Analysis

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 231

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 Haskins lose their farm, they are given a second chance by a man who offers them the opportunity to rent...

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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 Haskins 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. 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.

Style and Technique

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 546

“Under the Lion’s Paw” is a realistic story with characteristics of Garland’s veritism. He defines “veritism” as a form of realism that uses true-to-life detail with an impressionist’s subjectivity. True-to-life detail is immediately apparent in the somber opening paragraphs as Garland describes the end of a farmer’s (Council’s) workday. Local color elements, such as the dialogue, help sustain the realism: Council, dressed in a ragged greatcoat against the cold weather, is plowing his field with four horses and calls out to them: “Come round there, boys!—Round agin! . . . Stiddy, Kate—stiddy! None o’ y’r tantrums, Kittie.” Garland captures the regional speech rhythms and words in the fashion of the true local colorist.

In his narration and description, he uses traditional figures of speech—simile, metaphor, personification, alliteration, and others—to fine effect: “squalls of snow,” “dripping, desolate clouds,” “tenacious as tar,” “holding at bay the growl of the impotent, cheated wind,” the children had a “sort of spasmodic cheerfulness, as insects in winter revive when laid on the hearth.”

In addition to realism, there are elements of naturalism and impressionism in “Under the Lion’s Paw.” Naturalism is suggested in the fact that Haskins is a victim of circumstances not of his making but of happenstance: the failure of his first farm because of the grasshoppers, the good luck of happening on the Councils and receiving the benefit of their kindness, and the misadventure of meeting and dealing with Jim Butler. All the events of the story, except Haskins’s decision not to commit violence against Butler, have occurred because of circumstances outside his control.

Impressionistic elements are not as widely apparent. Garland became acquainted with some American followers of the French Impressionism movement when he was living in Boston from 1885 to 1893, and he became a proponent of the movement. The objectives of Impressionism intrigued him, and he began incorporating certain impressionistic techniques in his work. Though other of his writings show this influence more than does “Under the Lion’s Paw,” at least one passage in the story demonstrates his leaning toward impressionism: When Garland describes a flock of geese flying overhead, he says they “sprawled sidewise down the wind.” The word “sprawl,” an odd choice when describing bird flight, conveys Garland’s personal reaction, or impression, of the image.

The power of the story is in Haskins’s hapless situation. Shown as a husband and father determined to make a decent life for himself and his family, he is clearly willing to make a Herculean effort. When, paradoxically, his efforts become the key reason he could lose all for which he has worked, the reader understands how devastated, hopeless, and betrayed he feels and why he is ready to resort to violence. His basic goodness, however, is recovered at the sight of his child, as he remembers what is important, what he has worked for. Resigned to the injustice and yet determined to keep hoping for a better life, Haskins is a character most readers can relate to, empathize with, and understand. Unlike other literary portrayals of farm life in the United States during the nineteenth century, “Under the Lion’s Paw” is one of the most powerful indictments against the cruelties of nature and of human nature.

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