Cold Sassy Tree is one of many works—novels, short stories, and plays—that examine smalltown life in the American South, particularly during the early years of the twentieth century. Chief among American writers who chronicled small-town life was William Faulkner, who created a fictional county in Mississippi that he used in many of his novels and short stories. Other American writers who have taken up this theme include Eudora Welty, Flannery O’Connor, Thomas Wolfe, Tennessee Williams, Harper Lee, and many others. One of the most famous novels set in the rural South and written by a southern writer is Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell, and certainly no survey of writing about the rural American South can ignore such novels as Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
Southern American literature is often considered a distinct genre in American letters. These works tend to be steeped in the past, in a former pastoral age that is imagined to have existed . . . Read More
Symbolism, a device in which something concrete represents something abstract, can be used in fiction in at least two different ways. Sometimes symbolism occurs in the form of symbolic objects. The symbolism of these objects can be universal, but often it is contextual, meaning that the symbolism derives from how the object is framed in the story. Two prominent symbolic objects in Cold Sassy Tree are the Cold Sassy tree itself and the automobiles that Hoyt and Rucker acquire. The Cold Sassy tree is the last remaining tree of a grove of sassafras trees. The town’s settlers cut down the grove to make room for the town, but one tree remains. The tree then is symbolic of the town itself and its link with the past. However, as the town moves into the more modern age, the tree has to be cut down to make room for improvements. Thus, the town’s link with its past, including its traditions and prejudices, is severed. It is not severed entirely, . . . Read More
Death plays a prominent role in Cold Sassy Tree. Before the action of the novel begins, Rucker and Will are faced with the death of Mattie Lou, Rucker’s wife. Will himself has a near-death experience when he is caught on a train trestle and the train passes over him as he lies between the tracks. Later in the novel, Lightfoot’s father dies; Will’s uncle, Campbell Williams, commits suicide; and Rucker is shot during a robbery at the general store and later dies.
These events force Will to contemplate the meaning of death. After his grandmother dies, he reflects on the difference between being ‘‘in mourning’’ for someone’s death and actually mourning that person’s death. His thoughts that his mourning clothes will prevent him from fishing and other activities reflect an early immaturity, but the deaths of Camp and his grandfather lead to deeper and more dignified reflections on death. It is through Rucker that . . . Read More
Mattie Lou Blakeslee
Mattie Lou is Will Tweedy’s grandmother and the wife of Rucker Blakeslee. She dies before the novel’s action begins and does not appear directly in the story. She was a good wife to Rucker and earned the respect of the town for her kindness. She was an avid gardener and loved her rosebushes.
Rucker is a veteran of the Civil War, the patriarch of his family, and the owner of the town’s general store, which becomes the hub of gossip. He has a commanding physical presence, and he enjoys shaking up Cold Sassy by violating its norms and defying its conventions, particularly by marrying a much younger woman, Miss Love, just weeks after his first wife’s death. He likes to puncture the pretensions and hypocrisies of the townspeople. He is depicted as stubborn, cantankerous, and brash. At the same time, he is more open-minded than most of the people in Cold . . . Read More
In 1914, the novel’s narrator, Will Tweedy, recalls events in Cold Sassy, Georgia, that took place primarily in the summer of 1906, when he was fourteen years old. On the night of July 5 that year, Will’s grandfather, Rucker Blakeslee, arrives at Will’s home to have a drink of corn whiskey; Rucker’s wife, Mattie Lou, had never allowed him to keep whiskey in the house. But Mattie Lou has been dead for three weeks. Rucker asks Will to gather his mother, Mary Willis, and his aunt, Loma Williams. When the women arrive, Rucker makes a startling announcement: he is going tomarryMiss Love Simpson, a hat maker who works at the general store he owns and who is young enough to be his daughter. Loma reminds Rucker of Mattie Lou’s recent death, but Rucker’s only reply is, ‘‘Well, good gosh a’mighty! She’s dead as she’ll ever be, ain’t she? Well, ain’t she?’’ After Rucker leaves, the two women express their . . . Read More
Two writers fill the pages of Amy Tan’s latest novel, The Bonesetter’s Daughter. The first and most talented is LuLing, an 82-year-old Chinese woman who, in a tragically beautiful narrative, tells the story of her life before she emigrated to the United States following World War Two. At the heart of her story is Precious Auntie, the illfated mother she grew up calling her nursemaid, who was scarred and mute from a suicide attempt and who finally succeeded in killing herself after LuLing’s blind rejection of her. LuLing is writing because Alzheimer’s disease is robbing her of memory and she wants to set down before it is too late the things that must not be forgotten. The second writer is LuLing’s daughter, Ruth, a 46-year-old professional ‘‘book doctor’’ who earns a living ghostwriting New Age self-help texts. As a writer, she originates nothing, only uses her talent to make the egotistical and commercial ideas of her clients successful.
