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Study Guide for Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Ann Burns

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COLD SASSY TREE - ONLINE PLOT SUMMARY / CRITICISM

CHAPTER 40

Summary

Grandpa manages to sell a couple of cars in spite of having to park his show models in the back of the store to prevent them from being torn up by children romping on the seats and curious citizens yanking on knobs and levers. Miss Love wants to buy a mannequin and dress it in a driving outfit, but Grandpa can't see the sense in it. So she dresses up herself and poses as a statue in the store window, sitting for hours at a time, or until a customer stops to talk.

One Sunday morning, Blakeslee decides to take a long drive into the country for a fall picnic. They invite Will, but he soon feels like a third party whose function is only to drive, for Love and Rucker sit in the back seat of the car and act like a couple of courting kids. Rucker sits with his arm around her and "can't keep his eyes off her."

On the return trip they get into an accident when another car hits a pothole and turns on its side a short distance ahead of them. Will swerves to avoid hitting it, but has to run into a shallow creek and back onto the road. They stop and help the other driver, but soon after the other car has left, they discover a hole in their own radiator. A nearby resident offers to give them a pail for water and some grits to plug the hole if Will will go back to her house to get them. Will does so, and returns to the car just in time to catch Rucker and Love kissing. For the first time, he feels like his grandmother has been betrayed.

Notes

The story is approaching the climax. Will realizes that he, himself, was content with his grandfather's marital arrangement. It had never occurred to him that his grandfather could actually fall in love with someone other than his grandmother. The woman who helps them is an elderly black lady who lives in a nearby shack and has come to satisfy her curiosity. Her inability to hurry, or to walk back a second time gives a narrative space for Will to get out of the way so Rucker and Love can have a few moments of romantic privacy. His glimpse of them increases the tension and suspense of the story.


CHAPTER 41

Summary

Will realizes that putting grits in the radiator may do more than plug the hole. Instead, they follow the creek to the town of Cushie Springs-pouring water into the radiator all the way. A lady named Miss Gussie offers to put them up for the night while a young man, Mr. Nolly, rides to Athens for help. Mr. Nolly tells them, however, that no one will come out from Athens on a Sunday.

Rucker at first refuses Miss Gussie-according to custom-but she explains that there is no hotel or even a boarding house in town. She apologizes for having no indoor bathroom or electric lights. Will notices that Miss Love never mentions that she also has only an outdoor privy and uses oil lamps.

Miss Gussie shows Rucker and Love to a room with a double bed. At the head of the bed, a smaller room- at one time a sewing room- contains two small cots where Will can have his pick. Once the hostess is out of the room however, Love says she will take a cot in the small room and Grandpa and Will can share the double bed.


After Rucker thinks Will has gone to sleep, he goes into the little room with Love. Will hears them kissing, and then Love pushes him away, trying to claim she doesn't love him that way. Rucker refuses to believe her, then tells her the story of his life with Mattie Lou. He had loved Mattie Lou dearly, but after her last child she had become ill, and the doctor said another childbirth would kill her. So Rucker stayed away from Mattie Lou, but in his loneliness, he fell in love with Love Simpson. He never let her know it, and she didn't encourage him, but he took advantage of every opportunity just to see her or be near her. When Mattie Lou got sick, he at first thought God was punishing him for lusting after another woman. He prayed for Mattie Lou to get well, but as she got weaker, he couldn't help thinking that if she died, he would be free to marry Love. After her death, Rucker recalled that Mattie Lou had told him, on at least two different occasions, that if she died first he was to take another wife so she wouldn't be worrying over who was taking care of him. That helps ease his guilt over wanting Love.

Rucker had proposed to Love so quickly because he was afraid she would marry Son Black, another person in town who had expressed an interest in her. He offered the house and furniture as enticements, planning to marry first and win her heart later on.

Love also has a story of her own. She had never married and had been jilted by McAllister because at the age of 12 she had been raped by her own father. She insists that if she had known Rucker wanted her for a real wife rather than just a housekeeper, she would have turned him down. Rucker tells her that it doesn't matter, but she orders him to leave the room.

On the way back to Cold Sassy, Rucker rides in the front seat with Will.


Notes

This chapter is the climax of the story as we now know that Rucker does indeed care for Love and that he married her because he wanted a real wife. His secret sin-that he was attracted to Love before Mattie Lou had died-is revealed, but doesn't seem like such a terrible deed to anyone except Will, and perhaps Grandpa himself who believed that to even think of another person was adultery. Love's secret is potentially more devastating because she has spent her life believing that she was "spoiled goods." Her failed engagement to McAllister enforced the idea in her own mind. She rejects Rucker in self-defense, but the stage is set for her to gradually accept him. We know that Rucker will not reject her on account of a childhood incident that she could not have prevented. However, a bit of minor suspense is created when Rucker rides home in the front seat, leaving Love by herself in the back.

By this time, Will is fond enough of Love himself that once he has acknowledged his grandfather's feelings, he wants him to be insistent with Love, to refuse to leave her side. As a teenager, he doesn't understand that the two adults need a little space to come to grips with the revelations they have heard from each other. Rucker may also be offended when Love tells him that if she had known about his true feelings, she never would have accepted his proposal.

 

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