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Study Guide for Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Ann Burns

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Will climbs out onto the trestle to enjoy the effect of being suspended in space between creek and sky. His dog keeps barking at him, but he doesn't realize until too late that it is because the train is approaching earlier than it should be. Unable to get off the trestle in time, all he can do is flatten his body between the rails and hope the train doesn't have any dragging beams to hit him. Miraculously, the train passes over him without causing any more damage than an earache and a few sore spots from flying cinders.


The sensation of weightlessness that Will feels on the trestle is a typical experience for any child. He also enjoys a certain element of danger, as he would be killed if he fell off the trestle into the shallow stream below. He is also capable of quick thinking which saves his life. The characteristic of being able to come up with an instant solution to any problem works both for and against him in other incidents in the story.



The train stops and the passengers and conductor pile out. At the same time, Lightfoot comes across the trestle saying she will help Will off the bridge. Unable to stand, he crawls from tie to tie. The conductor no sooner breathes a sigh of relief that Will is okay than someone notices the dog TR paralyzed with fear in the middle of the trestle. The conductor hurries everyone back onto the train because another train is only a few minutes behind. He refuses to let Will go after the dog, but Loomis appears and, racing onto the trestle, brings the dog back to safety.

Once safely on the train, Loomis talks non-stop about how happy Will's parents will be. Will himself is in dread of getting home because he assumes he will be punished for going fishing in the first place.


Loomis is Queenie's husband. The conductor stops the train, probably thinking he has already killed Will, so his relief is understandable. However, no one other than Lightfoot, a child herself, actually moves to help Will get off the trestle. Furthermore, they would have let the dog be struck by the oncoming train had Loomis not raced out on the trestle to get him. Because the train is being followed so quickly by another train, the conductor allow Loomis onto the already crowded caboose; Will notes that some of the passengers fail to get back on the train in time, and that Loomis probably feels uncomfortable in the same car with white folks, but everyone's attention is on putting distance between the two trains.

The narrator takes advantage of the short train ride to explain Loomis's background. His last name is "Toy" because his father had been owned by the Toys, and his first name is actually Annie Mae because his mother had ten boys and decided the "next" baby was going to be "Annie Mae no matter what." He works for the Toy family off and on, participating in whatever they need him to do. Loomis understands the magnitude of what Will has done better than Will does. He realizes that the family will be celebrating Will's close call and the fact that he has been "spared" while Will is only concerned about the fact that he has tried to go fishing at an unacceptable time. He expects to be punished. It is noteworthy that Loomis's heroism in rescuing the dog won't even be discussed.



Will both endures and enjoys being center-stage after his close call. He expects a scolding, but his parents are too relieved to punish him. Hoyt does his chores for him, and his mother gets out her good china to serve the Cold Sassy people who show up with pies and cakes and stop to chat about Will's adventure. The most prevalent gossip, once Will's welfare is verified, still revolves around the audacity of Rucker Blakeslee and Love Simpson.


Wills "salvation" is important enough to get the family together and to call for the use of the good china. This chapter emphasizes the religious overtones of the town as all of the women talk about how the good Lord saved Will for a significant reason. Each person has a story to tell about themselves or someone else who had a near death experience and devoted his or her life to the church or charity thereafter. Of course, the conversation manages to get around to Rucker and Love and the horror everyone feels about the speedy wedding.

The importance of this chapter is that it characterizes the people of the town and emphasizes the importance of story telling to the sense of community. The rumor-mongering in relation to Rucker and his new bride seems cruel, but in reality is simply the nature of small communities. With nothing else to do, people get their entertainment with talk; such talk is characterized by "remembering" events that are similar to those of everyone else or by exaggerating something that is taking place. While it is malicious enough, it isn't intended to actually drive out members of the most influential family in town, unlike such talk would be if it were directed at the mill people. When something more significant takes place, that talk about Blakeslee will be superceded by talk of the new event.

The town chatter about Miss Love is based more on jealousy than on dislike. The people liked her until she married Blakeslee. But every member of the family has hopes of one day inheriting a piece of Blakeslee's accumulated wealth. For him to marry an outsider poses instant threats to their own assumed status.


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