Greenleaf Summary

Summary (Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Mrs. May, the owner of a dairy farm, awakes in the night from a strange dream in which something was eating everything she owned, herself, her house, her sons, her farm, all except the home of Mr. Greenleaf, her hired man. She looks out the window and discovers a stray scrub bull chewing on the hedge below her window. She considers dressing and driving down the road to Greenleaf’s place to get him to catch the bull, lest it get into the pasture with her cows and corrupt the breeding schedule of her purebred cattle. She decides to put it off until morning, not because she is averse to bothering Mr. Greenleaf in the night but because she anticipates his uncomplimentary remarks about her two grown sons, who should be able to help their mother in such emergencies.

One of the long-standing rivalries between Mrs. May and Mr. Greenleaf during the fifteen years of their association has been the relative merits of their sons. Mr. Greenleaf’s twins, O. T. and E. T., married two French girls of good family during the war when they were in the army. As Mrs. May rationalizes their good fortune, “disguised in their uniforms, they could not be told from other people’s children. You could tell, of course, when they opened their mouths but they did that seldom.” They both “managed to get wounded,” so they received pensions and went to agricultural school on veterans’ benefits. They had become the owners of a prosperous dairy farm nearby and the heads of flourishing bilingual families. As Mrs. May bleakly predicts, in twenty years their children will be “society!”

Mrs. May is secretly envious of such productive sons because her own give her little satisfaction. Wesley has a heart condition, commutes to a teaching job, and has a vile disposition. Mrs. May pretends that he is an “intellectual.” Scofield is loud and vulgar, has gained nothing from his two...

(The entire section is 769 words.)