Under the Lion's Paw

by Hamlin Garland

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

By the end of part 3, members of the Haskins family have worked themselves to the bone in order to make a home that feels secure and prosperous so that they need never fear homelessness again. Each night, Mr. Haskins ends the day exhausted:

[...] sank into his bed with a deep groan of relief, too tired to change his grimy, dripping clothing, he felt that he was getting nearer and nearer to a home of his own, and pushing the wolf of want a little farther from his door.

This line is so striking, partly because of the imagery and metaphor it employs. The image of a man so tired that he goes to bed in clothes that are caked with mud and dripping with sweat is an unsettling one. Even the auditory image of his relieved groan, satisfied but utterly exhausted, is easy to imagine. However, the metaphor that compares want to a wolf, such a dangerous animal that creates fear as a result of its terrible menace and remorseless bestial nature, is even more alarming in its accuracy. We can understand Haskins's fear of ever having to face that wolf again, especially with a fragile wife and several young babes.

Another animal metaphor is equally compelling. When Butler exploits Haskins and the work this poor man has done to improve the farm he rented from him, Butler claims that he's doing nothing wrong and that this is the way of the world.

Haskins sat down blindly on a bundle of oats near by, and with staring eyes and dropping head went over the situation. He was under the lion's paw. He felt a horrible numbness in his heart and limbs. He was hid in a mist, and there was no path out.

He has been trapped in a situation by someone with a great deal more power and ruthlessness than he, and he feels stuck. Butler is the lion, here, caring not at all for the feelings or family of his victim. His behavior contrasts sharply with that of Stephen Council, the man who helped the Haskins family so generously for so long and without any desire to be repaid. In fact, when Haskins assured Council that he would one day reap the benefits of his incredible kindness, Council said to him,

Don't want any pay. My religion ain't run on such business principles.

Unfortunately, the world isn't just full of Councils but has many Butlers as well.

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