During his long marriage to Mattie Lou, Rucker Blakeslee’s defining trait was his stubborn miserliness. Although modern conveniences like indoor plumbing, the telephone, and electricity have all come to Cold Sassy by the time Mattie Lou dies, Rucker refused to shoulder the cost of such amenities, even though they would have made Mattie Lou’s life much easier. Difficulties placed stress on Rucker’s marriage to Mattie Lou. Only two of their many children lived to adulthood, and childbearing became too risky for Mattie Lou. Rucker and Mattie Lou ceased having sex, and Rucker made himself feel useful by throwing himself into the work of providing for his family.
When Rucker marries Miss Love Simpson, his personality begins to change. Stubbornness and miserliness give way to accommodation and indulgence. While Rucker has always been enamored of Miss Love, she marries him out of convenience, but gradually discovers she loves him. Rucker begins to work fewer hours at the store and to loosen his tight grip on money. Rucker discovers that his life can be about more than providing income and food, and he dedicates himself to making himself and his loved ones happy.
How does Rucker’s decision to hire Hosie Roach affect Will? Is Rucker’s decision to hire Hosie generous to Hosie or inconsiderate to Will?
Although Hosie’s new job does allow him to marry Lightfoot, Will’s love interest, Rucker does not really harm Will by hiring Hosie. Although Will is attracted to Lightfoot, he fears his family’s reaction to the knowledge that he likes a lower-class girl. Because of this fear, Will repeatedly passes on the chance to start a relationship with Lightfoot. He misses their date to go blackberry-picking and does not speak to Lightfoot after they kiss. Rucker’s decision to hire Hosie frustrates Will, but in the long run does not deprive Will of an opportunity he would otherwise seriously pursue. Rucker’s decision does far more good than harm. Rucker offers the struggling young Hosie the opportunity to make something of himself, and Rucker does so despite public opinion. Will is not a selfish boy, and he wishes for Lightfoot the happiness that Hosie’s new job brings her.
Cold Sassy Tree concludes with Will listing the objects he has saved from his childhood. How do these objects relate to the story he has just told?
Each of the objects that Will saves from his childhood is a marker of his steps toward adulthood. The accident on the train trestle stirs up Will’s first pressing questions about the link between life and death, and the newspaper article about the incident reminds Will of this first important lesson. The photograph of Will, Rucker, and Miss Love is a token of all the lessons about love that Will learns from that relationship. The root of the sassafras tree reminds Will of old Cold Sassy. The agricultural college diploma reveals that Will has developed strength of character and resisted the easy work of the store to follow his dream of becoming a farmer. Will has defied Rucker’s last wishes, and in doing so, acted exactly as Rucker would have. The buckeye stands for Lightfoot, who introduces Will to the joys and pain of love, which enables him to experience life to the fullest.
1. Discuss each of the prominent female characters in Cold Sassy Tree. Are they relevant to contemporary ideas of womanhood, or can they be read only as figures from a bygone era?
2. Why is Rucker initially so resistant to technology, both inside and outside of the home? What makes him change his mind?
3. At any point, is the marriage of Miss Love or Rucker in serious jeopardy? What causes the problems that threaten the marriage, or what prevents them?
4. Do Will’s feelings toward Hosie Roach change over the course of the story? If so, how do they change?
5. How do you think we are supposed to feel about the modernization of Cold Sassy? Overall, is it a change for better or worse?
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