The writer . . . Read More
Peking Man is an assemblage of Homo erectus fossilized bones found on Dragon Bone Hill, amidst the Zhoudoukian cave systems, thirty miles (fifty kilometers) southwest of Peking, China, from 1921 to 1936. Dragon Bone Hill was called such because local people knew it as a place to find the fossils they called dragon bones—an important ingredient in traditional Chinese medicine. Excavation by Swedish geologist Johan Andersson and American paleontologist Walter Granger began in 1921 after the pair was directed to Dragon Bone Hill by local men as a place where old bones could be found. Two molars were the first human fossils discovered. As more scientists became involved, more fossils were uncovered, including a jaw and skull fragments. Excavation temporarily ceased after 1936 when hostilities between China and Japan made work dangerous. In 1941, the bones were packed up and sent away for safekeeping until China’s war with Japan was . . . Read More
Foreshadowing is a literary device used by writers to present hints about events yet to happen. Foreshadowing creates dramatic tension as the reader anticipates what is to come without always knowing exactly how it will come to pass or even if it will happen for sure. In The Bonesetter’s Daughter, for example, Baby Uncle receives bad omens for this marriage to Precious Auntie and later dies on his wedding day, leaving Precious Auntie to live out a difficult and unhappy life, and Ruth’s first worry about her mother’s health is dementia but she immediately disregards this and is taken by surprise when the doctor gives a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s (a type of dementia).
Setting is a literary term encompassing the location, the time period, and the cultural milieu that provides not just a backdrop for the story but also a context. For example, The Bonesetter’s Daughter . . . Read More
The Bonesetter’s Daughter tells the story of three generations of women, mother to daughter to granddaughter. Tan does not hesitate to reveal the pain and conflict in these relationships that cause the women to struggle with each other, as well as the love and loyalty that keeps them together. Throughout the novel, family relationships are defined with some fluidity, starting with LuLing being adopted by Mother to cover up the scandal of her birth outside wedlock. Many years later, after LuLing and her cousin GaoLing have settled in the United States and are married to a pair of brothers, the stigma of being born outside wedlock is much less significant and yet the lie is maintained so as not to disturb their new husbands. In the contemporary setting of the novel, Ruth’s unmarried relationship to Art and his daughters is not typical but it is very stable and her fluid sense of family is represented by the variety of . . . Read More
See GaoLing Liu Young
Baby Uncle, whose real name is Liu Hu Sen, is the youngest son of Great-Granny. He is thin and good-looking. He falls in love with Precious Auntie and a marriage is arranged between them but Baby Uncle dies on their wedding day when a horse kicks him in the head. He is the father of LuLing.
Catcher of Ghosts
The Catcher of Ghosts is a con artist who pretends he is a Taoist priest. He performs a ritual in which he claims to catch Precious Auntie’s ghost in a vinegar jar and cure the Liu clan of her haunting. He is later arrested and proved to be a charlatan but the family still believes they have been cured.
Chang is a local coffin maker. He is an abusive man who repeatedly brings evil into the lives of the Liu clan, beginning with his involvement in the death of Baby Uncle. . . . Read More