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Cold Sassy Tree

Olive Anne Burns

Chapters 42–46

Chapters 36–41

Chapters 47–50

Summary: Chapter 42

Although Rucker feigns cheerfulness even after Miss Love rejects his advances, Will thinks he seems despondent and unusually mean. The owner of a local hotel holds a drawing to determine a progressive new name for the town hotel, and Rucker puts in his own name. Rucker’s entry is drawn, and because the hotel owner once cheated him in a land deal, Rucker insists that the hotel be named after him. The man is forced to name his place the Rucker Blakeslee Hotel.

Rucker catches a mysterious illness that requires him to spend all his time at home alone with Miss Love. She is confused about Rucker’s illness, since he eats ravenously even though he cannot stop coughing. Rucker and Miss Love begin taking long buggy rides together, and although at first they ride stiffly and silently, after a while they seem utterly absorbed with each other. Loma directs the school Christmas play, and Will plays a practical joke on her by releasing a swarm of rats onto the stage. Rucker and Miss Love laugh hysterically as the town flees the auditorium, but Will feels guilty and apologizes to Loma. Loma tells Will she hates him. Will feels relieved that their relationship is back on hostile ground, since he hates the way Loma treats Camp. Rucker also treats Camp badly, openly stating he should have hired Hosie Roach instead of Camp.

Summary: Chapter 43

Camp sends Loma away on a trip to Athens, Georgia, saying he wants to fix the faucet but cannot do it with her standing there watching him fail. The day she leaves, Camp works diligently at the store and seems unusually happy. Camp asks Hoyt to help him fix the faucet, and Hoyt stops by Camp’s place after lunch with Will. When Will and his father enter, they hear a gun blast. Camp has covered the floor with an oilcloth, wrapped himself up in it, put a gun in his mouth, and pulled the trigger. In his suicide note, Camp tells Loma that he could no longer bear being such a failure. In a postscript, he says that he fixed the faucet. As Will reads the note, he realizes that despite Camp’s shortcomings, he did all he could to make Loma happy. Will hears the faucet dripping and mournfully fixes it for Camp.

Summary: Chapter 44

The whole town buzzes with news of the suicide. Rucker insists on holding a dignified funeral for Camp, even though many in town consider suicide to be an unforgivable sin that does not deserve a funeral. Camp’s body is laid out in Rucker’s house, and many of the people who come to pay their respects cry and say they could have been nicer to Camp. Rucker insists on burying Camp in the Toy family plot at Mattie Lou’s feet. At the funeral, Rucker stares down the minister, who sees Rucker’s look and asks the congregation to feel compassion for Camp.

Summary: Chapter 45

Loma and her baby, Campbell Junior, move in with Will’s family. At first Loma is bewildered and saddened by Camp’s death. She improves rapidly, however, and enjoys the fact that she no longer has to care for Campbell Junior by herself. She spends most of her time writing poems and plays, as she has always wanted to do. On Miss Love’s birthday, which falls on Valentine’s Day, Miss Love decides to buy herself indoor plumbing, including a bathroom and a kitchen sink. Rucker buys her a record player, and she teaches him to dance. As Will dances with them, he wonders if they still have separate bedrooms. Will is dismayed to learn that Rucker has hired Hosie Roach to replace Camp at the store. Rucker also allows Loma to work at the store as an apprentice milliner. Will bitterly notes that he must work with the two people he hates most in the world, Loma and Hosie.

Summary: Chapter 46

I better go now, but I ain’t never go’n forgit you and please don’t forgit me, Will.

(See Important Quotations Explained)

Will shaves for the first time on his fifteenth birthday and goes to school full of pride. After school, as he hurries to the store, Lightfoot stops him. She says she will no longer be in school because she is getting married and says she intends to keep teaching herself. Lightfoot tells Will she plans to marry Hosie, and she gives Will a buckeye to remember her by. Will sulks at the news of Lightfoot’s marriage and hopes something will happen to stop it. He tells us, however, that the one person something does happen to is Rucker.

Analysis: Chapters 42–46

Miss Love has such a positive influence on Rucker that he begins to abandon the stinginess that seemed like an integral part of his character. The hardships of his marriage to Mattie Lou soured Rucker’s temperament. Worried about his wife’s health and unable to sleep with her, Rucker rigidly controlled his life and his money instead of openly venting his frustrations. After his marriage to Miss Love, however, Rucker’s happiness changes his behavior. He becomes less careful with his money, buying Miss Love a horse and returning from New York with one of the most expensive automobiles on the market. Eventually he begins spending afternoons away from the store, and even allows Miss Love to have a bathroom installed in his house. Eager to please his lovely new wife, Rucker replaces his stubbornness and stinginess with accommodation and indulgence, and his spirit seems freer than ever before.

Will has grown used to having a special place in his grandfather’s heart and worries now that other people command Rucker’s attention. Rucker seems to have less time for Will because of Rucker’s close relationship with Miss Love, and Will worries that Hosie will eclipse him at the store. Since Hosie can work all day and Will must attend school, Rucker may need Will less than he does now. Will also loses the attention of Lightfoot. In just a short time, Will has lost both his position of favor at the store and the girl he likes. Growing up has, until now, been a pleasurable experience. In this chapter, however, we are also reminded that growing up comes at a price and means that some things must be left behind.

Rucker’s willingness to hire Hosie demonstrates again his disregard for the social mores of Cold Sassy and sets him apart from Will, who has yet to break fully with popular opinion. Rucker recognizes Hosie’s strong work ethic and ambition and decides to give him a chance. Even when Mary Willis raises objections, Rucker stands by his decision. Will, on the other hand, has not seen Lightfoot since the day at the cemetery. He is upset when she decides to marry Hosie but is too intimidated by society to raise any objections. Throughout the course of the novel, Rucker seems to share a number of similarities to Will, as if they were the same character separated by thirty or so years. Rucker, however, has learned tolerance somewhere along his life’s journey, whereas Will does not yet fully have the heart to follow his own convictions.

Throughout the novel, Rucker takes particular satisfaction in shaming people who are petty, and he does so with particular ferocity as he makes arrangements for Camp’s funeral. Traditionally, Cold Sassy responds to suicides by ignoring them, but Rucker refuses to let Camp go to his grave unacknowledged. By holding an elaborate funeral and wake for Camp, Rucker forces the townspeople to realize that their cruelty to Camp might have inspired his suicide. Rucker ensures that Camp receives a respectful burial and that the prayer for Camp urges compassion instead of damnation. Ironically, it is perhaps Rucker more than the townspeople who is guilty of treating Camp badly. One could argue that his compassion after Camp’s suicide is an attempt to make amends for his mistreatment of Camp and that his anger at the townspeople is an expression of anger at himself. In refusing to allow Cold Sassy to turn its back on Camp, Rucker also refuses to allow himself to ignore his own guilt over Camp’s suicide.

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