Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

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...

(The entire section is 458 words.)