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Study Guide for Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Ann Burns

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The main plot line is the story of Rucker Blakeslee's marriage and courtship with Love Simpson, in spite of the objections of the family and uproar created in the town.

The story begins with Rucker Blakeslee gathering everyone for an announcement. It is three weeks after the death of his wife Mattie Lou, and he has decided to marry Love Simpson the milliner in his store. Then the story moves backward as the narrator describes Mattie Lou, and gives details about her death and funeral.

The family assumes that Rucker's announcement means he will be getting married after the acceptable year of mourning. It isn't the idea of marriage they object to as much as the milliner herself whom they consider beneath them. However, Rucker shocks them all by eloping with Love. The scandal is heightened when Love's former fiancé appears and tries to take her back. He is seen kissing her, which convinces the women that she is not only low class but is also loose with men. Although Rucker tells her to just be quiet and let the talk die down, Love reaches a saturation point when Mrs. Predmore snubs her in the store. Thus, she tells them herself that it is a marriage in name only, she is only Rucker's housekeeper, and will be keeping her own name. They ostracize her in her own church and prey on her in the streets for additional gossip.

The Blakeslee situation receives some objective relief when Love and Blakeslee take a trip to New York City warehouses for the purpose of restocking the store. Love unknowingly edges Mary Willis out of the trip, which brings an outburst from Loma. In an attempt to soothe his wife's feelings, Hoyt Tweedy surprises Mary Willis with a red Cadillac on the Sunday morning before Love and Blakeslee depart. The presence of the car and the opportunity to ride in it takes everyone's mind off of Love and Rucker.

Life seems to be a little smoother, at least in town, when Love and Rucker return because of her cleverness in selecting merchandise that the people will want, and in letting them know via postcards that she was bringing it for them. Also, Rucker buys a car of his own, a Pierce, and has plans to show both his car and the Cadillac; he thinks he and Hoyt can sell cars in Cold Sassy and surrounding towns, thereby running the first dealership in the area. Love wisely stays out of the picture as the people become enchanted with the cars.

Will begins to notice that his father and Love are acting like their relationship has advanced beyond that of housekeeping. After attending a fair, where Rucker can hardly keep his eyes off her, the three of them go on a late fall picnic. Will catches Rucker kissing Love, and, after an accident which forces them to spend the night in a country home in another town, he hears Rucker and Love explain their personal stories to each other. Here he learns that his grandfather had been in love with Miss Simpson all along, and that the reason she refused to accept his advances was because of a childhood rape that made her, in her own mind, damaged goods.

Rucker is forced to cool his ardor temporarily, but soon invents a ruse that gets Love's attention. He claims to be sick with some contagious disease and allows no one but her to nurse him. He soon recovers and is seen taking long buggy rides alone with her and openly showing his affection. Furthermore, she appears to return it and seems happier than she has ever been.

One night at the store when Rucker is late locking up, the store is robbed and he is attacked. Rucker is unable to recover from his injuries before pneumonia sets in and he dies. However, he lives long enough for Love to tell him that she is pregnant. The story ends with Love staying on in Cold Sassy where Rucker's child will have a family and a future.


(see Overall Analysis section for detailed theme analysis)

Major Themes


Growing up


Minor Themes


Religious Faith


Humorous and objective, but with serious overtones. Told from the perspective of a teenage boy as his life is remembered by the adult several years later.


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Ruff, Dr. K.. "TheBestNotes on Cold Sassy Tree". . 09 May 2017