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Cold Sassy Tree

Olive Anne Burns

Chapters 36–41

Chapters 32–35

Chapters 42–46

Summary: Chapter 36

Will relishes his memories of kissing Lightfoot, but Hoyt is furious when he hears about the kiss and gives Will a harsh whipping. Hoyt also forbids Will to drive the Cadillac for two months. Loma encourages Will to write about the incident. Rucker and Miss Love return from New York and Mary Willis invites them to dinner. While Rucker and Miss Love were in the city, Mary Willis retrieved the Toy family Bible, which chronicles the marriages and deaths of Mattie Lou’s family and erased Miss Love’s name from it. She orders Will to hide the Bible before Rucker and Miss Love arrive for dinner. Rucker and Miss Love bring gifts for everyone, including driving goggles for Will. The family is surprised to hear that while Rucker was in New York, he decided that he liked automobiles. Rucker tells them that they went dancing in New York City and attended the theater. Aunt Carrie senses the mood of disapproval and says people should do what they like. Silently, Will agrees.

Summary: Chapters 37

Over dinner, it becomes clear that Rucker and Miss Love became close in New York. Rucker says he wants Will to drive him and Miss Love home after dinner. Although Hoyt has forbidden Will to drive, he grudgingly allows the trip. During the drive, Rucker and Miss Love tell Will a secret: they have bought a Pierce sedan, and they intend to sell cars from the general store. To drum up business, they plan on parking their car in front of the store and having Will give driving lessons. Rucker tells Will to keep the plan a secret.

Summary: Chapter 38

Miss Love makes up lists of which people might buy which cars, and Will notices her skill at getting the normally stubborn Rucker to do what she wants. Lightfoot stops coming to school, but Will slowly becomes friendly with Hosie Roach, his former enemy. Miss Love begins advertising a big surprise coming to the store. She buys knickknacks for the store to give out and promises free gifts and entertainment for anybody who shows up at the train station on the day the surprise arrives.

Summary: Chapter 39

A crowd gathers at the station to see the big surprise, a car. Will drives the new car to the store and a huge crowd follows him all the way. Miss Love does not attend the event, saying she is tired of the gossip that the people of Cold Sassy are always spreading about her. Rucker seems disappointed that she is not there. Though the next day is Sunday, Will gets up before dawn to begin teaching Rucker and Miss Love how to drive. Will and Miss Love play a trick on Rucker by turning the ignition key off just before Rucker tries to crank the engine. At last Rucker gets the engine started and they take off. When they go down a hill, Rucker forgets to hit the brake, and they end up in a ditch. Miss Love seems to have a knack for driving, but when a bee goes down the front of her dress, she crashes the car into a sycamore tree and refuses to drive ever again. The Pierce and the Cadillac attract a huge amount of attention outside the store.

Summary: Chapter 40

Will notices that Rucker and Miss Love are treating each other affectionately and wonders if anything happened between them in New York. He drives them to the county fair, where they sell their first car, and they take a long Sunday drive during which Will feels for the first time as if he is intruding on their privacy. While swerving to avoid an overturned car, Will crashes the Pierce into a small creek bed and damages the radiator. He goes for help, and on the way back, sees Rucker and Miss Love kissing.

Summary: Chapter 41

I’m sayin’ I been a-waitin’ to hold you in my arms ever since the day we got married.

(See Important Quotations Explained)

Will, Rucker, and Miss Love are too far away from Cold Sassy to get back to town until the car’s radiator has been fixed. They spend the night with a local family, where they have one room with a large bed and a small room with two cots. Will and his grandfather share the large bed, but that night, Will hears his grandfather go into Miss Love’s room. Will overhears Rucker telling Miss Love that he loves her and wants their marriage to be real. He begins to kiss her. When she stops him, Rucker tells her despondently that he has loved her ever since the first day he saw her. He says he often felt terribly guilty for desiring Miss Love even as Mattie Lou was dying. Rucker also tells Miss Love that he stopped having sex with Mattie Lou after the doctor told him she would die if she had another child.

Miss Love says she could not ever really become Rucker’s wife because she has a secret that would make any man hate her. She says this secret was the reason Clayton McAllister broke their engagement. She tells Rucker the secret: when she was twelve and her mother was dying, her father, a miserable drunk, accused her mother of having had an affair. He claimed that Love was not his daughter, and to prove it, he raped Love. Rucker tells Miss Love he loves her nonetheless and that the rape does not matter to him. Miss Love says it does matter, and she sends Rucker away.

The next day, Will almost believes that the whole incident was a dream. He knows that the conversation did happen because on the drive back to Cold Sassy, Rucker sits in the front seat with Will instead of in the back seat next to Miss Love.

Analysis: Chapters 36–41

Miss Love manages to win some acceptance in town by appealing to individual women in Cold Sassy. Her postcards from New York are partially intended to gain business for Rucker’s store, but they also work to change Cold Sassy women’s low opinion of Miss Love. Even Mary Willis and Loma grudgingly admire Miss Love’s postcards and the descriptions of items she will bring them from New York. The postcards establish a connection between Miss Love and the rest of the women of Cold Sassy, as they find common ground in fashionable clothes. Miss Love’s business sense brings her closer to Rucker too. Rucker feels Miss Love’s commercial savvy refreshes and challenges him, and he seems renewed every time she reveals a new scheme for the store.

Rucker’s confessions about his relationship with Mattie Lou reveal his love for her to be more complicated than it initially seems. Before this confession, we, along with the rest of Cold Sassy, are inclined to think of Rucker and Mattie Lou’s life together as a paradise of unconditional love, devotion, and mutual respect. However, their marriage seems less idyllic when Rucker reveals that he and Mattie Lou stopped having sex years before her death. Rucker admits that their lack of intimacy scarred their marriage and resulted in a loss of desire. Rucker truly loved Mattie Lou, but his confessions reveal that like all marriages, his had its flaws and frustrations. Rucker feels great shame because he loved Miss Love since the day they met. This admission complicates our perception of him as a wholly devoted husband and makes his marriage seem realistically bumpy. Even the normally open-minded Will, with whom we align our sympathy, comes to agree with his grandfather’s claim that to love two women is a sin.

The revelation that Miss Love’s father raped her is a tragic moment in the novel, but it becomes the first step in Miss Love’s learning to love again. Miss Love’s awful secret goes a long way toward explaining her character. Although she usually seems warm and affectionate, her earlier encounter with Clayton shows that she is hiding some deeply hidden pain. We can also begin to understand why Miss Love so longs for security and safety, and see how she could marry in order to secure herself a home. Rucker and Miss Love’s whispered conversation in the bedroom is a painful moment at first, since they each reveal the guilt and shame they have carried. With these revelations, however, comes the potential to start things anew. Rucker and Miss Love’s relationship becomes deeper, and the growth of their love brings renewal and healing to both characters.

Rucker shows a spiritual renewal prompted by Miss Love’s growing affections, but this rejuvenation is also evident physically. Earlier, Rucker begins to appear more youthful as a result of Miss Love’s giving him a haircut and shaving off his beard. In these chapters, it even seems as if Rucker, normally so stingy and controlling with every aspect of his home, might consider her request to have a bathroom installed in the house. Rucker also exhibits a new love for technology. The fact that he purchases a car becomes an important indicator of his newly energized outlook. We do not even have to look closely at Rucker to realize that he is happier than he has been in a long while.

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