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Study Guide for Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Ann Burns

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The story is told primarily in a chronological format. However, as it takes place eight years prior to the actual telling, and is the narrator's story telling adventure, it is also a frame story. The narrator is telling the story of the period from sometime during his 13th year to just after his 15th year when he made the leap from boy to man. It is a journalistic approach as he comments on his own reactions, admitting his own faults and errors and sharing insights about his family and the other people of Cold Sassy.

In the beginning of the story, the narrator uses a form of reminiscence in that he begins the story with his grandfather's announcement, then moves backward to memories of his grandmother, his first sight of Love Simpson, and of the behavior of his grandfather himself. Once the character relationships are established, the story progresses chronologically.

The subplots that arise throughout the story, that is, the stories within the story, such as the conflict with Hosie Roach, Will's continuous pranks on Loma and her destruction of the toy soldiers, Grandpa Tweedy's ill treatment of the tenant farmers, and the school punishment that backfired are the typical events and interactions that could happen in a small community where people create their own amusements and tempers occasionally erupt. In an hour of need, the people will defend each other as viciously as they criticize one another when life is progressing smoothly.

The secondary stories threaded throughout the novel add interest to the story and give Will a life of his own with his own small problems to solve even while the adults are resolving the big one.

While the story is narrated primarily through the vision of Will as a teenager, that vision is combined with the later adult awareness of the "way things were." Without actually finding fault with any of his family, the narrator points out the prejudice against the mill town people, the racism practiced in relation to the blacks, and the silliness of the female attempts to observe pre-Civil War society rules.


The narrator thrusts the reader immediately into the conflict between the town and Rucker Blakeslee, then backs up and established the background by describing the relationship between Rucker and Mattie Lou. From there a series of events create the rising action.

-Love makes herself visible by helping at Mattie Lou's funeral. -Immediately after his 4th of July parade, Rucker and Love elope. -Will has his accident with the train, and Rucker uses the occasion to push Love into the midst of the family. -Love is seen kissing McAllister -Love is ostracized in church.

-Will and his friends go on a camping trip to get a horse for the saddle and Love announces the nature of her marriage to one of the women at the store.

-Love is accused of stealing the New York trip. -Hoyt gets even with Rucker by buying a car for Mary Willis. -Love contacts people from New York, using her buying expertise and their greed to overcome their anger at her. -Rucker buys a car of his own and has it shipped from New York. The people begin to shift their attentions to the new cars and the business at the store even as Will begins to notice that Rucker and Love are behaving romantically toward each other.


Will drives the car for Rucker and Love on a picnic which becomes an overnight stay in another town. There he discovers the truth about both his grandfather and Love as he reveals his secret love for her. By this time, Will is hoping that there will be a "real" marriage between Love and his grandfather and is disappointed when she rejects him.


The resolution of the story involves several chapters as all of the subplots are neatly resolved, although not entirely to the narrator's satisfaction as a youngster. The questions created by Rucker's marriage to Love are answered, and a new member will soon be added to the family even as the oldest one leaves it.

-Rucker becomes ill and accepts only Love as his nurse. -Rucker and Love begin taking buggy rides together and are soon "laughing and talking with everyone" on their rides. He is the "grand duke of Cold Sassy again."

-Loma tries to put on a Christmas play which Will ruins by releasing a cage full of rats on the stage. Will regrets his behavior because of the devastating effect it has on Loma. Still, he finds it good to be "back on familiar ground with her."

-Grandpa spots Hosie Roach and compares him to Camp, Loma's husband. He says Hosie would be worth three of Camp, and Camp hears him.

-Camp commits suicide, and Will repairs the faucet so people won't say that Camp "couldn't even fix a leaky faucet.

-Grandpa forces people to have a normal funeral for Camp.

-Loma and the baby move into Will's home and take his bedroom.

-Will sees Grandpa trying to dance the turkey trot with Love and knows he is "courtin'" her in earnest.

-Rucker hires Hosie Roach to help at the store.

-Love offers to teach Loma how to be a milliner at the store, thus resolving the conflict between the two of them.

-On Will's 15th birthday, Lightfoot tells Will that she is going to marry Hosie.

-The store is robbed and Grandpa is seriously injured.

-Love reveals that she is pregnant.

-Rucker dies, but leaves a detailed letter regarding some unusual wishes for his funeral.

-Rucker's will is read; his estate is divided among Mary Willis, Loma, Love, and the unborn child. He also leaves a house to each of the three women and $400 to Will, providing Will "agrees to become an associate at the store." He leaves nothing for his other two grandchildren, but no one other than Will seems to notice.

-Love comes to the house to tell the family about the baby and to announce that she will not be leaving Cold Sassy.

-The town council votes to change the name of the town to "Progressive City."


The novel is written in First person from the perspective of Will Tweedy. Although he is mostly consistent in limiting his knowledge to what he would have been able to see, we do occasionally sense the blending of adult "writer" with teenage narrator.


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