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Study Guide for Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Ann Burns

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The story opens "three weeks after Granny Blakeslee died" just as Rucker, her husband is about to make an announcement. Before proceeding, however, the narrator, Will Tweedy, steps back and informs the reader that the event took place "8 years ago." He establishes his own relationship with Grandpa and introduces Rucker with the humorous information about Grandpa keeping a bottle of whiskey in the closet in their home and visiting them nearly every morning to take a morning swig-as if they didn't know what he was doing.

On this particular morning, however, he sends Will to get his mother and Aunt Loma because he has something he wants to tell them. His announcement is the earth shattering news that he is getting married to Love Simpson because he doesn't want to be a burden to them; he will have to either hire a "colored" woman to keep house for him or get a wife, and he says it's cheaper to get married. Mary Willis and Loma are both devastated over his announcement.


The first chapter gives us a quick but effective introduction to the primary characters whose actions we will be following throughout the book. We see Loma as a blunt and explosive female, Mary Willis as an indignant, but always proper matron, and Rucker Blakeslee as a fiercely independent, but also domineering patriarch of the family. Rucker uses practicality and his own reputation for stinginess as an excuse for getting married, which, along with his whiskey bottle in the closet, tells us that he knows how to use what his family thinks of him to his own advantage, and that he is able to control his daughters in ways that he could not control his first wife.

We also know immediately that this is a small town in which everyone knows what everyone else is doing, and oral records or events are tracked by their relationship to other events that happened at the same time. The little things that happen in these people's lives are important because, after all, nothing exactly earth shattering is taking place. It is simply the story of one small community, the things that held them together and the things that tore them apart, thereby making them a part of the universal human experience.



Loma and Mary Willis discuss Grandpa's announcement. They imagine that maybe Miss Simpson hadn't really agreed to marry him. Will comments that Grandpa isn't hard of hearing, but they ignore him. They talk about previous relationships Love is known to have had, wishing she had married one of them, and they notice that Grandpa has already quit wearing his black armband, which signifies mourning. Will objects to his mother carrying on so about Love because he likes her; he mentally defends his grandfather's honor but also can understand how a woman like Love could cheer up a man whose wife had been an invalid for four years.


As is typical of most families, Mary Willis hurries to defend her father by trying to find a way to blame the outsider, or to excuse his action as a misunderstanding. Will Tweedy, the narrator of the story is able to tell us how the adults feel because he spends a great deal of time listening to the adults talk. He also is able to pick up on things that aren't said, thereby understanding more than the adults give him credit for. Whether Will recognizes it or not, there is certainly some irony in Loma and Mary Willis' concern about Love taking possession of Granny's belongings. Mary Willis' comments show that she herself was already thinking about which of Granny's things she could ask for, as if Rucker would have no interest in them now that Granny is gone.

They are all being rather presumptuous, but not unlike people in any family. No one likes to admit it or be the first to talk about it, but whenever an elderly family member is expected to have a sizable estate, individuals wonder who will be in the will. Such wondering becomes offensive when people try to help themselves to items before the owners are dead.


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