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Study Guide for Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Ann Burns

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Grandpa has pneumonia, which set in because of days of shallow breathing and lying in bed. The family comes to help nurse him. He breaks Love's heart when he hallucinates and sees Mattie Lou instead of her. Mary Willis tries to comfort her. In the night Rucker relives his experiences in the war along with some of his travels, still seeing Love as just the new milliner in his store. Devastated, she goes to the barn to be alone. Eventually, Will follows her, and she confides in him that she is pregnant. She thinks that if only Rucker would see her instead of Mattie Lou, it might give him an extra boost of resolve to get well.

Rucker's fever does finally break and he becomes lucid enough for Love to talk to him, although he is exhausted and still has trouble breathing. Will leaves the room as she begins to tell him about the baby. That night she sleeps on the bed beside him, and in the morning, he is dead.


Rucker's death removes his protection from Love and will leave her completely at the mercy of the town and family. Will assumes that she will probably leave even though she is carrying his child. While we never learn of the family's reaction toward her pregnancy, we do see their attempts to comfort her.

Rucker's hallucinations about Mattie Lou could be said to symbolize the purity and sincerity of that relationship in spite of his own guilt over his earlier feelings for Love. Although Love is deeply hurt by his hallucinations, they are a natural consequence of having spent most of his life with Mattie Lou.

Will has a moment of panic when he hears about the pregnancy. He recalls his mother's and aunts earlier fears that a baby would result in the loss of their inheritance. At first, Will thinks that his mother and aunt are right after all.



Rucker has left a letter giving specific directions for his funeral. He wanted a simple burial, just to be taken directly from the house to the cemetery in Loomis' wagon with no embalming or days of formal mourning. After the funeral, the family is to discard the black clothes and invite the town to a party where they can eat lots of food, play games and recount funny stories about Rucker. The family follows his instructions in spite of being uncomfortable about it, and in the end, everyone has a good time.

In his will, Rucker divides his estate evenly among Love, her unborn child, and his two daughters. Thus Love and her child will eventually end up with half of the estate. She decides to stay on in Cold Sassy because she really has no where else to go, and she knows that regardless of how the family feels about her, they will accept and care for Rucker's child.

Grandpa manages a final attempt to control Will's future by leaving him money for college on the condition that he become an associate in the store for at least 10 years after finishing college. Thus "the grand duke's" wishes will triumph after all if Will wants the money.

The town's final goodbye to Rucker seems to be that the town council votes to change the name of Cold Sassy to "Progressive City."


The end of the story resolves the family concerns about their inheritance. Although Love is going to end up with half of his estate, there seems to be plenty of money to go around, and everyone will be cared for. Furthermore, Love is going to stay in Cold Sassy. While she is not convinced that she has finally been accepted for herself, she knows that the child will be, and she is intelligent enough to know that Rucker's estate will leave her free from financial worry.


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