Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The Greenleafs are members of the social class that was once called “poor white trash.” Mrs. May, as a landowner, a user of “correct” English, and the widow of an urban businessperson, considers herself socially superior to the Greenleafs in many ways. She is described as a “country woman only by persuasion.” The farm, bought as an investment when land was cheap, is the only legacy that her husband left her. She has exported the urban business orientation to the countryside, determined to wrest a living from nature by sheer strength of will, despising the careless ease with which the Greenleafs exist in that environment. However, the conflict between Mrs. May and her sometimes incompetent hired man is only partially sociological. It suggests a more elemental difficulty with Mrs. May, which may be called philosophical or even religious.

What the Greenleafs unselfconsciously possess that Mrs. May lacks is a sacramental view of nature. Religiously suggestive metaphors, as well as the comic description of Mrs. Greenleaf’s grotesque religious rituals, convey this difference. Mrs. May insists on taking credit for whatever success and well-being the Greenleafs enjoy. “They lived like the lilies of the field, off the fat that she struggled to put into the land.” She is extremely annoyed when Greenleaf drawls, in one of their several discussions about their sons, “I thank Gawd for ever-thang.” Mrs. May obviously believes that she should get...

(The entire section is 493 words.)