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Study Guide for Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Ann Burns

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Love and Rucker act like strangers until Rucker takes to his bed with some mysterious and, according to him, contagious illness. He refuses to let anyone near him but Love and the doctor. Will suspects a ruse on his grandfather's part, and sure enough, soon the two are taking buggy rides together and acting more like lovers than ever.

Loma spends several weeks planning a Christmas play. Although Will isn't in the play, she uses him as her errand boy. When she tells him to catch a live mouse for one of the scenes, he and some friends overdo it and catch a cage full of live rats as well as the requested mouse. He and Pinky release the animals during the 3rd act, totally destroying the play. Will gets a whipping and is made to apologize to Loma. He really is sorry for spoiling the play, but she yells at him that she will never stop hating him. Her reaction makes him feel like he is back on familiar footing with her.

Loma gets more and more cantankerous with everyone including her husband. At one point she pushes Camp to ask Rucker for a raise in pay at the store. Rucker refuses, and later makes an admiring comment, in front of Camp, about the Roach boy. He says Hosie would make three of Camp.


The story is winding down. Love and Rucker behave as they do because they are essentially starting over in their relationship. Now that they know each other's truths, Rucker has to court and win her in earnest and with her knowledge that he is doing so. Since she insists that she hadn't married him out of love, she can't simply fall into his arms claiming she had loved him all along. She must act the part of the proper spinster and allow him to win her affections.

Loma at long last gets an opportunity to create her own drama, even if it is only on the small stage in Cold Sassy. The final indignity between her and Will takes place with the rats. The fact that he realizes this prank was extreme and crossed the line between malicious fun and real harm shows that he has grown up. Nevertheless, it is the last straw for Loma who takes out her disappointment on everyone around her, including her husband. She knows that she married "beneath" her in an attempt to get even with her father, and every effort to improve her status in Cold Sassy has backfired.

Will's personal conflict with Hosie is also reaching a peak; he feels betrayed when Rucker praises the mill town boy, but won't even give a raise to Uncle Camp. Rucker's actions show that he too is capable of seeing the good in the mill people and is not above helping one improve his life, especially if it also contributes to Rucker's business.



Loma spends the day with a friend, encouraged by Camp. While she is out, Camp commits suicide. He tries to fix a leaking faucet first, then wraps himself in an oilcloth and shoots himself in the head. He leaves Loma a note saying he planned it so she wouldn't be the one to find him and that he tried to make sure he wouldn't mess up her kitchen. Even so, the faucet still leaks. Will fixes it so no one will say that Camp couldn't even fix a leaky faucet.


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In spite of the suicide, Grandpa makes sure Camp has a nice funeral. He sets up a closed casket viewing in Loma's parlor, and whether people come out of curiosity or concern, they dare not disobey when Grandpa orders them into the room to file respectfully past the casket. In spite of the talk, he buries Camp at the foot of Mattie Lou's grave and refuses to let anyone suggest that Camp would be in "hell." He explains to Will that there are liars and crooks who die, and people can't say enough good stuff about them at their funerals. The only thing Camp ever did wrong was that he just didn't know how to do anything. He never intentionally hurt anyone.


Rucker's hand in the funeral is surely a reflection of his own feelings of guilt, even though he knows he was justified in refusing to give Camp a raise. Still, he regrets his cruel and pointed comments about Camp's uselessness and realizes that everyone in town had a hand in Camp's suicide. Because of the way they treated Camp, Rucker forces people to participate in the funeral as if Camp had died of ordinary causes. Burying Camp at the feet of his own wife shows that Camp had become a part of the family, regardless of what people thought of him.

Rucker is also silently showing some consideration for Camp's son, little Jr. It would be difficult for a boy to grow up, knowing his father was in an unmarked grave and had died in a way that would condemn him to hell. Putting Camp in the family plot will spare the child later on.

Rucker's comments on the deaths of people who "are mean and hateful, cheat their folks, or beat their wives and their colored" are a reflection of his own religious beliefs and sympathies for his family. He is also accurate in his opinion that if a hateful person can have a decent funeral, there is no reason to deny one to a person whose only fault was hopelessness and despair.


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