Last Updated on September 22, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 511
“Under the Lion’s Paw” by Hamlin Garland is a classic example of American realism. It conveys the plight of the American farmer and his desperate struggle to survive. When the Haskinses lose their farm, they are given a second chance by a man who offers them the opportunity to rent his farm in exchange for working the land and making needed improvements so that it will be fertile and grow crops. Haskins pours his blood, sweat, and tears into the land, and sacrifices day in and day out to make the land fertile. After a year, his work begins to pay off. However, as the title of the story suggests, Haskins is unable to escape the oppressive power of money and continues to face obstacles.
Haskins faces an eternal struggle, not only against nature but against human greed. He is at the mercy of nature and at the mercy of the land—he is also at the mercy of unscrupulous land prospectors who take advantage of him. Haskins is left with very little to control. Garland appears to be protesting the unfair practices of these land prospectors. Haskins is a man of character, and he perseveres despite the hardship because he embraces the concept of hard work. In the story, Garland contrasts the goodhearted with the self-serving (the Councils versus Butler). Haskins' life “under the lion’s paw” reveals that his life is one of toil and struggle. Garland paints Butler as an out-of-touch, money-hungry predator. He is hardly around to look at his properties because he is always traveling to hunt, fish, or see his friends. In other words, he is absent from the town with regularity. People like the Haskins family are present. They seem deserving of reaping the benefits of their hard work, much more so than someone who—through a suspicious business practice—owns the land on paper.
There is significant symbolism surrounding America’s farmland. During a time in which one’s property is equivalent to one’s livelihood, a successful farm is absolutely essential. Clearly, the Haskinses have already dealt with trouble of near Biblical proportions: grasshoppers destroyed their crops and prospects. This is already an ominous reason to leave. Later in the story, Haskins is admiring the land they have been working on tirelessly for the past year with his wife. He tells her that the harvest will be glorious. That night, the winds blow the crop into a tangled mess with the rain matting it down. They are still able to successfully harvest the crops, though it requires much more work. This is an instance of foreshadowing. When Butler comes and demands more money for the property, the Haskinses are required to labor even more to pay for it. Just like the wheat crop, their pursuits have been spoiled by foul weather. Even still, they made the crop work for them even if it meant working three times as hard to complete the labor. They will fight for the farm they have created despite the fact that Butler hiked up the price.