Download PDF Print Page Citation Share Link

Last Updated on August 6, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 630

The story begins with Mrs. May having a strange dream about a bull eating her house, barn, sons, and herself. For her part, Mrs. May owns a dairy farm and lives with her two adult sons, Scofield and Wesley.

We learn that Mrs. May is always at odds with her...

(The entire section contains 1399 words.)

Unlock This Study Guide Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this Greenleaf study guide. You'll get access to all of the Greenleaf content, as well as access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

  • Summary
  • Themes
  • Analysis
  • Characters
  • Quotes
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

The story begins with Mrs. May having a strange dream about a bull eating her house, barn, sons, and herself. For her part, Mrs. May owns a dairy farm and lives with her two adult sons, Scofield and Wesley.

We learn that Mrs. May is always at odds with her hired help, Mr. Greenleaf. She continues to keep him in her employ, however, because she feels that he's the best she can get under the circumstances. For his part, Mr. Greenleaf has two adult sons himself, a pair of twins named O.T. and E.T.

When Mrs. May wakes up and realizes she's been dreaming, she's only partially relieved. In reality, there's an actual bull on her property, and it's eagerly chewing up the hedge beneath her windows. Mrs. May considers making a complaint to Mr. Greenleaf but decides not to. She thinks that he will just make rude comments about Scofield and Wesley's seeming indifference to her daily challenges.

The next morning, she demands that Mr. Greenleaf pens up the bull so that it doesn't complicate the breeding schedule of her prized cattle. At home, Wesley and Scofield poke fun at their mother's predicament. Privately, Mrs. May is disappointed in her sons. Neither are married, and both seem disinclined to make better lives for themselves.

Wesley is sickly, suffers from rheumatic fever, and has a teaching job. Meanwhile, Scofield is a robust insurance salesman who once served in the army. However, he only managed to reach the rank of Private First Class. Today, he sells the kind of insurance that's only popular with African-American customers. Mrs. May is ashamed of his line of work and worries that neither of her sons will make good matches.

Intrinsically, she believes that they will marry women of disreputable character (like Mrs. Greenleaf) after she dies, and this thought upsets her. Meanwhile, Mr. Greenleaf's sons, O.T. and E.T. were sergeants in the Second World War. They are energetic, industrious, and polite young men. Additionally, they both married French women from respectable backgrounds.

After the war, both O.T. and E.T. used their GI Bill benefits to earn their agricultural degrees. Today, they live in a bungalow on a nice piece of land. It's clear that Mrs. May envies Mr. Greenleaf, his wife, and their sons. She believes that they have few worries to trouble them in life, while she has to struggle to make ends meet.

Eventually, she finds out from Scofield that the bull that's been tormenting her belongs to E.T. and O.T. Mrs. May confronts Mr. Greenleaf and gives him an ultimatum. If his sons don't retrieve their bull, she will have him (Mr. Greenleaf) shoot the animal.

However, worse is to come. Mrs. May discovers that neither of the Greenleaf twins cares about the bull being shot. After all, it's done plenty of damage on the Greenleaf farm. She would be doing them a favor by shooting the bull. Mrs. May is outraged that she must bear both the damage to her farm and the complications involved in killing the bull.

Eventually, Mrs. May orders Mr. Greenleaf to shoot the bull. They drive out into the pasture, and Mr. Greenleaf goes in search of the animal. In the meantime, Mrs. May sits on the bumper of the truck. She begins to daydream and doesn't see the bull charging up to her until it's too late. When she does see the bull, however, she is incredulous that the bull is heading her way.

In the end, the bull gores Mrs. May in the heart and injures her badly. We are led to think that her injuries are fatal. Mr. Greenleaf appears to shoot the bull, but he is apparently too late to save Mrs. May.


Download PDF Print Page Citation Share Link

Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 769

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 years as a private during the war, and now sells insurance to African Americans. He is what they call the “policy man,” a position of considerable mortification to his mother. Neither son has married, and they both refuse to lift a hand to help with the farmwork.

The next day, Mrs. May finds out that the scrub bull belongs to Mr. Greenleaf’s sons, that it can apparently escape from almost any confinement, and that it hates trucks and cars. It has already attacked the twins’ pickup, causing considerable damage. Mrs. May drives to the twins’ house and delivers an ultimatum: Either they pick up the bull or she will have Mr. Greenleaf shoot it the next day. It is no comfort to her to learn that the twins probably do not want it and will be happy that she must destroy it for them.

The bull visits her again that night, munching away under her window. The sound of the bull tearing at the hedge enters her sleeping consciousness as a menacing dream about the sun piercing through the vegetation that surrounds her cultivated fields. The burning sun seems to burst through the trees and is racing toward her. She wakes in panic.

The next morning, she orders the reluctant Mr. Greenleaf to get his gun; they are going to shoot the bull. Mr. Greenleaf is angry, but he finally gets his weapon and joins her in the truck. They drive into the pasture, where Mrs. May has seen the animal in the distance. Mrs. May thinks with some satisfaction, “He’d like to shoot me instead of the bull.” They drive into the pasture. Mrs. May waits at the truck while Greenleaf looks for the bull in the grove of trees at the edge of the pasture.

After a considerable wait, during which Mrs. May dozes as she sits on the bumper of the truck, the bull emerges from the wood, but Mr. Greenleaf is nowhere to be seen. She had been vaguely fantasizing about the bull attacking Mr. Greenleaf in the wood. The situation is curiously like her dream. She is standing in the middle of the pasture ringed by trees, a natural amphitheater, and the bull is racing toward her. She seems mesmerized, unable to move, until the bull has “buried his head in her lap like a wild tormented lover.” One horn pierces her heart and the other encircles her waist: “and she had the look of a person whose sight has been suddenly restored but who finds the light unbearable.” Mr. Greenleaf, running toward her now from the side, pumps four bullets into the eye of the bull.

Illustration of PDF document

Download Greenleaf Study Guide

Subscribe Now