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Greenleaf Summary

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.

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...

(The entire section is 1,399 words.)