Under the Lion's Paw Themes
by Hamlin Garland

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Under the Lion's Paw Themes

"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

(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...

(The entire section is 620 words.)