Themes

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 162

"Under the Lion's Paw" presents a few themes, the most prominent being about injustice and unfairness. When Butler pretends to be generous towards Haskins, he is symbolically placing Haskins under his paw, hence the title.

The theme explores the injustices people face from exploitative predators. Although written over a century...

(The entire section contains 620 words.)

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"Under the Lion's Paw" presents a few themes, the most prominent being about injustice and unfairness. When Butler pretends to be generous towards Haskins, he is symbolically placing Haskins under his paw, hence the title.

The theme explores the injustices people face from exploitative predators. Although written over a century ago, the exploitation inherent in capitalism is reminiscent of the current financial institution in the Western world, specifically the predatory lending practices in the housing market that led to the last financial crisis.

Another theme is the industriousness of the American rural working-class. Haskins, despite being a poor farmer, was able to regenerate the derelict farm land. It was this work ethic that led to Butler's justification for doubling the market value of the estate. Because of the Haskins family's hard work, they made the farm more valuable, and Butler exploited this.

The overarching theme, or moral of the story, is that hard work pays off, and unethical practices are eventually punished.

Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 458

Hamlin Garland’s early works, such as “Under the Lion’s Paw,” deal with the unromantic life of harried generations on the farms and in the towns of America’s prairie states. Believing, as he stated in his theory of “veritism,” that a writer must write of “what is” with an eye toward “what is to be,” he wrote about the hard life in the midwestern states of Wisconsin, Iowa, and North and South Dakota, which he called the Middle Border. He aimed to show what real farm life was like as opposed to the idealized portrayals prevalent at the time in nineteenth century literature. He used commonplace themes with everyday incidents and ordinary people in an attempt to discredit the notion that literary heroes and heroines must be people with unusual qualities.

Garland’s short stories deal with everyday life, from birth through youth, adulthood, courtship, marriage, and death, and with the tragic and the humorous. Very often his tendency to propagandize would get the better of him, but in “Under the Lion’s Paw,” his social protest against the practices of the land speculators is subtle and masterfully handled. His main character, Tim Haskins, is an ordinary man who believes in fairness and honesty and the rewards of hard work. He seems to assume that everyone else is pretty much the same as he. When he has to deal with Jim Butler, though, he learns that there are unscrupulous men who will and do take advantage of men like him and profit from their unethical practices. This revelation does not so much defeat him as it demoralizes him and makes him wonder briefly whether his efforts to do the right thing have any merit.

Garland grew up knowing the same kind of farm life that he portrays in his stories of the Middle Border. He found little in that life that was poetic or idyllic. The farmer he knew was a man with hands like claws scratching out a poor living on a farm that belonged to someone else, and his wife was a drudge ceaselessly performing never-ending chores from dawn to dusk. He shows this life in “Under the Lion’s Paw.” The Haskins family asks nothing more than the chance to work at a life that will provide a reasonable living. When their work is used against them, when Butler turns their hard-won farm improvements into a windfall for himself at their expense, it indicts the economic system prevalent in the United States in the years following the Civil War. Decency and righteousness are shown to be outmatched in the face of avarice and legal loopholes. Garland subtly but forcefully condemns the oppressive tactics of the land speculators without mounting the reformer’s soapbox.

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