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Study Guide for Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Ann Burns

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Will's father Hoyt is making a planned trip to New York City to get supplies for the store. He and Will talk Mary Willis into going along, but she no sooner begins making plans for the trip than Grandpa shows up and announces that he and Love will be going to New York since Mary Willis won't go and Hoyt doesn't want to go without her. When Love finds out that Mary Willis had changed her mind, she tries to back out herself, but Loma goes to the stores and berates Rucker in front of everyone. That performance is so embarrassing to Mary Willis that she isn't about to go.

Grandpa confronts Will about his plans to be a farmer instead of a storekeeper. He accuses Will of being ungrateful for all Rucker has done for him. Finally, he dismisses the notion as just some boyhood illusion that Will is bound to outgrow.


Mary Willis is still in the expected mourning period for her mother; she wants to go to New York but is afraid of what people will say. When Hoyt explains that it would be a business trip and not a vacation intended for fun, she gets excited about going. Even though her plans go awry, it shows that the tradition of a year or more of mourning is something she too would escape if she could find a way to do so. Will tries to be the problem solver, but each person who talks about the issue puts a different spin on it. Love would back out, but her explanation regarding her reason for going is different from Rucker's. While he said he wanted to take her because of the way Cold Sassy had been treating her, she said it was because he knew Mary Willis wouldn't go and that he didn't want to waste the boat ticket

Will is torn between love for his mother and sympathy for Love. He truly wants his mother to go and is angry when he sees Love in the process of making a traveling dress even before she knows that she will be going after all. He thinks Love has plans to manipulate his grandfather into taking her, but actually she knows Mary Willis well enough to see that she will back out rather than be a part of the squabble over it.

The business of starting his own "church" is Blakeslee's way of thumbing his nose at the town for the way they have treated Love. He doesn't really expect many people to attend, but in addition to his disappointment in people's reactions to his marriage, he is angry that people are accusing Love of stealing Mama's trip to New York when he thinks it was his own idea. In reality, it was Love's idea in the first place. Rucker rarely made the trip unless he had to, usually leaving it to Hoyt.



Hoyt finds a way to perform a "one-up-manship" on Rucker. One Sunday morning just before Rucker and Love leave for New York, Hoyt stays home from church. Mary Willis thinks he must be sick because he is the treasurer and never misses, but he has nothing wrong with him. After church, he pulls up in a shiny new, red Cadillac convertible. Will knows that Love would be thrilled to have a car, probably even more than taking a trip to New York. In his mind, that makes them "just about even."


The car is a symbol of success and status. They don't need the car, but getting one shows the Hoyt has enough money to get anything he really wants.



The presence of the Cadillac takes Cold Sassy's collective mind off of Grandpa and Miss Love. Nearly everyone in town takes a turn riding in it. Will learns to drive it so he can help Hoyt haul everyone around. Rucker refuses to take a ride, saying a car is a "fool contraption." That week, he and Love leave for New York.


The car functions as an objective correlative, defusing a conflict that is beginning to get tedious. The town can't continue bickering over the Blakeslees forever, but neither can they just benignly accept Love after making such a fuss over her. The only alternative is to give the town something else to focus on, which the car does. There is never any apology to Love or any visible acceptance of her. It is the nature of people; they never admit they have done anything wrong. They simply move on as if their own malicious behavior had never occurred.


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