproval of Miss Love by refusing to join in as she tries to lead the congregation in song. Miss Love manages to ignore the disapproval of individuals, but the disapproval of an organized group of people makes her uncomfortable. Rucker uses religion to rebel, countering the town’s rejection of Miss Love by holding his own church service at home. Rucker’s sermon reflects his rebellious attitude. He believes that church, like life, should not be a solemn experience and that God exists to provide strength, comfort, and direction, not to restrict. Rucker’s relaxed church service and sermon contrast with the practices of Cold Sassy’s traditionalists, who believe that God is honored only with stern piety.

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