The mood (also called atmosphere) of the short story "Under the Lion's Paw" is set in the very first lines of the story. Interestingly enough, an opposing counter-mood is also set. Mood in literary terms is defined as the emotional or even psychological (as with Dostoevsky) feeling that the reader enters into upon reading a literary work. Mood is created and developed--and sometimes changed in various scenes--through the author's choices in the use of diction, setting (time and place) and setting description, character description, and characterization. These are the elements that Hamlin Garland draws upon in creating mood in this story.
The mood is first established by the strong first sentence: "It was the last of autumn and first day of winter coming together." Autumn and winter are classic metaphors for, among other things, trouble, struggle, and hardship. By setting the story at the time in the year when they meet, the reader is instantly transported into a gloomy, despondent mood that anticipates more struggle than the story opens with.
The place of the setting is identified as prairie farmland where the narrator introduces "the ploughmen on their prairie farms." That they are prairie farms, where autumn meets winter, adds to the gloomy mood because of the American historical allusion that associates prairie farms with struggle and hardship.
The descriptions of the horses which--with dripping harnesses--are swinging "to and fro silently with that marvellous uncomplaining patience," and the description of the weather, with its "frequent squalls of snow, the dripping, desolate clouds," further add to the mood of gloom and despondent anticipation of deeper struggle.
The characterization of the farmers heightens these aspects of mood while ironically introducing a counter-mood of optimism that proves to be important to the resolution of the story. One farmer described as having
on his ragged great-coat, … [where] the cold clinging mud rose on his heavy boots, fettering him like gyves, ....
The countering mood is established in the phrase that ends the quotation above: “[Yet he] whistled in the very beard of the gale.” This adds a counter-mood of optimism and undaunted spirit and greatness of heart.
Interestingly, this optimistic phrase of description also serves as foreshadowing of the upcoming resolution of the story. In complex literary structuring in a short space, Garland establishes two strongly felt moods, then, in accord with his theory that stories should illustrate what is and what may be (called veritism), he uses the same elements to establish foreshadowing for the resolution.